[Part of the series "How Great Companies Use Customer Media"*]
At Hammock, we are inspired by people who run companies and organizations that are leading the transition away from viewing marketing as a series of promotional activities that end with a transaction. These savvy leaders now view marketing as a process of building relationships focused on helping customers reach their goals or aspirations.
We’re especially inspired by the country’s oldest catalog retailer, a family-owned business founded in the 1850s called Orvis. Orvis is ahead of the curve in embracing new forms of media or content that help them teach and learn from their customers, so it was an easy decision to feature it as the first company of our new series called “How Great Companies Use Customer Media.”
In many categories of consumer or business-to-business marketing, it’s difficult to find companies that have fully embraced the value-delivering philosophy we sum up with the phrase, “Don’t sell customers hammers and nails; teach them how to build something.” But when it comes to the outdoor-enthusiast retail category, several companies are so good at mentoring their customers that many of their promotions have evolved into significant profit centers.
While REI or L.L. Bean are great examples of this philosophy, Orvis stands out for the way it has been the catalyst for creating, popularizing and institutionalizing its market niche in North America. A savvy user of customer media since the post-World War II era (and since its earliest days, via its catalog), the company started a customer newspaper, The Orvis News, in 1967.
Today, the company’s use of an incredibly broad array of customer media and content should inspire you to do two things: 1. Think about what you are doing to help your customers get the most out of your products. 2. Learn how to fly-fish.
Orvis learned and applied this adage a long time ago: Sell a customer a rod and reel, and you have a customer for a day. Teach a customer the perfect cast, and you’ll have a customer for life.
Blogs that customers love
Orvis demonstrates an understanding of blogging found in very few companies. They focus on the passions they share with customers, not on the products they sell. The blogs (and there are several) are updated constantly, especially the fly-fishing blog. To see an example of how expertly these blogs demonstrate customer passion, check one of the Friday film festival posts, a weekly collection of great fly-fishing video found around the web. (Warning: Clicking over may mean you lose the next half-hour of your day.)
Podcasts that make you want to go fishing or hunting
After you listen to a few minutes of one of Tom Rosenbauer’s podcasts, you’ll want to drop what you’re doing and start tying flies — even if you’ve never been fly-fishing. The production quality isn’t that great, but the authenticity quality is definitely high-def.
Tom Rosenbauer, voice of those folksy podcasts just mentioned, has a day job as Orvis’ VP of Marketing, Rod and Tackle. We’re guessing one of Orvis’ keys to understanding customer media is the fact they have a employee who has written or edited dozens of Orvis-branded books and guides over the past 30 years and is Fly Rod & Reel magazine’s 2011 Angler of the Year. No fly-fisher’s library would be complete without Orvis-branded books weighing down a couple of bookshelves.
Online video fly-fishing school (free)
Orvis is a pioneer in what we sometimes describe as “educational marketing” — an approach that is so in-tune with what its customers desire that it’s not viewed as marketing but as information. In the case of Orvis, such educational marketing has turned into significant lines of business. It also provides a free version of educational marketing in a section of its website found at HowToFlyfish.Orvis.com. The site has a 14-part video tutorial series on all aspects of fly-fishing as well as other resources, including animated how-tos on tying flies.
Destination schools (paid)
The one- and two-day Orvis Fly-Fishing Schools have been around for decades, and evoke the earliest days of the company when it hosted fly fishermen at a Vermont Inn. Anyone who has attended one of these schools becomes hooked (pun intended) on the sport immediately.
Trips and adventures
With Orvis, the concept of marketing as a journey taken with customers is not merely a metaphor, it’s a legacy dating back over a century. Today, the company’s Sporting Adventures have become a major component of its overall business. Again, if you thought Orvis was simply a fly-fishing company, spending some time on this part of their website will cause you to rethink not only what Orvis is, but what marketing can be.
Into the future: Orvis Apps
Constantly looking for ways to use new forms of media to share knowledge with its customers, Orvis now offers the Orvis Fly-fishing App for iPhone or Android. It provides a wide array of content and tools that will come in handy while on a fishing trip — or dreaming about one.
The kitchen sink
Believe it or not, we’ve just touched the surface on the types of customer media and content that Orvis provides. It uses a wide variety of social media tools and channels to support an ongoing conversation with its customers. In addition to everything we’ve mentioned, its website is packed with how-tos and help in the form of expert articles, interactive tools like this constantly updated fishing conditions map and a complete library of PDFs of user manuals for its current and discontinued reels.
Orvis is a model of the kind of marketing that disappears — something so helpful and in tune with customers’ passions that it isn’t viewed as anything intrusive or filled with hype. While it may appear that only “enthusiast” markets could benefit from such an approach, in the future we’ll share a wide array of examples of business-to-business companies, manufacturers and professional organizations with savvy content strategies.
Orvis’ approach can be an inspiration to all companies: Customers want to be great fishers, not great buyers of fishing equipment. Help them pursue that passion (or business goal), and the selling will follow.
*About the series “How Great Companies Use Customer Media”: “Don’t sell customers hammers and nails. Teach them how to build something.” At Hammock, that sums up what we believe is the key for companies who want to forge longterm, loyal relationships with customers. Of course, it’s a given that companies customers love will have innovative and quality products, competitive prices and friendly and efficient service. But when you stop and analyze why people become fans of a company, more often than not, you’ll discover a company that views a transaction as the start of a journey rather than the end of a selling process. This blog post is part of a series we are featuring on the Hammock Blog about companies we love and the things they do for us that make us want to write a fan post about them. Other than being their customers and fans, we have no business relationships with these companies unless fully disclosed. [Return to top]