By: Lou Lasday
What is the hottest strategic marketing initiative making the rounds of board rooms at America's top service enterprises? According to research just issued by the American Marketing Association, it's based on the absolute realization that business must continually "talk" to their customers by first "listening" to their customers. It's the next level to the obvious micro-marketing trend of getting closer to the ultimate decision maker.
That's the concept behind the "Consumer Advisory Board" that every Gulf Coast professional service brand must consider. It allows senior management to understand first hand what customers or clients really think and what they really want.
The Consumer Advisory Board - or, call it a committee or panel - is the ultimate in customer intimacy. It's a collaboration to keep up with your consumer's evolving needs, embrace their hopes and stay a giant step ahead of your Gulf Coast competition.
How it works
A key function is to allow preview, input, opinion and formal recommendations to your senior management, who will report back to the advisory board with progress reviews and timelines. Your added bonus as sponsor is the automatic access you'll invite to senior decision makers in your community, if you do it right.
Make it clear that you are there to collect wisdom that will be reflected in management decisions. Set expectation and requirements. Participants must attend the majority of meetings to remain on the advisory board. Keep agendas fun, flexible and fulfilling. If the participants feel part of the team and made to believe they can really affect your company's direction, they will look forward to participating in the sessions. Especially, if they are sprinkled by the president's address to the group, a quarterly dinner at a top restaurant, a meaningful executive advertising specialty gift, an engraved appreciation plaque, a few thank-you letters from the CEO and personal favors extended to the participating company's elite. Offer incentives that will be valued, and if properly handled, even cherished.
Whom to recruit
It's essential to recruit customers with similar business needs. Additionally, your selection should be like-minded people who feel comfortable contributing ideas alongside their peers. Naturally, if colleagues have relationships with customers, bring them in. Being part of the process, they will have a vested interest in hearing direct comments from their customers and prospects.
Imagine for a moment that you are a senior executive of a Gulf Coast community bank - or a prominent commercial Realtor or a law firm partner, a CPA, architect, builder, developer or hospitality executive. Let's assume you are that community banker, and you desperately want to reach out to a certain corporate group, commercial audience or a specific major prospect short list. Now, if you can create a sophisticated, professional atmosphere for an advisory board of these well-connected senior level peers, just think of the possibilities to your enterprise.
With your own Gulf Coast Customer Advisory Board, there's really something here for everyone. Your participant will feel valued, appreciated and even inspired to know he or she has contributed to the corporate direction of a prominent local enterprise.
You'll certainly learn first hand about issues that affect your business and you'll be able to leverage this insight to share company strategies. And don't be surprised if you elevate the advisers up the Loyalty Ladder. You might even find that a big prospective client is working in the room as a panelist. The longer term value of this customer intimacy with "discussion of equals" certainly wins friends and influences people for your brand.
Consider developing an advisory board in your own enterprise. Remember: "If you grab their minds and you touch their hearts, you'll surely win your share of their wallets".
Lou Lasday, an independent marketing adviser residing on Longboat Key, creates action-oriented strategic marketing initiatives for Gulf Coast emerging companies. A career direct response executive, he has been a general partner of a major national marketing communications firm and regional president of the American Marketing Association.