How Staples Builds Brand Love Through Social Care

Whether receiving a random present, finding a couple loose fries at the bottom of your fast food bag, or getting fresh flowers when it’s not Valentines Day, people…love…surprises! We crave these unexpected delights — Those little things that immediately make our day.

As consumers, we become accustomed to personalized experiences that meet or exceed our expectations of the brands we engage. Anything less and we’ll take our business elsewhere. Unfortunately for most brands, the gap between consumer expectations and brand delivery continues to widen. The reality is, if brands want to increase customer loyalty, they need to deliver exceptional 1:1 experiences that create trust, provide value, and focus on fostering long-term relationships.

As we covered in our Smart Social Report, Volume 4, smart social brands are realizing that while 1:many social posts get the majority of attention from marketers, the 1:1 communications with customers are way more prevalent. These 1:1 moments are when your brand can create a lasting connection with a customer and demand increased attention.

We recently heard a story from our customer, Staples, about the meaningful connections they're building through 1:1 social care. Their social care agent found out that the customer, an avid artist, had just broken up with her boyfriend. As a small gesture, Staples decided to send the customer a set of colored pencils, which went a long way in making her day.

We sat down with Nick Gayton, Social Media Program Manager at Staples, to discuss how the office supply superstore is taking social care to the next level by turning 1:1 interactions like this into surprise and delight moments that create deep connections and brand loyalty.

How does “surprise and delight” fit into your overall social marketing strategy?

Our #RAK (random act of kindness) program is an element of our social strategy that helps to connect the audience with our brand and our messaging. By proactively engaging individuals on a one-to-one basis, we’re able to develop a deep connection. And by providing a #RAK, we’ve also begun creating brand advocates, who we hope will share their story, which in turn, is sharing our message.

How would you respond to those who say surprise and delight strategies are expensive one-offs that may only build loyalty with one individual?

A surprise and delight campaign can come in all ‘shapes and sizes’ and have many different cost points. Not all engagements must end with a brand sending a gift in order to build loyalty. At Staples, we have recently engaged with students starting their first year in college, by simply reaching out and saying ‘Good Luck.’ The goal here is exactly the same as it would be if we were surprising people with a gift. We want to make their day and have them share their story and engage back with us. Once they do that, then they become a brand advocate and that is worth all the energy and money that was dedicated to the effort. So I would tell people who are wary of the financial aspects of a program like this not to worry. Start with social listening and transform your ‘brand’ into a person. Engage with people as if they were your friends. By creating a ‘voice’ that is not brand-centric, it helps to build the relationships that are needed to create brand advocates.

Is Staples incorporating surprise and delight tactics into broader marketing campaigns?

Yes, our #RAK program is becoming a more integral mechanism in our marketing campaigns. The program allows us the ability to help introduce and support our marketing initiatives in a different way, other than having our audience view it in their timeline or feeds. It creates the one-to-one connection and helps to foster a relationship between Staples and the individual. The connection that is created is what the audience will remember and share. An example of this is our back to school approach. We’ve been listening to people going off to college and engaging them in a conversation. During this convo, we offer to send a care package of dorm room supplies, products beyond pens and pencils. We have included snacks, coffee, cleaning items, laundry supplies; we give them what they need to survive college life. Besides the huge smile and ‘thank you’ tweets, they now know Staples offers these items as back to school supplies. This helps to bridge our overall brand messaging with an audience that may not have known to think of Staples for these products in the first place.

Why do you feel that the simple act of providing a customer with colored pencils or a gift card has such a large impact on loyalty?

The act of providing words of encouragement, a gift card, or even a college dorm room care package, is immeasurable. Yes, we can measure engagement metrics, but it is the connection that is created that is important and immeasurable. If by providing a gift or a simple message of ‘Good Luck’ helps to make someone smile or if they share their story on social or person-to-person, then our goal is accomplished. If we are able to achieve that, then we have now created a loyal customer and a brand advocate. Or at the very least, have begun the process to create them.

A smart social strategy should not be singularly focused on driving sales or immediate, measurable ROI. Being responsive, and focusing on a 1:1 communications strategy that goes beyond service and really embraces care and therefore the immediate needs of the consumer is critical in driving brand advocacy, and ultimately, love of your brand. As we see in the examples from Staples, brands do not need a multi-million dollar or multi-channel marketing campaign to create memorable moments that surprise and delight — A personal message or small gesture can create a new and loyal brand fan.

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Ray Rahmati is Spredfast’s lead social business consultant in the Mid-Atlantic region, serving our customers’ needs with everything from strategic guidance to planning and training. He is also a professional and college sports fanatic and second-screener who can be found tailgating on any given Saturday or Sunday.