In Search of Your Booker Moment

NEWARK, NJ - JULY 1: Newark, New Jersey Mayor...Cory Booker image by Getty Images via Daylife

Have you shoveled any of your consumers' driveways lately? Just
about everyone but Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker can put their hands down.

Booker, a savvy enough marketer that he can get some positive ink
for Newark, is not a bad role model for marketers. As Mashable
reported yesterday, New Jersey radio show host Ravie Rave (with all of
about 250 followers) tweeted that her 65-year-old father needed help shoveling
snow
, and Booker promptly responded. Booker asked where her dad lived and
then tweeted, "Please @BigSixxRaven
don't worry bout ur dad. Just talked 2 him & I'll get 2 his Driveway by
noon. I've got salt, shovels & great volunteers." The story went on to
make headlines on CNN and elsewhere.

Newark's mayor has engaged in bigger publicity stunts than that,
but this is one that may well stick around as part of his brand. It's the kind
of thing people will remember – he's the mayor who showed up with a shovel when
someone's dad was snowed in. Even before this made headlines, he already had
over a million followers to witness his conversation with Rave.

What Booker instinctively grasps is that in social media, people
need to know what's in it for them. That may seem obvious, but it's not true of
all forms of media. When you see an ad on television, do you really care if the
marketer's doing anything for you, or do you just happen to pay closer
attention if the ad's really funny or relevant? When you see an ad in a
magazine for tomato sauce or over-the-counter medication, do you care if
there's something in it for you, or do you just turn the page? Social media has
a higher threshold to cross, and to break through, that value proposition has
to be abundantly clear.

When a marketer hits a homerun like Booker did, it can become part
of the brand's mythology. A number of brands have had these ‘Booker moments'
with social media:

·  Comcast, once symbolized by the technician
who fell asleep on a customer's couch
, became known among Twitter users and
others as a company redefining how customer service works through social media.

·  When Coca-Cola got started on Facebook, it built on the
work done by super-fans Dusty and Michael who organically created a presence for the brand, setting
the ultimate example of a brand working with consumers rather than fighting
them for control.

·  Jeep was one of the first marketers to harness
Flickr
, and it still does, making fan photos a centerpiece of its
community.

These aren't all exact moments, but they're key milestones in how
brands have changed the way they relate to consumers. For large brands, from
Coke to Cory Booker, this becomes part of the brand lore. For smaller brands,
like FreshBooks or New York's Roger Smith Hotel, social media helps define the
brand entirely. In each scenario, these brands are thinking about game changing
ways to make an impact by providing value for their target audiences.

Brands can fall into a trap doing this if they're not careful. If
the value proposition lives and dies by giving away free stuff through social
media to boost reach or add bodies mailing lists, then the brand just triggers
a Pavlovian response where consumers are trained to expect handouts. But when
the value is part of something, part of a brand identity and mission, then it
starts to matter. When Dell started blogging after a period where consumers
felt neglected and its brand was hurting, many wondered if it was really coming
around. But when Dell started IdeaStorm
to solicit customer feedback and act on it, this became a signal of Dell's
revival and part of its identity.

Marketers should look for Booker moments as opportunities. At
times it might feel like a ploy, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It
reminds me of a passage I recently came across, oddly enough, in Robert
Wright's The
Evolution of God
where he discusses how tolerance of others
developed in Western religion: "What starts as a tactical ploy… can for
various reasons evolve into a truer, more philosophical appreciation of
tolerance… Having a pragmatic, selfish reason to coexist with people can be
(even if it isn't) the first step toward thinking about them in a nonselfish
way." For our purposes, selfishly trying to meaningfully connect with and
provide value for consumers can make such relationship building a cornerstone
of how brands operate.

That's why I'm not too
concerned over how calculating or sincere Booker was when he shoveled that
driveway. If appreciates what he did, he will seek to build on it, and either
way he can still inspire others.

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