They run, they bike, they hike, they swim… they cook, they read, they shop and they share.

Fitness enthusiasts have been forming communities for decades, and the Internet has only made it easier to connect the running club in DC, the yoga lovers in Boston and the trailblazing cyclists of Tahoe. When it comes to social, I find the sweatband analogy most fitting (ha!) for exercise enthusiasts because they use the web to research classes, races, sneakers, recipes, retreats and yoga poses, and absorb every tid-bit of knowledge to share with and motivate their communities.

The buzz around healthy living, both online and offline, presents unique opportunities for publishers, product developers and advertisers:

  • Publishers: With hundreds of Pinterest pinboards like “Move it!” and “FITspiration,” and busy readers looking for the perfect 20-minute workout to jump start the day, publishers are forced to craft new content every day full of  tips, tricks and techniques for a healthy body, mind and soul. (Examples: Women’s Health on Pinterest; Fitsugar on Pinterest)
  • Product Developers: The on-the-go fitness enthusiast uses a smartphone device not only as a Walkman, but as a stopwatch, a training guide, a GPS and a heart rate monitor for exercising. The pressure’s on for product developers to build newer, cooler mobile apps for these tech savvy consumers to take with them during a workout (Mobile fitness apps: MapMyRUN; Fitness Buddy)
  • Brand Advertisers: While writers, designers and developers find new ways to marry technology with fitness, advertisers have new platforms for reaching consumers. The hyper-engaged fitness audience searches for innovative ways to meet their health goals, whether it’s a new Pandora station to run to or a cooking full of low-cal quinoa recipes, these types of curated content are a natural fit for advertiser tie-ins and branded moments. (Fitness advertiser integrations or original content : Nike running Pandora station; Lululemon YouTube channel,)

While social media platforms enhance the collaborative nature of fitness communities, word of mouth marketing is still the strongest form of persuasion. In order to better engage the fitness audience with our brands, we need to engage them with useful tools and content online in hopes that they will share that wealth of knowledge with one another offline. Let’s move the conversation from Facebook straight to the trailhead, from Twitter over to cycle fit class, and become the official sponsors of healthy living  – on your mark, get set, GO!

Recently, I was asked to take a step back from my current role in loyalty marketing, and determine why loyalty marketing works, who it’s geared towards and how to launch a loyalty program for your most valued consumers. Before a brand launches a loyalty marketing program it must have the following three ingredients:

  1. An existing critical mass of consumers to engage with and invite to the program
  2. A currency to reward these loyal consumers with – points, miles, discounts, exclusive items
  3. A database management system

Existing loyal consumers:

Who is this group? Travel companies (airline, hotel and rental car) have forced one another to launch, maintain and fund customer loyalty programs. Up to 50% of their consumer base belong to a loyalty program, and make educated decisions on whom to fly, stay and rent with dependent on rewards and perks. Customer loyalty programs are an industry-must for travel brands.

While the travel industry has been enrolling consumers in loyalty programs for more than 30 years, other industries are still scratching the surface of loyalty marketing, first determining who to engage with. Media outlets might engage their most loyal readers, entertainment and sports franchises their most loyal fans, and retailers their most loyal shoppers.

Currency:

Points, miles, cash back and free meals are easy answers to currency for airline, hotel, financial and dining brands, but what about our friends in the e-commerce and media industries? While small direct-to-consumer e-commerce companies may not have the resources to launch a rewards credit card, they can leverage the age-old coffee house “punch card” system: for every tenth purchase, receive an additional 30% discount, for example. Or, an e-commerce site could launch an exclusive access platform, offering an opportunity for its most active buyers and sellers to market and purchase the highest quality, limited time, or custom-made merchandise in an exclusive online environment. Enticing, “elite” status should be a key driver to your loyalty program hierarchy.

As for media brands, it’s most worthwhile to distribute content via member-based social content platforms such as BuzzFeed, which already utilizes a badging reward system for the most popular readers and sharers in the social sphere.

Database:

You’ve enrolled your most loyal customers into a program, you’re engaging them with rich reward offers, now learn everything you can about them. Determine what you need to know about your consumers – frequent purchases, travel destinations, consistent search query’s, and house that information in a smart database system that makes it easy to pull these insights in real-time. Encourage your users to update their account profiles with email address, birthday and product interests to create appealing offers that benefit them personally.

Last, but certainly not least, communicate with your loyalty members!

Build an engaging social community, in which they can communicate on their own, educating one another about the benefits of your program. Listen to their requests and preferences, and craft exceptional experiences and offers that you know this loyal audience will take advantage of.

