By Fred Brown, Partner of Last Exit, London and New York
Customers will talk about your company, its products and services, whether you want them to or not. And online there are a multitude of places to do so. The question is, do you as a brand facilitate or participate? I will argue that you should do both, and I'll tell you why.
It is not unheard of for customers to eulogize - one only has to browse Trip Advisor to see that. It is most definitely not unheard of for customers to complain, or to seek answers to questions or solutions to problems. Consider Apple and BMW.
They collaborated on the first proper integration of the iPod and the automobile, and are the only two brands I would consider getting tattooed, were that my thing.
Apple provided a forum for their customers back in 2000. Duane, who has posted 62,100 posts so far, is a 'Level 5' and the number one poster. A blogger said of Duane, "I'm guessing that if you play "Apple Related Trivial Pursuit" with Duane, Duane first kicks your ass and then takes your name."
Apple describes the service as a user-to-user support forum where experts and other Apple product users get together to discuss Apple products.
You'll find a wealth of information about your favourite Apple hardware and software products that will help you get the most out of your purchase. You can participate in discussions about various products and topics, find solutions to help you resolve issues, ask questions, get tips and advice, and more.
BMW, on the other hand, does not provide a forum for its customers. As a result, a plethora of home-grown forums have arisen from bimmerfest.com to model specific e46fanatics.com, meaning a time-consuming and sometimes fruitless Google search for information. It is still not too late for BMW to enter the fray, and provide value to its customers.
Disenfranchising the people who have filled the void is not something I would do - rather BMW could provide:
- a central directory of the forums
- access to specialist technical advice for problems that forum users are unable to provide an answer to (there are plenty)
- access to information that owners of pre-owned BMWs should have, like a copy of their vehicle's original specification or service history
- hosting for the forums, relieving a cost burden that users currently meet
There are five key reasons why I think BMW and other brands should do this:
1. It creates a perception that they care about their customers beyond the initial sale.
2. It builds loyalty. Not everything that is said on the Apple forum is complimentary, but I admire Apple for facilitating. It shows they are here to stay, and can take criticism.
2. It provides an opportunity for the manufacturer to keep close to its customers, and learn about the issues (and often ideas) that can inform their R+D program. There is plenty of feedback out there if they care to ask.
4. It provides an opportunity to touch customers. Today's 10 year-old BMW owner looking for an answer is tomorrow's customer for a new model.
5. You could not laser target the people who influence others in their circle to buy your product more precisely.
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