Retail In the Age of Empowered Consumers

Tonight was the 4th and final installment of Conversations About the Future of Advertising in Minneapolis (#catfoa) - a joint venture between the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) and Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Thanks to Tim Brunelle (@tbrunelle) for organizing each of these events and representing the passionate and curious interactive marketing community in Minnesota.

Robert Stephens (Founder, The Geek Squad) and Dan Beranek (Social Media Lead at Target) joined Tim on stage at The Fine Line to discuss "Retail in the Age of Empowered Consumers." The conversation was lively, thought-provoking and down-right humorous at times as Robert and Dan discussed the impact of emerging media (especially social media) on the retail industry. If you missed it, don't worry - I've got you covered. Here are the four key takeaways according to me: 

  • Spooky vs. creepy. "Spooky" is when interactive experiences deliver smart, relevant content to consumers based on their past interactions with brands online. Understanding consumer preferences is GOOD. For example, automatically recognizing your name and offering news, products or services you highly considered the first time around. You think to yourself, Talk about the right place at the right time. "Creepy" is when a brand crosses the line and makes you feel uncomfortable. Forcing yourself into an experience without the consumer understanding how you got there is BAD. You think to yourself, How the hell do they know that about me? There is a fine line between spooky and creepy and brands need to recognize this as they create interactive experiences.
  • Companies are a reflection of leadership. This may seem obvious, but it's an important point as people think about "why or why not" as it relates to a brand's presence in the social media space. As Robert and Dan talked about their approaches to social media, it became evident how true this statement really is. Robert talked about Best Buy's experimental approach to social media with Twelpforce and their openness to allowing employees (e.g., Blue Shirt Nation) to represent the brand and interact with consumers. According to Robert, Twelpforce has answered over 30,000 questions on Twitter from over 2,500 different Blue Shirt representatives. One Blue Shirt alone has answered over 3,000 questions and Best Buy rewarded him with a trip to the 140 Conference. On the contrary, Dan talked about how the Target brand "does not allow them to be 'there' right away" because they need to "figure out where the unique opportunity is" to interact with consumers in social media. These approaches are distinctly different and the presence of each brand in social media is representative of this. The way companies portray themselves is a reflection of leadership and the transparent nature of social media brings this to forefront as brands interact with consumers.
  • Privacy should be an open book. The conversation about retail in the age of empowered consumers naturally led to the issue of consumer privacy. Which then naturally led to a rich discussion about Facebook's Open Graph. With over 400 million users globally, Facebook's privacy policy has been widely scrutinized due to the confusing nature of how it works and how it's written. Robert pointed out two important developments we'll see as a result of the Facebook Open Graph platform and their convoluted privacy policy. First, nobody's going to let Facebook "own" the idea of "liking" things across the web. OpenLike.org was launched within days of Facebook announcing Open Graph and allows people to tell other sites about the things they like and dislike on the web. Second, companies are making a cognizant effort to make their privacy policies more transparent and offering specifics about the type of data they store. Google's Data Liberation Front is a great example of this. Their goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products.
  • Curiosity killed the cat (and gets people hired). During the presentation, Robert said, "If I had to hire on one trait, it would be curiosity." He went on to talk about how curiosity demonstrates humility. A person may not know everything, but wants to learn everything. He then went on to talk about how there's no excuse to not figure things out considering people are typically five feet from a Google search (especially in a Best Buy store). I completely agree with this. In order to succeed as an interactive marketer, you need to be overly curious to the point where it becomes obsessive and tiresome. It just comes with the job. If you're not sure what Facebook Open Graph means for brands in the interactive space, figure it out. Do a Google search. Add RSS feeds to your Google Reader. Have TweetDeck running on your desktop to keep a pulse on today's interactive marketing news. But the most challenging piece of it all is stepping back and figuring out how all the tactics (e.g., Facebook "Liking", Twitter's Promoted Tweets, Foursquare initiatives) fit into an overarching interactive strategy.