Friday, April 23, 2010

I See You

Seeing that today is yesterday was the day that the movie, Avatar, became available on DVD, I couldn't help *borrow* one of the more critical lines from the movie. The phrase, "I see you" is an obvious nod to the indigenous people of North America who used the phrase to communicate a deeper acknowledgement of one another versus a throw away, "hi" or "how are ya" like we might use today. The bigger question one might ask is, where the hell is this post going?

Okay, I'm getting to that part...

I've been spending a lot of time recently with my colleague, Joseph Jaffe, presenting to clients and prospects about the power of social. Part of the presentation talks about what our company, Powered, can do to help companies get the most out of their social initiatives. The balance focuses on the premise of Joe's most recent book, Flip the Funnel, where he talks about tapping into existing customers to gain new ones. In the book, Joe gives dozens of examples of companies and organizations using the new customer service which relies heavily on social media to operationalize and scale these activities.

The reason I bring this all up is that I've had the good fortune of interacting with several companies recently that have "surprised and delighted" me. According to chapter six of Joe's book, It's Time to Flip the Funnel, these "surprise and delight" moments align with the stages of the "flipped" funnel  -- A.D.I.A. For those not yet familiar with Jaffe-nese, A.D.I.A. stands for:
  • Acknowledgement
  • Dialogue
  • Incentivization
  • Activation

While I'm not 100% where each of these experiences fall in the four phases of the "flipped funnel," (maybe Joe will head on over and help me out on this one), I can tell you that I feel a deeper connection with each brand AND I have gone out of my way to evangelize on their behalf. What's important to note is that I'm evangelizing not because they gave me something but because they did something good and unexpected. In each case, I've been completely transparent about what I've received and if there was any monetary value associated.


Several weeks ago, I needed to do 5 minute clip for my friends at AdVerve. The audio had to be clean and crisp so wasn't a 100% convinced I could accomplish this goal through my computer or using my normal phone recording device. When I turned to Twitter (thank you Bryan Person, a friend and fellow podcaster), a few folks validated that iPadio was a good solution. Between my tweets about them, a mention on my weekly Quick'n'Dirty podcast show and several podcasts on their platform, they opted to make me their "featured guest of the week." Needless to say, I was ecstatic. And guess what, no money changed hands.

This is an interesting story. A few months ago, my sister-in-law and her husband gave us a Sonos (a wireless multi-room music system) as a house warming gift. Ironically, you actually need to have a wired connection with the first "box" you buy to be able to create an ethernet in your house/apartment. Not knowing this and having the disadvantage of a cable modem that was not near my stereo/speakers kind of ruined my excitement around my new Sonos device. I shared this disappointment with my friend, Jim Storer, who has a Sonos system himself and helped me deduce that I could remedy the problem with a $99 hardware solution.

Without saying a word publicly, I got this public tweet from Thomas Meyer -- the man who runs social at Sonos. Within minutes, we had connected via e-mail and Thomas let me know that he would be sending me the $99 piece of hardware after noting, I'm bummed we weren't able to educate you properly on the need for the first wire. Wow! I told Thomas that I would be happy to tweet/blog about his kind gesture and his response via e-mail was, I never ask or expect anything.  I'm simply in the business of trying to make people happy - either with music - or by solving problems they are having listening to their music.  What happens from there is up to you the consumer.  Let's first work on making you a happy Sonos customer. I'm happy to let you know Thomas that this is definitely a case of mission accomplished!

I've already tweeted about this and I wrote an e-mail that sums up the story so I'm going to share that e-mail below. Last I heard, this e-mail had been forwarded to the head of Starbucks in the southeast and southwest regions of the US. So pleased I was able to return the favor the smart/kind gesture on the part of Tasha, the manager at the Starbucks where this took place...

