Monday, March 24, 2008

Taking It To the Streets: When Customers Run the Marketing Department

We’ve been fascinated by those topics which fall under the header (or should I say tag?) Web 2.0, especially by the struggles of businesses inhabiting the physical world in their attempts to harness Web 2.0 concepts to the purpose of profit.

In the past week two new examples have come to our attention. In both cases, the sponsors invite customer assistance for their business decisions. Pontiac is soliciting suggestions for names for its new sport utility truck which will become available in late 2009. Visitors to the Tame the Name site can type in a recommendation and if their name is chosen, they’ll receive one of these trucks for their very own. To submit their name, visitors to the site are asked to provide detailed contact information and to check the names of current Pontiac models they’d like to learn more about. A little obvious, but not intrusive.

Starbucks is also seeking advice. They’ve launched a website, My Starbucks Idea, at which customers can leave their suggestions for improving the Starbucks experience. Customers can also review the suggestions of others, and vote for their favorites.

This all feels very Digg-like: the website that allows visitors to nominate their favorite web story or video and vote on the nominations of others. One can’t help but believe that My Starbucks Idea was inspired by Dell’s 2007 launch of its site, Dell Idea Storm. On the site’s home page Dell boasts that Idea Storm has received almost 9000 suggestions which in turn have elicited almost 70,000 comments.

The two websites have a similar look and feel for a very good reason: both sites are built on the Salesforce Ideas platform from Salesforce Ideas promises that

“By creating an interactive Ideas forum where people can vet their best ideas, you can become a more responsive company, uncovering new opportunities and instilling a sense of co-ownership with your most passionate evangelists.”

We were unable to learn if other companies have adopted Salesforce Ideas, or expect to. But given that it’s turn-key and is associated with big-name marketers, we should expect to see similar sites in the future. For people, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but for marketers it’s usually the lowest form of creativity.

Visit My Starbucks Idea and learn how many people believe that free coffee is the next big thing, or free wi-fi at all Starbucks, or free…Well, you get the idea. Hasn’t anyone at Starbucks ever been to a focus group?

The most interesting ideas come from the Starbucks baristas, who notice nascent trends emerging among their customers. One for example reports on the increasing frequency of customers who bring in their own foam sleeves for their coffees. Hmm, maybe a merchandising idea.

Dell reports more success with Idea Storm (click for example ideas). Many computer users are passionate about their machines and some are like me, shackled to their machines 10 hours everyday. Ideas for improvement can come pretty quick. Also, Dell has a separate site for employee suggestions which provides a more focused venue for skimming off the internally generated ideas that Starbucks mixes with those of the masses.

Marketers’ dance with Web 2.0 seems less like a mambo and more like a junior high sock hop. Marketers are clumsily repositioning their hands to find that one place that they find satisfying yet doesn’t earn them a slap in the face.

Marketers seem eager to think about the “what” of Web 2.0 questions-a blog, a wiki, user generated content. They struggle with the “why” question. Why should I use Web 2.0 tactics? What role will this play in my marketing plan? What value can I bring to my customers? How will they show their appreciation in return?

We don’t see what’s in this for Starbucks’ customers, and ultimately what’s in it for Starbucks. Let’s see how this turns out.


Thanks once again to Spike at Brains on Fire for bringing the Pontiac story to may attention.

And here are a few links to coverage of My Starbucks Idea:

from Mashable

from The Guardian

from Ad Age

from Buzz Machine

from The New York Times


Cody said...

Web 2.0 will be many things for Marketers. In some cases, it will only serve as an engagement devise with the objective of putting their brand under the nose and in front of the eyeballs of potential customers.

With others, like Starbuck's and Pontiac in this case, Web 2.0 is being used as a focus group on steroids. A focus group whose members they won't have to pay, I might add. Starbucks and Pontiac must be in heaven to be able to garner such great feedback and suggestions at little or no cost.

To me, Web 2.0 is a noun for any web based application that allows net citizens to add content to a web site which is available for public viewing and response.

Certainly that is a broad definition, but it seems useful. For example, if someone said, "What's My Starbucks Idea". You could say, it's a Web 2.0. That description is much easier than saying it's on online focus group designed to ....

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of consumers in the driver's seat. I've had several ideas for Starbucks for some time now! When I saw the idea card in store, I was elated that I'd finally have a place to write them down!...only to find out I have to go to the website. Later when for some strange reason I actually remembered to go the idea website, weeks and weeks later, I realized I had to create a log in and account with Starbucks before I could post my idea. I'm sure there are plenty of great legal and CRM reasons to do this, but way too many barriers for a girl like me! Guess they didn't want my ideas that badly. Jess