Azure Collier

my take on social media marketing and its impact on how we work, live and consume

Want loyal customers? Take a lesson from Sephora: Teach them how to use your products

After the makeover: Melanie and I strike a pose during our post-makeover cocktail celebration.

Melanie and I strike a pose during our post-makeover cocktail celebration.

I am a member of the cult of Sephora.

Actually, I’m a VIB member – that’s Very Important Beauty – of their Beauty Insider rewards program for spending $350 in a calendar year (don’t judge; it’s not all for me – I do buy lots of birthday and Christmas gifts there!).

Why do I keep coming back? Because Sephora is not just a place where you buy makeup. You also have access to information and education – in the store and online – to help you choose the right products and learn how to use them.

This is a lesson that anyone – whether you’re a small business or big corporation – can use to win loyalty by letting customers try out products and services, and going beyond that with in-person demonstrations and social media content that provides education and best practices.

It starts with the store itself. If you haven’t been to a Sephora (or if you’re a guy and have stayed far, far away from them), they have a knowledgeable staff and aisles and aisles of makeup. Each product has a sample available that customers can try on. There are plenty of endcaps with disposable eyeshadow brushes, cotton swabs and tissues that allow you to try on the makeup (without getting any germs from the last customer). Beauty Insider members also get samples to take home and try based on purchase points earned – and a free birthday gift.

A Sephora palette from one of my Instagram photo-a-day pics.

A Sephora palette from one of my Instagram photo-a-day pics.

Sephora also offers a range of in-store educational services: express makeup application, classes and personalized consultations. Most are free, and a few are paid. A few weeks ago my friend Melanie and I made appointments for the customized makeup application, and it was definitely worth the price. The Sephora consultants were fantastic – they helped us with all of our questions on makeup application, indulged us with our “I always wanted to learn how to do ____” requests, and helped us find our own perfect colors and combinations. I had such a great experience and shared it on Facebook (word of mouth!), which is why I’m going back this weekend with 3 more friends – I’m picking up a few supplies and hanging out while they get express makeovers.

Most of their social media and email content shares that same combination – they strike a good balance of education and best practices vs. sales. The Sephora Facebook page and Pinterest boards are full of pro tips, links to Q&As with cosmetic company founders and reps, links to instructional videos, ideas, trends and invitations for fans to share their tips and photos.

Yes, Sephora is a global company and they want to make money, but they’re also providing a good experience for the customers with the sampling and educating. If you’re a customer, you can know on the spot if something’s right for you and not waste money on products that you’re never going to use. And if you’re a loyal customer, you’ll come back when you’ve used up your favorite shade of lipstick.

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Why reviews matter

Gold Star AwardI am a crazy cat lady. Three felines live at our house, and – like most pet owners – I sometimes go nuts on the pet products. I have a loyalty card for and receive emails from one of the big chain pet stores. I’ve been looking for one of those pet water fountains, so I was psyched when I got an email with a link to a sale.

I ended up not purchasing anything though. Why? The reviews for all of the water fountains were so bad that I bailed. Everyone who purchased one ended up returning it because they leak, make noise and/or break.

Turns out I’m one of the 32% of Americans that trusts total strangers when making purchasing decisions, according to Forrester. There’s often speculation about reviews. Are they true or fake? Are people being paid by the company to write favorable reviews?

A 2012 DemandForce infographic shows that review writers have good intentions. When asked why they post reviews, the top 3 reasons were about being helpful:

  • To help other consumers make good decisions – 90%
  • To share experiences on consumer reviews – 86%
  • Because people rely on consumer reviews and posting reviews is a way of giving back – 79%

Although I have run into the occasional questionable review – one store that I will not name promoted a review for one of their products from a Worchester, MA customer (Caught ya! It’s Worcester, you fakers!), I like to think that many of these reviews are true, because that’s what I feel I encounter in real life. I’m a huge shopper, and want to hear my friends’ experiences – good and bad – when they purchase something, whether that’s a car, a book, or a sweater. I’m also happy to share my experiences – especially the good ones.

The DemandForce infographic shows I’m not alone in this – 70% of consumers look at up to 10 reviews before making a decision, and – when it comes to local businesses – 67% of consumers read the reviews.

