Tight on resources? Deputize your brand’s fans

Sometimes you just need more people. In January, Washington, D.C. deputized out-of-town security and police forces during the Obama inauguration. The city gave them the tools and authority to manage the massive crowds that had descended for the weekend. The size of the actual D.C. police force didn’t grow permanently, but it had the resources it needed to get through the event. Brands can achieve the same effect – a simulated growth in the size of its marketing resources – by deputizing their fans.

penzeysI am a huge fan of Penzey’s Spices. The company is based in Wisconsin and has a few dozen stores throughout the US and a mail-order catalog. Their products are amazing. Their cinnamon (all four varieties) is the best I’ve ever tasted. Penzey’s rubs and spice blends for meats and vegetables can make a good cook out of just about anyone. They offer adorable spice gift packages that I’ve often given at wedding showers and as holiday gifts. A few of my favorite recipes were discovered in their spice catalogs. I don’t ever plan on buying grocery-store spices again.

I will gladly sing Penzey’s praises to anyone who will listen (see above paragraph). But here’s the problem – I have very little at my disposal to aid in my Penzey’s evangelization. It doesn’t appear that the company has even dipped its toes into the social media waters yet. No Facebook fan page, no Twitter account, no company blog. That leaves me with only their Web site to direct people to after I tell them how absolutely delicious the Florida Seasoned Pepper or Northwoods Fire blend is.

But Penzey’s Web site is relatively bland – it’s set up essentially as a no-frills eCommerce site. There’s no way for me to interact with the brand and share it with my friends. Bill Penzey, the company founder, writes a folksy customer letter in each catalog and it’s posted on the penzeys.com Web site. But I can’t share it via Facebook, Delicious or Twitter. The catalog is essentially on the site in .pdf format – making it difficult to share. The recipes from the catalog are also posted to the Web site. But again, I can’t bookmark them, post them to a profile, or even “e-mail this page to a friend.”

What Penzey’s perhaps doesn’t realize is that I, and I’m sure many of their other fans, would do a heck of a lot of free marketing for them if we only had tools and content at our disposal. People are already talking about the brand online: a Google blog search for Penzey’s returns more than 14,000 results. On Facebook, a loyal Penzey’s fan created a group that has almost 400 members and there are three others with a couple dozen members. It doesn’t appear that anyone from Penzey’s participates in these groups.

If Penzey’s fans were deputized – armed and equipped with social tools to take to our friends and networks – we could spread our love for Penzey’s at an exponential rate. Imagine if Penzey’s had a Facebook fan page that featured recipes, images, coupons, gift ideas or cooking tips. Or if they created a YouTube channel or Flickr account where their fans could post photos or videos of the meals they created using Penzey’s spices. Penzey’s doesn’t necessarily need to dive in to a full-fledged social media campaign, but creating some social outposts could go a long way toward allowing their fans to interact with the brand (and with each other) and easily share Penzey’s information with their social networks.

Many smaller businesses are afraid of moving into social media because they think it will take too much time. But if your customers like your brand enough and you give them the necessary tools, they will spend their own time to tout your brand among their friends. So give ‘em a badge.

Image via Flickr user amymengel (yeah, I took that one)

8 thoughts on “Tight on resources? Deputize your brand’s fans

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  3. No kidding! I’m a huge Penzey’s fan too, and they have never used digital effectively. Weak Web site. Weak email program. Zero social media outreach. They could integrate their Web site to Facebook using Facebook Connect (as Ben & Jerry’s has done recently) and really have something engaging.

    Hopefully, they’ll work it out eventually.

    Thanks for the link, too!
    Cheers,
    j

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  5. Hi Amy,
    I just found this post as I was digging through my Google Reader feeds, but wanted to chime in (if a bit late).

    I’m also a big Penzey’s fan & customer of 10+ years, and in looking at their website again (I usually just stop by their little store here in NYC), I was reminded of another Midwestern-based company that has a website that looks like it’s circa 1996 – Berkshire Hathaway. Talk about no-frills.

    And it got me thinking about Penzey’s. I agree that they could probably do a lot more to help deputize their fans. But, to play devil’s advocate for a minute, what if they don’t want to? I could imagine that perhaps some of what they’re selling comes in fairly limited quantities or in amounts that they can’t necessarily increase the production of in great number. (Not all, but some.) Maybe they want to sell the very best product, at the very best quality, and maybe that means not always selling more of it but less? Maybe it means satisfying a slightly smaller customer base, and not increasing in size to a level where they’d run the risk of not meeting people’s expectations? And so maybe it’s a choice on their part to not participate actively in social media and then have demand exceed their ability to deliver?

    I have no idea what Penzey’s actual strategy is, and happily admit I’m playing devil’s advocate here and could be completely wrong, but I guess I feel like it comes down to that – each company has to figure out a strategy that works for their business goals, and then match their social media strategy to that.

    (Btw, great job on your blog – I’m a happy new reader.)
    Laurel

  6. Laurel – you make some excellent points as a devil’s advocate! It very well could be a conscious choice by Penzey’s to keep things on the quiet side so that they don’t grow so fast that they are unable to serve their customers. You are absolutely right in that each company has to take a personalized look at how or if social media fits in with its overall goals.

    I would say that there are opportunities to use social media for monitoring purposes, though. Maybe Penzey’s doesn’t want everyone in the land rushing to buy their products. But engaging with fans online may be a good way for them to find out more about how customers like certain blends, discover unexpected recipes or ways in which customer are using Penzey’s Spices, or mitigate any customer service issues for their existing customers.

    I’ve been to the Penzey’s kiosk at Grand Central several times when I’m down in the city and last month I went to an actual Penzey’s store in Pittsburgh. All kinds of awesome!

    Thanks so much for stopping in and leaving your thoughts, Laurel. I’m so glad you like the blog!

    Amy

  7. I totally agree, Amy. There are lots of opportunities for Penzey’s (and companies like them) to monitor, learn and listen to their customers. Especially all of us loving fans!

    (The store in St. Paul, MN is just blocks from where I grew up. I stock up even more when I’m home. Definitely awesome.)

    Thanks for this discussion-
    Laurel