The power of C2C Marketing

A prospect approached me early one morning at a trade show and asked about our product. Caught off guard and not being the greatest sales person (are all marketers bad sales people?!), I stumbled a bit, trying to deliver the tried and true spiel; but I could see the "glaze" forming over the prospect's face.

Just then, a client stopped to say hello. I introduced my new acquaintance and explained the conversation. My hope was merely to buy some time while I came up with the right pitch.

To my amazement, my client launched into the best sales pitch I'd ever heard for our product. The prospect asked some skeptical questions, to which my client responded with spot-on answers backed up by her real-world experience. The prospect later became a convert and it remains my best sales job that I had nothing to do with.

Turn your customers into your sales person. This unique technique makes you do just that by making your exististing customers testify your products for your prospects.
Though there is no really practical way to execute that concept, we all know the power of word-of-mouth, but how do you package it and apply it tactically?

The following 5 steps may be used for successful C2C marketing:

1. Have a good product

Starting an open conversation about your product puts it under a microscope. Every nuance, flaw and perfection – but especially the flaws - will be exposed in extreme detail for all the world to see. You'll learn more about your company, product and message than you ever imagined possible. Bad products or services do not fare well.

2. Seek out those with an interest.

  • The Masses – Presumably, someone out there likes you, or you'd not be in business for long. Find them and find a way to engage them in a public exchange. Online retailers like Amazon have employed the customer review model with great success. Purchasers submit their comments about the products they bought. The online retailer gets hits galore as they become a vast repository of consumer product info. This model may not be suitable for everyone, but the idea is to get your customers talking about things that are important to you.
  • The Opinion Leaders - If you have any sort of mass produced product, chances are the conversation has already begun (if it hasn't, something is wrong). Find those who start and propagate the talk – bloggers, journalists, etc., - because it is very likely that they have more influence over your customers than you ever will. They will give you a quick and accurate synopsis of the conversation so far – often they will do this without being asked.

3. Connect with them.

You could start with a blog; or find online foruma that relate to your company or products; or get onto Youtube, Facebook, MySpace or any of the myriad other social media sites - they have seemingly endless C2C networking and marketing opportunities. Make sure your efforts are not half-baked. The #1 SECRET to successful C2C marketing is to give yourself enough time to do it properly – checking things out once a month won't work. If you start a blog, read and respond to other blogs frequently (daily). Join and contribute regularly (daily) to online forums. Get involved in the conversation on every level possible and as often as possible (daily). Eventually, they will begin to know you exist. It's a lot of work and adjustment, but it will pay off. Just the market research alone is worth the entry fee.

4. Let them do the marketing:

It is important to understand that, even if you reach the lofty goal of becoming an opinion leader, you will have no control over the conversation. However, once the buzz is humming, you have the chance to cultivate sales and marketing opportunities that arise in the conversation – or even create them. There's a trend afoot that must have creative directors quaking in their ergonomic chairs. Content development for some high profile traditional marketing and advertising campaigns is being handed over to consumers and it has proven to be a buzz bonanza for the advertisers. Perhaps most famously, Doritos saw a 12.5% jump in sales when it partnered with Yahoo!Video to sponsor a contest among consumers to create the Doritos Superbowl TV ad for 2007. Of course, bloggers themselves are showing the way when SEOmoz ran a landing page creation competition among members of its online community.

5. Keep giving them something to talk about:

Don't let the conversation die, or even slow down. Other ways to start or continue a buzz on the web? Games and giveaways have always been used to get people talking and online versions can use interactivity to further engage the customer – check the ones by Pepsi on its website. Setting yourself apart, with a new product, package or (gasp!) exemplify customer service, will get fingers tapping to spread the word.

What about the pesky nay-sayers with bad feedback? They too can join your conversation. However, it's nice to have the bad news where you can see it – and, better yet, do something about it. The Dell Community Forum is an example from a company that has had its share of bad buzz (remember point #1).

Whether you call it word-of-mouth, viral marketing or conversation marketing, the value of engaging your customer in a conversation and involving them in your sales and marketing efforts is immeasurable.  
- Contributed by Vaibhav Agarwal