Growing up, shopping for clothes with my mother never resulted in a quick credit card swipe and a bag full of purchases. No, I recall ogling sundresses and Capri pants at designer prices, as she simply uttered back, “Oh please, we could make that…Easily!” Just hours later, I’d found myself cutting out patterns and tapping the sewing machine pedal.

Resulting in a floral skirt, or maybe a new pair of  green pants, the end product fit to perfection and had a unique homemade tale behind it (I even branded my creations with a tiny monogram!)

Marketers can also apply the type of resourcefulness used in sewing to craft a story and deliver it to consumers in a compelling, cost-efficient, personalized way. The quilt below illustrates the marketing patchwork story:

The Quilt of Marketing

Much like quilting, marketing requires messaging, measurement and tangible pieces, woven together, flipped, folded, faded and re-sewn to tell an ongoing brand story. No campaign is complete without each piece or step—some scrappy and some vastly fine-tuned. In order to create a delightful, scalable consumer experience, marketers must play a hands-on role in each of the patchwork pieces above, weaving them into the strategic planning process, from top-level program brainstorming to tactical campaign execution.

After exposing McDonald’s back in 2004 with ‘Super Size Me’, Spurlock has now entered the product placement realm of the film industry with his newest feature, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”.

The film is about product placement, marketing and advertising, and also fully funded by product placement, marketing and advertising (Screenrant).

Spurlock managed to convince 17 willing companies, such as Hyatt, jetBlue and Old Navy, to participate in his latest ‘docbuster.’ In exchange for sponsorship funds, each of these brands received some sort of placement or promotion within the film.

Hyatt, for instance, is the film’s feature hotel partner. Everywhere Spurlock travels throughout taping, he stays in a Hyatt hotel. He not only shows off Hyatt’s services, but he raves about his stay in various Hyatt franchises.

In the video below, Stacey Snyder, marketing director at Hyatt, tells us about the decision her team made to participate in Spurlock’s project. Because Hyatt “is all about authentic hospitality” it made sense to jump at the opportunity to work with Spurlock, says Snyder — despite that it was a journey that they had “no idea where it was going to take us.”

Since the premiere of his latest ‘docbuster’ Spurlock has been spreading his take on brand transparency everywhere. He even presented a TED Talk (video below) entitled “Embrace Transparency” — brought to you by EMC. EMC actually purchased the naming rights to his talk on eBay for $7,100, which Spurlock has donated to the TED Conference to “go towards his attendance for next year,” he jokes.

More importantly than receiving any sort of product placement, the film’s corporate sponsors gained some brand humility and transparency by participating in the movie. Working with Spurlock meant literally handing over their brand assets, stories and select employees to expose on camera. These organizations allowed Spurlock to take complete control of the marketing message. But in doing so, they just might gain a little respect from Spurlock’s cynical, sophisticated audience members.

A New York-based spa deals site, @SpaSally, gained 60 new followers and increased sales by a third when it offered a $25 spa deal to the @bronxzooscobra on Twitter. 

@HiltonNewYork received a retweet and response from the Egyptian cobra after tweeting: “@bronxzooscobra Do you have a place to stay in NYC tonight? We can offer you the Penthouse ssssuite #snakeonthetown.” 

After Charlie Sheen created his own hotdog concoction at Infield Hot Dog Stand in California, tweeting a photo of it, Infield sales tripled, says stand owner Robert Davition (FOX Small Business). 

Recently, businesses have made quite a push to tack their brands onto trending Twitter accounts and hashtags. It’s not only a great way to gain millions of brand impressions and grow Twitter followers, but if brands can jump on a trending Twitter topic in an authentic way, it may even increase credibility and sales.

So how do brands align with pop culture phenomena like Charlie Sheen, Rebecca Black and the assortment of animals taking over Twitter (see @RoyalPony @BronxZoosCobra @BronxZooKeeper)? The same way consumers do. Simply tag the trending account in a retweet, reply or hashtagged post. If the tweet is clever enough, it could get picked up by the intended Twitter handle, retweeted, and seen by millions in just minutes.

It’s not surprising that smaller, localized businesses have successfully tied themselves to trending accounts. Notice Spa Sally, Hilton New York and Infield Hot Dog Stand are all small-scale, local businesses or franchises. The Hilton New York account most likely needs far fewer post approvals than the Hilton Worldwide account does. With the ability to tweet more freely, smaller brands can write quick, clever, authentic posts that are more likely to be retweeted by the current ‘it’ Twitter account.

 In a few short words, the key to tying a brand to Twitter trends: keep posts simple, funny and organic.

Why?I recently spent time in Upstate New York with my four-year-old cousin. Enthusiastic and curious, he grilled me for days with one question: “why?”

“Why is this grass so yellow?”

“Well, because without rain showers grass loses its green color.”

