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How REI Put A Bow On Social Marketing And Wowed Customers

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As marketers, we talk a lot about real-time response and true social agility. But very few brands were able to master the art. So is agile marketing a myth?

A lot of brands struggle with agility in marketing: thinking on their feet, coming up with original and fully custom responses, being innovative in the way they influence conversations. Marketers are used to running campaigns that take three to six months to produce.

Real-time community response is not hard. If you have time to answer a tweet or a question on Facebook, you consider it a job well done. A satisfied customer is a repeat customer, so that's great. But to break through the noise, marketers have to master the art of not only real-time response but the art of the "wow" response—the response that actually makes customers sit up in their chairs and have them say: "Wow! That's really creative!"

One way to achieve that is to appeal to your customer's ego through the fully personalized response. Not only it is flattering, but it is also very personal. Old Spice perfected that with Mustafa's video responses quite some time ago. My friend Ramon De Leon, marketing mastermind of a six-store Domino's Pizza franchise in Chicago, goes one step further and truly touches his customers through personal relationships. He does a fantastic job with sending his customers and fans personal video responses in real time.

Not only that, through having a personal relationship with his patrons and paying attention to both real-life and Twitter conversations, Ramon knows who his customer's idols are, and when he gets a chance to meet the person his customer admires, he always asks him/her to record a custom five-second greeting to that particular customer and he posts it real-time—his way of saying "I truly care!" Case in point: MC Hammer. One more: a tweet from Valeria, another customer, when Ramon taped a video greeting from Brian Solis at LeWeb just for her (she is a big fan of Brian's).

Just before Christmas I had my own encounter with the "wow" experience when my casual tweet to REI, "What is the best gift suggestion you have this year?" was answered through a video. Not only the video was custom made for me, it was made within less than an hour. Even for the most innovative companies, that speed of response is to be envied.

Was I pleasantly surprised? Definitely! Was I flattered? Heck yes! Someone actually took time to create a custom response for me. Not only that, they presented themselves as a socially savvy brand. And that piqued my interest. So I decided to meet REI's social media team and investigate further.

REI started its social programs about five years ago. The social team is composed of three people, all passionate about working with customers. It was a natural fit for the brand because the company is a member-owned co-op. "Our members are the source of our inspiration," says Lulu Gephart, social media team member at REI. "We love to bring our members' outdoor inspiration and expertise to life on our social platforms."

And it shows. Take, for example, their new 1440 Project. The concept here is to help the REI community celebrate every minute of the day spent outside (there are 1,440 minutes in a day). The site reads the timestamp metadata on your photos to slot them in the right minute of the day, creating a brand new way to look at the collective adventures. "Going forward, we'll look for ways to weave these photos into a variety of marketing vehicles as well as our store and site presences," says Gephart.

This holiday season, the team decided to spice it up and answer some holiday questions on Twitter with video. The program was called #giftpicks. To accomplish that they used Green Vests—the in-store employees who pride themselves on their passion and expertise in various product lines and who are always available to help. My video response came from Charis, a Green Vest who works in the Bellingham, Wash., store.

Green Vests in multiple stores partnered with REI's creative team and looked at what might make the best gift suggestion for a particular customer and together came up with the best video response. In 30 to 50 minutes, no less. REI is uniquely positioned in that their creative team is located internally; they do all their production in-house.

"We pride ourselves on providing the inspiration and the expertise to help people get outdoors," says Gephart. "The #giftpicks effort is one example of bringing that expertise to life and a great opportunity to humanize our brand a bit more. This experience is the digital replica of what you get when you walk into any of our stores."

The team shot about 90 custom videos during the period of several days. During that time the referral traffic to REI's site doubled.

That is what I call making marketing personal. And the brands that embrace personal touch and creative agile response are reaping the benefits.

[Images: Flickr user Vicki & Chuck Rogers, Social Media Team at REI – behind the scenes]