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Aaron Strout and I have been a loyal Starbucks customer for the last 10+ years. The reason I'm writing to you is to share some exciting activity that happened yesterday as a result of your smart, friendly and innovative staff led by Tasha at your Bee Cave location:

12400 West Highway 71
Bee Cave, TX 78738-6517

My job is focused on all things social media (my company helps big brands like HP, H&R Block and Kodak think about how to incorporate "social" into their marketing plans). As a result, I spend a lot of time using social media sites/tools, one of which is location-based service, FourSquare. The reason I mention this is that my lovely wife, Melanie, has worked hard to try and understand what I do on a day-to-day basis at my job so she's started using some of the same social media sites/tools that I have.

Recently, Melanie started using FourSquare which allows people to checkin to venues like Starbucks (or a restaurant, business or park). For users that regularly check into locations, there is a "mayor" title that can be awarded to them on the site which is more for bragging rights than anything else. Well, Melanie just won the title of "mayor" at the 12400 West Highway location and shared this excitement with your staff (I had been the previous mayor so Melanie alerted Tasha and the staff that she was working hard to wrest the title from me). Well, your staff took Melanie's excitement about her mayorship (a demonstration of her loyalty to this particular Starbucks) and decided to award her the "customer of the month" (see the picture below). This of course THRILLED Melanie so when she told me, I couldn't help but share this with my "networks" which happen to be about 15,000 people strong.

The reason Tasha, Melanie and I thought that you might care is that you received A LOT of positive feedback from some leading bloggers, Twitterers and Facebook users. I've added a couple of links to the blogs/FB updates and the Tweets below. Of particular note, one of the leading marketing Bloggers in the world, Lee Odden, and director of social media at Ernst & Young, Ken Burbary, weighed in on this activity. I also had a request from the person that leads social at a large retailer with a request to include the picture of Melanie's "customer of the month" sign in a presentation she's giving next month.



Twitter activity captured as an image bellow, if you want to see live links, you can go here


So, this was a long-winded way of saying, congratulations and thank you and your team for doing the right thing. As I mentioned, I spend a lot of time in this space so seeing smart companies like Starbucks empower their stores to do things like this are very exciting to say the least.


A much shorter story here but equally rewarding. A few weeks ago, I heard some folks talking about the latest Roku player -- an inexpensive device that lets one stream Netflix, Pandora, Flickr and most importantly, As an avid Red Sox fan living outside of New England, I simply can't live without watching and listening to my hometown heroes during the summer. Last year, I used the kludge approach of plugging my laptop into my tv using a cable. It worked but the quality wasn't great and it was a pain anytime we wanted to watch. This year, I was determined to make it simple enough so that at the click of a button, I could stream MLB games into my living room with ease [as a side note, using Roku and, one can not only stream games to one's tv but can also watch games from the beginning, starting with a certain inning or even archives of past games].

My story here is the fact that after talking up Roku once I decided to buy the player, I found out that their interface wouldn't actually be ready until mid-April. Granted, this isn't a problem for an ordinary person but as an avid fan, I couldn't bear the idea of being without the Sox for 10+ days. So, I tweeted to @RokuPlayer on Twitter and let them know that I was a little disappointed with the fact that I couldn't use my player yet for the very reason that I purchased it for. The solution? An invite into their private beta so that I could start enjoying through Roku sooner than the general public. Yes, one might argue that Roku should have just made sure that their interface was ready for everyone out of the gate but at least they were willing to help out someone that demonstrated that they cared. This is a case of no money changing hands but the simple invite into a beta program returned me to "avid fan" status.

Cirque du Soleil
Last October at Blog World Expo, I met Jess Berlin, the head of social for Cirque du Soleil. While I didn't get a chance to spend a ton of time talking with her, I was pleased and impressed when she showed up for a panel I moderated with Reem Abeidoh, Lucretia Pruitt, Micah Baldwin and Jesse Stay (and trust me, I know she was there for them, not me, but I was impressed none-the-less). Following that event, Jess and I stayed in touch via Twitter and before she could say, "Bob's your uncle," I had her signed up as a guest on the Quick'n'dirty podcast show.