“But why?”

“Because grass needs water to make its own food.”

“But why?”

“Because grass doesn’t walk around to find food like we do.”

“But why?”

Though exhausted and speechless after my 30 minutes of answers, what a useful exercise it was. Continually answering “why” keeps us constantly thinking — the most important task in information jobs.

Ask any marketing specialist about a campaign or program, and she’ll tell you the who, what, where, when and how. Better yet, she probably has a deck on the entire project. But too often we fail to question (and answer) the ‘why?’ in marketing.

Why target metropolitan 18- to 34-year-olds? Why loop in celebrity talent? Why promote through SEM in addition to optimizing organic search? Why distribute through Facebook, Twitter, Stumble Upon, PicPlz, AND Foursquare?

Creative minds tend to reel through top line planning (writing goals and answering ‘why’) to rush into the fun “how” tactics. By wrapping ourselves up in gritty tactical details, we forget our initial campaign intentions, leading to a mediocre campaign outcome.

Take a look at these 10 famous product failures. Most resulted from creative people thinking outside-the-box, but neglecting to ask, “why the need to innovate?”

Coke, for instance, launched “New Coke,” with the help of spokesperson Bill Cosby. “New Coke” failed because there was no need to innovate—consumers enjoyed old Coke just fine.

McDonald’s had a similar downfall with the “Arch Deluxe Burger,” a high-end, more expensive burger for the adult demographic. Why would adults be interested in paying more for a variation of McDonald’s burgers? There is no reason, and the product was removed from the menu shortly after its release.

We not only need to ask ‘why’ when launching a new product, but when selecting marketing vehicles as well. A telecomm company might use Facebook as a customer service platform. A media company might use Twitter as a headline distribution platform. But why might a brand like Preparation H create a Facebook page or a Twitter handle? Do consumers want an open discussion with this brand? Probably not. Therefore, a brand like Prep H might utilize other marketing vehicles to create a positive ROI.

Most importantly, we’ve got to be transparent with ourselves and our colleagues when we answer, ‘why?’ We can’t answer to merely justify our tactics. We need answers that align with the organization’s goals, objectives and audience metrics.

So why don’t we revert back to four-years-old again and question “why” a little more often?

I recently produced a short video blog to further discuss transparent consumer relations. After days of dubbing tapes, re-shooting footage, saving and re-saving for video and sound, and the usual video production frustrations, I now have a completed “vlog post.”

Video blogs and webcasts can potentially cost between $5,000 and $7,000, not to mention the cost of production hours. Are video blogs really worth the time, money and effort that companies pour into them to enhance the relationships with their key publics? Do these videos make the company more transparent to consumers, employees and shareholders? Or are they just a form of entertainment to add to the hype of the corporate website, blog or newsroom?

Southwest Airlines hosts a video blog on its corporate blog, Nuts about Southwest. Video blog posts range anywhere from new Southwest TV commercials and scripted humor videos to footage from promotional events. While these videos meet the fun cultural standards at Southwest, they may not add to the overall transparency of the organization—they just function as entertainment for the Southwest online audience. However, these videos do exemplify Southwest’s ability to break down the corporate marketing voice and use down-to-earth, humorous authenticity.

Check out this video posted on Nuts about Southwest around St. Patrick’s Day. Two Southwest employees give viewers a glimpse into their exciting day. Could they be showing hints of authenticity and transparency?

Accenture also has a video blog. Though the videos are less entertaining than Southwest, Accenture uses them to build transparency.

In the video below, for instance, an Accenture employee describes how she balances her life at work and life outside of the office. The folks at Accenture have given her the freedom to talk about recent vacations complete with personal anecdotes. This employee can be completely transparent and authentic, even in as serious an environment as an IT consulting firm.

Check out the video post on Accenture’s video blog site.

 

 While some companies embrace the use of Facebook, even for  work-related collaboration purposes, other companies are  setting  up firewalls to ban the use of Facebook in the workplace.

 In an episode of, “For Immediate Release,” Shel Holtz  speaks with  CEO and President of Serena Software, Jeremy Burton about  Serena “Facebook Fridays.”

Every Friday, the company allots an hour of time for employees to spend solely on Facebook. Before the company implemented the program, about 30% of employees already had active Facebook accounts. Virtual attendance of “Facebook Friday” isn’t required, though employees are encouraged to take advantage of this social media usage time. 

Burton believes Facebook brings people together and makes up for the “human” communication that’s lost through channels such as email, text messaging and content management systems lack. However, Facebook also allows employees to interact with people on all levels of the company, breaking down hierarchal barriers to upper level management.

