A Trickle of Transparency

January 21st, 2009

Can the principles of social media work offline?

Many brands are unsure of how (or whether) to dive in to the social media pool. That’s not surprising. To fundamentally reconsider the relationship between brand and its customers isn’t a course correction that can be accomplished over a plate of chicken nachos and a margarita. After all, social media can be scary.

But even if a brand isn’t ready to go full social media monty, can’t the principles of enabling customers to know more about the brands they support be perpetuated offline in a more controlled environment?

JCrew seems to think so.

In their most recent catalog, they have staff quotes on many of the pages. The example below reads almost like a blog, and gives customers some insight into company operations. Other examples are more in the semi-icky “My, doesn’t that scarf match the bangle bracelets? — Jean, stylist” variety.

This reminds me of a program I worked on years ago for Circle K (the large chain of convenience stores). I was responsible for strategy for a new Circlek.com Web site. This pre-dated social media, and how to make a convenience store Web site worth visiting was not entirely obvious.

We ended up pursuing a brand advocacy strategy whereby we created a ton of Web site content that would bring Circle K customers closer to the brand, and hopefully sow the seeds of a relationship beyond “two packs of Camel Lights, and a Slim Jim.” Much the same way that JCrew is trying to bring down the veil a bit, we had featured clerks, unusual food items from global Circle K stores, daily deals emails, etc.

What else can brands do to become more “human” if they’re not ready to support a full-fledged social media outreach initiative?

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