Jess of course was a fantastic guest and interestingly, one of the things we talked about on the show was how she -- on behalf of Cirque -- reaches out to influencers to get them to experience their shows. Chris Brogan did a nice write up on this post Blog World Expo 2008 which I think epitomizes the approach. Fast forward a couple of months and Jess is telling both Jennifer and I that she would like to give us tickets to Cirque in SF (for Jennifer) and Austin (for me). Needless to say, the offer was with no strings attached but I can happily say, I loved the show (Alegria). It was exciting, breathtaking, visually stimulating and no animals were harmed!


So what's the moral of the story? Companies need to do a better job "seeing" their customers. This doesn't need to include money. However, it does mean taking a little more time to get to know, acknowledge, interact with and incentivize their customers. When done correctly, this results in activation which equals referrals, evangelism and great word of mouth in general.

Are you "seeing" your customers?


  1. Good for you for taking time to write the folks at Starbucks to tell them about the excellent experience your wife had there. That not only is a great morale boost for the employees involved, it encourages better customer service for us all in addition to encouraging companies to "see" their customers. Well done.

  2. Elmer - thanks. I couldn't agree more with the Starbucks story. I want to go out of my way to thank/reward companies who do the right thing for their behavior. Many companies are trying to figure out the how and why of social media. My goal is to give them as many reasons as possible.

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  4. I appreciate you taking the time to document five companies doing fantastic thing in social media outlets. It's nice for brands to see/hear/feel some pats on the back instead of ripples/yells/migraines that come with the many documented #fails.

    Negative "that brand did what?!" subject lines and finger pointing shame stories do spread like wild fire (they also keep brands from starting social media channel initiatives because of fear) but positive examples help everyone see how impactful A.D.I.A. can be and the potential power another successful touchpoint has.

  5. Zena - thank you for stopping by to comment on this post. As someone that's helping a big brand (H&R Block) "see" it's customers, your feedback is important to me.

    While it's true that I do go on the occasional rant (hello AT&T), I try and mostly use my social "megaphone" for good. My goal is to continually verbally pat companies on the back when they do the right thing -- in particular, when what they do is a scalable, repeatable opportunity and doesn't necessarily cost any $$.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  6. Good Gosh, this post is awesome on so many levels.

  7. Your post encourages me to share my good experiences in long(er) fashion on my blog rather than just the 140 on twitter

    For example, I tweeted @amysicecreams the other day requesting that they add Dublin Dr Pepper to the Galleria location. They responded quickly and said they would put in an order. I just got a tweet from them today that they are now serving it there. How cool is that?!

  8. Michael - thank you for sharing your great example of Amy's Ice Cream (a local Austin favorite for those elsewhere in the country). I love the fact that they "saw" you. Good on them!

  9. The brilliance in the phrase “I see you” from the movie Avatar is in its simplicity. Brands and companies are trying to inundate consumers by making themselves visible…everywhere. That is why there has been a huge influx of buzz surrounding channels like twitter, facebook, linkedin, blogging, etc. The assumption is that if I am there and you can see me, than you can hear my message.

    The fallacy though is that it is not a one sided approach…”consumers….you see me, now hear me”. Rather it is about seeing your customer first and creating a more intimate relationship with them. Those three words “I see you” have the impact of thousands of dollars of advertising. By acknowledging that they support your brand, product or service, they are granting you permission to have a dialogue about your brand that excites them.

    Psychologically, it takes 6 good experiences to negate 1 bad experience. What if brands focused on creating and continuing those 6+ "Consumer...I see you" experiences? It almost pulls from the essence of dating flattery. What if brands took the simple rule of dating flattery into how they interact with their consumers? Not only do “I see you” but "I love seeing you everyday"!

  10. Aaron, great post and great examples of companies acknowledging they are listening and are doing something about it. But I do need to just question whether they would give the same level of attention to someone who isn't a CMO. Someone who isn't active in these channels. And someone who has considerably less followers than you.

    It is unreasonable to expect companies to address every single complaint and of course it makes excellent business sense to take care of influencers. I am very excited to see how brands approach this issue moving forward.

    Exciting times to be a consumer and a marketer these days isn't it?

  11. Aaron,

    These are all great examples of companies really putting their ears to the ground and finding new ways to engage with their audience on a very personal level. I'm glad you mentioned some of them this morning in #smb17 because it brought me over here to learn more!

