Greg Verdino: Love Your Haters!

Girl_heart I've discovered a surefire way to get a room full of marketers to go quiet.  Just bring up the notion of reaching out and bonding with the consumers that hate their brand the most.  Just a few weeks ago, I suggested this very thing to a client.  You could hear a pin drop in that room.

Now, I've written about the notion of "loving your haters" at my own blog and to me it seems like a no brainer.  You seek out the people who are your most vocal detractors and you listen — and I mean really listen — to all the reasons they don't like you and how they think you might improve.  You engage them directly, show them why you do things the way you do them, and make them full fledged partners in helping you turn around.  You actually implement some of the things that they'd like to see.

At a minimum, you get some great ideas for how you can make your business better.  Beyond that, you might even earn yourself some new customers, committed fans who feel like they were part of the solution. 

After all, isn't that why people complain in the first place?  Not simply to let you know you've let them down but also to prod you along the path toward better business.  Right?
I admit that I live inside the social media "echo chamber" where any conversation — even disagreement (maybe disagreement most of all) — is good conversation.  And I'll also admit that, out there in the real world, not every detractor has your best interests in mind; some people really do want to see you go down.  But if someone has taken the time to let you know that you've let them down — by calling your customer support line, by writing a letter, by complaining to their sales rep or (increasingly) by writing a negative blog post, uploading a video to YouTube or starting a negative thread in an online forum — isn't that exactly the kind of person you should engage?

McDonalds did this very thing earlier this year, when they put together a small panel of health- conscious moms and asked them to provide their unvarnished feedback about the restaurant and its menu choices.  Was this a risky move?  You bet — after getting a bit of an inside look at McDonalds any one of these moms could have walked away with a worse impression of the brand, and gone on to tell their entire network of (real world and online) friends about it.  But one look at the women's public and (to my knowledge) unedited journals show that the gamble paid off.  That's some pretty powerful marketing, if you ask me.

And here's the thing — you don't need to be a Fortune 100 company to do this kind of thing.  I'd bet that any business — no matter how small — can find five or six unhappy customers or (even better) former customers who left after a bad experience.  Find them.  Make contact.  Bring them in.  Let them know what you're doing and why.  But most importantly, get them to talk about what they would do differently and how they think their recommended changes would benefit your current customers — and win you new ones.
What's the alternative?  Let the feedback get worse and worse until you have a real problem on your hands?  Sure, I suppose that could work…

So think about it — what are some of the ways your company can partner with its biggest critics to have real, positive impact on your business?  And if anyone out there is already headed down this path, I'd love to hear your stories – I'm sure Drew would too.   

Drew's Note:  Greg Verdino is Chief Strategy Officer for Crayon and writes his own blog as well.  Greg's blog is a great place to keep track of trends in media and marketing, especially in the arena of new media and marketing disruption.  He's an in demand speaker and all around great guy.

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