Overcome content shock by marketing to an audience of one

Note: On October 28-29, I am teaching a two-day workshop in London on how to reset your social media efforts to employ approaches that work. This post addresses one of the approaches I’ll cover. The two-day workshop, from the International School of Communication, is open to registration here.

Audience of OneAs pundits lament the volume of content online and the challenge marketers face of getting noticed amid all the noise, one tactic is demonstrating a lot of power but not getting all that much attention. Organizations that communicate to an audience of one using novel and creative approaches are getting attention from bigger audiences than the individual at whom the message was targeted.

Here’s the thing about marketing to an audience of one: It’s hardly ever marketing. It’s almost always customer service. And in most cases, it’s a customer service rep going above and beyond, exhibiting some personality, and treating the customer like someone special. The experience turns into content that other people, wowed by the experience, share.

Customer service is a thankless job in most organizations, with call center representatives among the most tightly controlled of all employees. The companies that understand the importance of the Customer Experience, though, recognize that they need to turn their reps loose.

Look at it this way: You need highly engaged employees in customer service before they’ll even want to make the kinds of efforts that get people talking about them.

The best marriage of customer service and content marketing occurs when the response to an inquiry is made in the form of sharable content. This can be part of a strategy or completely spontaneous.

Amazing spontaneous customer experiences

One example of a spontaneous response is the online chat between an Amazon customer service rep and a customer. The Amazon rep just happened to be named Thor, and when the customer learned this, he asked if he could be Odin. Most reps would have ignored such an entreaty since it’s outside the scope of their training and the rules to which they must rigidly adhere. Because this rep felt empowered to have a bit of fun, he produced a chat creative enough to inspire the customer to post a screen grab that got shared; it was fodder for blog posts and media coverage. It even got upvotes on Reddit.

Thor and Odin in Amazon Chat

It reminds me of an earlier example in which a customer service rep from Lego crafted a brilliant response to a 7-year-old who wrote to the company requesting a replacement for a lost Ninjago piece, even though his father had already warned him that he shouldn’t take the piece with him because he might lose it. Here’s the entire letter:

Luka,

I told Sensei Wu that losing your Jay mini figure was purely an accident and that you would never ever let it happen ever again.

He told me to tell you, ‘Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago mini figures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu!’

Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you because anyone that saves their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan.

So, I hope you enjoy your Jay mini figure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay mini figure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight! Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your mini figures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your Dad.

Even though this bit of content took the form of a physical letter, delivered via snail mail, it’s the kind of thing any parent would show other people. It was inevitable this inventive a response would make the rounds online and get considerable attention.

Strategic engagement of the audience of one

As for planned interactions, consider Warby Parker, the online retailer disrupting the entrenched eyeglass industry. Whether you send a question via email or Twitter, odds are the response will be uploaded to Twitter, like this one:

Note that the video, from a member of the service team, is directed at one person—@ValeriePhan, who asked the question via Twitter—but has since been viewed by 2,454 people. These would include Valerie’s friends who saw the tweet from Warby Parker with the link to the video, people searching for answers on Warby Parker’s Help Page on YouTube, and people who follow people like me who talk about it.

UK financial services company NatWest also attracted attention with Vine videos that answer common customer questions. When one customer tweeted that constantly seeing only a few pence in his account whenever the bank sent a balance alert, he noted via Twitter that it was depressing and he wished he could turn it off. NatWest sent this video by way of reply:

The web is loaded with examples of great customer service like these. This one, for example, includes the tale of Peter Shankman tweeting from a plane that he craved a Morton’s steak. Morton’s sent a staffer to meet him at baggage claim with the steak he desired. Peter’s a Morton’s VIP, but more to the point, he’s followed by 164,000 people on Twitter, so when he tweeted the experience, millions of people wound up exposed to it, all because Morton’s saw an opportunity to deliver extraordinary service. Peter’s is just one of the 10 experiences the post covers.

And that’s the thing: While these are great customer experience stories, they’re also great examples of content marketing. The mindset change is simple: A customer inquiry is no longer just a required transaction. It’s a chance to create content that will grab attention. All it takes is for companies to begin recognizing that every customer experience is a potential content object.

This philosophy is entirely consistent with the idea that, in the networked world, every employee must be engaged. Companies can no longer afford to staff their call centers with reps who go through the motions, read the script, and get off the call as quickly as possible. Innovation in responding should be encouraged and even taught as the experience becomes the most important element of the transaction. Marketers, meanwhile, should keep an eye on customer service responses, looking for opportunities to boost an experience into the brand’s formal content mix.

With the kind engaged customer service staff that creates such experiences, you can turn your attention to the audience of one and you’ll have no problem gaining visibility regardless of how much content is competing for your customer’s attention.