    The nice thing about interacting this way is that, like what you experienced with Starbucks, good experiences are rarely isolated to the individuals who have them. Say you had never drunk Starbucks in your life -- you'd likely still share the experience with others because you recognize it as good customer service, something noteworthy (Zappos comes to mind as a great example of this). You're sharing that good experience with a mix of brand advocates, occasional patrons and people who are loyalists of their local coffee shop instead. Simply by sharing your wife's experience, you're becoming a voice of the brand. That's incredibly powerful.

    It was great meeting you this morning; looking forward to reading more here!


  12. Aaron,

    As you know, I love the Starbucks example and blogged about it right away after you posted it to twitter. Great blog here.

    Gregory Ng,

    I love your question concerning who you are, and also the # of followers that you have. As with the Kevin Smith/SouthWest situation, is he "in the right" by saying, "Do you know how many followers that I have?" (or is this now the same as "Don't you know who I am?") Or why is it now acceptable for us to call out a brand on Twitter, or to complain because they do not have a presence on Twitter?

    It is those attitudes and behaviors that begin to discredit the platform and individuals, I have seen it happen before.

    Mike P | @mikepascucci

  13. Gregory - I love that you brought up this point (I just tweeted about this). I actually thought a lot about my role as CMO along with my access to the reasonably sized "megaphone" that my blog, podcast show and Twitter presence give me. With that said, here's where I think I'm netting out on things:
    1) I'm sure in the case of Sonos, iPadio and Cirque, my role as an influencer played a part in how I was treated (in fact with Cirque, I KNOW it was based on my conversation with Jess Berlin).
    2) With @RokuPlayer, I think it had more to do with me tweeting about being disappointed in not having access to out of the gate. I might be mistaken though.
    3) Regarding Starbucks, this had nothing to do with me because it was my wife who earned the merit badge here. And while she admits to being married to me in her Twitter bio, I don't think the folks at Starbucks had any idea.

    Either way, it would be foolish of me to ignore the role of influence in this process. But in some ways, it reinforces my point because many companies WILL want to start by proactively (or reactively) addressing the needs/wants/concerns of their most influential customers. After they do that, however, shame on them if they don't quickly turn that outreach to their greater populous because in the end, those are the folks that make up the lion's share of the business. They are also less likely to be focused on "shiny objects" than folks like myself.

    Either way, thanks for making me think. And on an unrelated note, I am VERY much looking forward to facing off against Team Raleigh during Movember this fall!

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  14. Jenny - great to meet you too and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I couldn't agree more.

    Mike - right on the money.

  15. Excellent discussion here. And thanks Aaron and Mike (nice to meet you BTW) for continuing it.

    I am very excited about this world we live in where companies big and small have the same tools to communicate to people. The differentiator is now in the resources they have to staff against it.

    As someone who also works in the marketing/advertising space I know that the 80/20 rule certainly applies when targeting profitable demographics. But the potential of the 20% is way greater now that each one of them has a megaphone of their own.

    This isn't a standard direct mail loyalty card driving measurable transactions at brick and mortar locations. We thought that was challenging 10 years ago. Now its about identifying how much that 20% can grow. And most importantly, which 1% out of the 80 we traditionally ignored is worth some extra special attention to.

    So I think marketers in this stage of transition—who have done offline and online and broadcast, and outdoor and who are now realizing the potential of this new space—will default to trying to identifying influencers based on numbers of followers (because true influence hasnt been definitively quantified yet). But new marketers will realize that may not be the full picture.


    P.S. Team Austin will be squashed by Team RDU #Movember.

  16. Great post Aaron! I was actually sitting here trying to think of FourSquare examples I could use in a presentation to a restaurant audience. Happened to read this and your Starbucks story is perfect!

    Your fellow "avid" Red Sox fan in TX, Jill

  17. Thanks Jill. You might also talk to my friend, Simon Salt (@Incslinger on Twitter) about ways to think about using location-based services like FourSquare. He's got some really good case studies.

  18. This is very interesting one really. You have explained the things with very impressive example.