Facebook brings the subculture that exists within any organization offline to the virtual realm. Burton compares Facebook to sitting at Starbucks; we watch people go by and interact with others. Based on watching conversations between people in this subculture, we learn something about them or are, therefore, more inclined to strike up conversations.

Facebook is comparable to the “water cooler” within the organization where corporate gossip and personal or professional anecdotes are passed along. Facebook just takes water cooler relationships and cements them online.

However, critics of corporate Facebook argue that it reduces productivity, slows down bandwidth, compromises corporate professionalism and causes danger to security. Do employees share too much about their personal lives on Facebook? Will they spend too much time and money people-watching on this “cyber Starbucks?”

Organizations need to realize that no matter if they ban or embrace Facebook, employees will find a way to use it, and it will ultimately affect the organization in some way. The same information that gets passed through the grapevine at the water cooler, and then home to the dinner table or to happy hour, now has the possibility to circulate on Facebook as well.

 With constant updates and 140-character messages, Twitter is the environment to create the authentic voice of an organization.

Twitter has received a lot of popularity lately, with “tweets” from mega-corporations such as Comcast, Zappos, and Jetblue. Even President Barack Obama twitters.  

Twitter is a great way to reach a mobile audience. Followers might receive tweets on their cell phones and comment back in seconds. No matter where the audience is, followers can find out what’s going on at the company.

 

With only 140 characters to update followers on corporate news, links or events, many corporate twitterers have adopted an authentic, short-hand tone of voice. 

 

Southwest, for example, tweets about weather, flight delays, and most recently, live updates aboard the new wi-fi equipped aircraft. SouthwestAir uses a light-hearted tone to chat with followers on Twitter. Employees post tweets using phrases such as “super cool” and “bummer.” Followers also exchange jokes with employees frequently. With its high customer satisfaction ratings, Southwest can interact with customers in a casual manner, similar to how Southwest flight attendants talk with travelers on-board.

 

Comcast twitterer, Comcastcares, answers customer service questions and concerns. Comcast doesn’t have as high customer satisfaction marks as Southwest, and therefore utilizes Twitter to gain customer trust.

Comcastcares, maintained by Frank Eliason, director of digital care at Comcast, has done a remarkable job revamping the frustrated relationship between Comcast and its customers. Comcastcares has a slightly serious tone because customers need their questions answered quickly and accurately.Wachovia uses a very formal tone to interact with customers on Twitter. Twittering Wachovia employees don’t introduce themselves with photos and professional information like those at Comcast. In fact, Wachovia doesn’t provide as much corporate information or links to other corporate social media as Southwest does either. 

 Wachovia sends out tweets with a formal, marketing tone. Check out the tweet from @greenbanking on March 27th. Greenbanking promotes paperless billpay, in a commercial voice, which is much less authentic than the voice of SouthwestAir.

 

But is a casual, joking tone too aloof? Or is a marketing voice too distant? Jokes may decrease credibility, but formalities may take away from the authentic relationships built on Twitter.

 

 Tone of voice on Twitter depends on corporate culture. Southwest uses an authentic, jovial voice because employees are encouraged to act that way in real-time. Wachovia employees naturally use a formal tone because of the rigid structure of the banking industry.

A huge step organizations have taken in the direction of openness is posting financial information online (government agencies are even required to post financial reports online now). What better way to be transparent to current and potential shareholders than post the financial strategies and reports online?

 

In the days of Web 1.0, organizations just posted the print version of their annual reports on their websites. With the advent of Web 2.0, industries need to take their investor relations a step further and create interactive annual reports.

 

An interactive annual report doesn’t just include financial information in new, digital formats, but also includes the traditional print materials as well. IBM’s 2008 annual report is a great example of an interactive annual report, complete with multimedia.

 

The Interactive Annual Report Company, based out of the U.K., is a company devoted to building annual reports in multimedia formats for other organizations. An annual report developed by the Interactive Annual Report Company includes a video letter to shareholders from the CEO or Chairman, video case studies, interactive click-through financial charts, as well as downloadable print formats.

 

However, the annual report also includes a small, pocketsize booklet of the annual report in print format. The booklet has colorful graphics and investors can carry it around anywhere.

 

Take a look at the video below. Dave Werner has created a multimedia annual report for Brinker International.

 

 

Many companies have only taken the first step to transparent investor relations with key publics. Posting annual reports in PDF format on corporate websites won’t foster the trusting relationship that an interactive report may. Current and potential shareholders might trust a company more if they’ve seen a video statement from the CEO, have easy access to a decade worth of financials all on one page, or can link to the corporate investors’ blog from the annual report (check out Dell’s investor blog to see an example).

 

Though interactive financial reports require extra time and money, the resulting investor relationship could make up for the funds taken from the bottom line anyways.

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