I was struck by the intersection of two recent articles: MediaPost wrote about a recent Razorfish study into how consumers view engaging with brands on social media, and McKinsey’s Consumer Insights Group released a report about the importance of creating “customer excitement”.

In essence, the Razorfish study found that from the consumers’ perspective, they’re far less concerned about whether or not a brand has a fan page or twitter account, than that they “feel valued” by the brand. In addition, the notion that the consumer wants to be ‘in control’, presumably by directly connecting to the company’s fan page, ranks last among the key characteristics defining engagement.

At the same time, I was reading an article about a McKinsey & Co. study about customer satisfaction, and the reality that while effective at retaining customers by satisfying expectations, these programs are rarely effective at getting customers to increase their engagement and spend more with the brand. What is required, according to McKinsey, is a strategy around creating “customer excitement”, or encounters with the brand which provide an unexpectedly positive experience. This can take many forms, from getting addressed by name at a luxury hotel or receiving unanticipated value from a brand that results in a “pleasant surprise”. These pleasant surprises can take the form of an exclusive offer, or access to an innovative technology that makes life simpler (think about the first time you turned your iPhone sideways and everything magically resized).

One great example of a brand that has me hooked is Colonel Littleton’s – a small shop of fine leather gifts and other items, all designed by the ‘Colonel’ and handmade in Tennessee. The Colonel is a master at creating customer excitement. A few years back I ordered a leather portfolio and expected it to arrive in typical ‘amazon’-style – cardboard box with the product bouncing around inside. In actuality, Colonel Littleton products come in ornate packaging which is as beautiful as the product itself- so much so that I use the packaging as much as the gifts I buy. Pleasant surprise, customer excitement.  In addition, all Colonel Littleton gifts include Tennessee’s very own MoonPie. Pleasant surprise, customer excitement. I now buy all my gifts at the Colonel’s place.

While many are barreling down the road to social media stardom, furiously standing up fan pages, twitter accounts, and PR campaigns to promote them, maybe we should be more focused on how we can use these platforms to generate Customer Excitement. My two suggestions for brands:

  • Use your social media platform as an opportunity to give your consumers special access to products, or inside access/sneak peeks to new products that ‘normal’ consumers wouldn’t have. Apple is a master at this game. Customer satisfaction programs have certainly played a part in the loyalty that Apple feels from consumers, but their huge growth in new customers and substantial increase in revenue from existing customers, results from their expertise in creating customer excitement for each consumer.
  • Use your social media platform as a venue for consumers provide candid feedback and feature they’d like to see. If brands show consumers they’re listening, and provide new products based on what they heard from the market, consumers will get excited and respond in kind.

Social media platforms are a powerful place to interact with consumers – but they’re not a panacea to building consumer relationships. As the Razorfish piece points out, customers want to feel valued, and that begins with finding and engaging consumers who share your brand’s values. Resonate’s Attitudinal Targeting is focused on finding consumers based on your brand values so that you can build relationships with them – whether through social media or other programs.