The Cooperative Marketing Waggle

When we talk about scent, we're talking about setting up a trail of relevance. And as we are all (sometimes painfully) aware, businesses aren't the sole creators of what folks find relevant. In fact, focused on maintaining the rosy frontal view for their products and services, businesses are not always considered the most credible resources for either relevance or truth.

That honor goes to the multi-tasking, instant-messaging, e-mailing, cell phoning, emoticoning ;-), always on, review-writing, Web-searching, blogging, TiVo-watching, podcasting, eBaying customers that businesses are trying to reach.

How can your business harness and build upon this energy? How can you dance cooperatively with your customers, so you market with rather than to them? Read what my friend Sam Deckerhas to say about honeybees!

The Waggle Dance

There's a natural analogy that, among other things, reflects how customers reach purchase decisions in today's oversaturated market. It is the honeybee Waggle Dance, referenced in Thomas Seeley's The Wisdom of the Hive and in James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds.

Every honeybee colony needs an intelligent collective solution to finding nectar and pollen from flowering plants. The colony can't rationally consider all the alternatives to determine an ideal foraging pattern - it doesn't have any idea where all the different flowering plants are. It simply can't evaluate all the possibilities.

So instead, the colony sends out honeybee scouts in many different directions, trusting at least one will find a great nectar and pollen source, and return to the hive. When that successful scout returns, she performs the amazing Waggle Dance, which is her way of telling all the other forager honeybees exactly where the good food is.  The returning scout with the biggest waggle attracts the most foragers to follow her.

The result is an optimal distribution of bees per nectar source and the most efficient model of production for the hive.

A scout honeybee's waggle is like the voice of another customer.  As a customer, I'd follow the waggle with the highest chance of finding what I want (replace "nectar" with the "right cell phone" I'm looking for right now, or a "new putter").

Customers are exposed to upwards of 4000 commercial messages each day (depending on your source). As a result, marketing is changing. The growing attention on word of mouth, authenticity, transparency and social networking is in reaction to customer cynicism, distrust, sensory overload and lack of time (the new currency). CMOmagazine rated word of mouth as the #1 issue in marketing - 43% of US marketing executives are planning to implement word of mouth strategies in the next six months.

Marketing's messages have less waggle because they've often led us astray.  But we'll look for and listen to the authentic waggles of other customers.  We seek out credible, relevant messages that come from customers who have actual experience of a product or a service.  The more passionate and authentic the source, the more visible the waggle. These people are part of the hive, directing others to the nectar. They waggle; we follow; we find the nectar.

Ten years ago I wrote a book on customer evangelism in the tech community, specifically related to computer user groups (the maven geeks of the market at that time). The book was explicitly titled How to Market with Computer User Groups (if you want one, ).

I didn't call it How to Market TO User Groups (disaster!). I purposely used "with." If you have the right perspective on your best customers (and therefore the right way to treat them) then they do the marketing for you. You don't market to them, they market with you.

The best marketing advice I can give you is to find your wagglers, the influential 10-15% of your customer base.  Listen to them, invite them into your hive, encourage them to waggle, then put them in contact with other customers.  Four quick suggestions: 

  1. Go upstream in the company (create great "Purple Cow" products and service). Encourage many ideas from many sources. Great products with real value produce a field of flowering plants - influential customers tell others about them.

  2. Foster authentic, direct dialogue with customers (blog are a new way, but not the only)

  3. Empower customers to be authorities (reviews, forums)

  4. Connect customers to each other (forums, councils)

There's a lot in these suggestions ... a lot to learn and to do. But I think a fundamental issue is to change management culture and perspective from internal waggle to external waggle. From market 'control' to market 'viscosity'.

Be great, be real, let your flowers bloom, and the waggle will follow.

Sam Decker, formerly with Dell, is now VP of Marketing & Products at Bazaarvoice, a company that provides online brands with a managed solution to enable, encourage, and monitor online customer ratings and reviews.

Volume 125: 02/15/06

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