I am willing to take time to read reviews before I purchase something, especially if it’s for something I have little to no experience with, like when I purchase anything for my nieces who live out of state. I don’t have kids, so when I want to buy them clothing, I head to one of the best sites I’ve seen for reviews – Old Navy. I trust the moms who write the reviews there (there are TONS, which is amazing because clothing is seasonal and the products change pretty frequently), and they seem to be in consensus about the products. Either something’s cute and it fits right, or it’s not-so-great.

I definitely trust the people who write reviews who are by people like me. Whenever I start looking for a new pair of winter boots or a coat, I skip over anything written by anyone outside of New England. If you don’t have to dodge ice and slush for 6 months out of the year, I am not going to care why you like those boots. Give me a hardy New Englander and a description of how a pair of cute-but-functional boots helped them climb snow piles in a parking lot.

While some parts of the Internet are anonymous-and-mean-spirited-gone-wild or overshare city, reviews are kind of a warm and fuzzy haven. They’re a common ground, a community, and a place where you can find people who want to help their fellow man save a few bucks.

What are your opinions of reviews? Like ‘em? Hate ‘em? Worthwhile or not worth your time? Let me know in the comments!

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Resolution: Shop smarter in 2013

Shopping ButtonI love a good deal, so I’m kind of a marketer’s dream – I have signed up for just about every type of marketing from all of my favorite stores – I have an entire email address dedicated to just subscriptions. I’m on those stores’ Facebook pages, I follow them on Twitter, and I’ve been checking them out on Pinterest and Instagram. I still get some direct mail pieces and catalogs for a few places. I’ve signed up for birthday freebies – my birthday is this month and the swag/coupons have already started rolling in!

While this is good for marketers in terms of adding to fans, subscriptions and followers, it’s not very smart for me.

Why? All of the emails, Facebook posts, tweets and catalogs are becoming just too much. I don’t have time for all of it. All of these messages are now marketing noise, and it’s backfired on me. I get daily emails from at least a dozen big brands announcing their sales and new products. Do I go straight to their website or drive to the mall? No. I open up my email in the morning, delete each message, and only pause if the word birthday or coupon is in the subject line. There are so many sales that I just assume that when I do walk in the door, I’ll always get a great deal.

Actually, I’ve been missing out.

I was recently in a clothing store – part of a conglomerate of several brands – that I have a credit card for. They send me weekly postcards from all of the brands. Sometimes they’re announcing the same things in the emails, and sometimes they include those little percent off cards. I don’t read them because I assume the messages are something I already knew. Yup, there’s a sale, and yes, your new (insert season here) line is out. I asked an employee: Should I be detaching those little cards or taking the direct mail stuff to the store, or do I automatically get the deal because I’m a card holder?

The answer is yes – you do have to bring those direct mail pieces or printed email coupons with you to get the deal.

Oops.

I’ve started paying attention to the fine print, which says the same thing: Must bring this offer to the store to redeem discount.

So this is my task for 2013: clean the clutter and get the deal. Do I need to subscribe to everything? Am I getting value on Facebook and Twitter? Who are the stores that are doing this right? Which retailers that offer mobile coupons or let you scan a QR code on the paper ones?

And – before the end of January – find out who else will send me birthday swag.

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Is anybody checking in?

foursquare buttonsI recently celebrated my third anniversary with foursquare. Since 2009, I have checked in more than 3,700 times on 988 days. I have 64 badges, 21 mayorships, and 48 friends, and follow 54 businesses.

After seeing last week’s Pew Center for Internet and American Life report, Cell Phone Activities 2012,  I started to think “Why am I doing this?” Location-based apps/check ins were not among the report’s top 8 cell phone activities. Pew did a study back in May about mobile location-based services, and only 18% of smartphone owners use them. Crazy coincidence? 18 percent of my Facebook friends are on foursquare.

At first, it was about trying a new social media site. I loved the bragging rights for mayorships, and I was one of very few people using it in my area, so I had lots of mayorships. I loved getting the badges too, but I’m not earning too many these days.

So why am I still doing this?

A large part of it is the routine. I check in every – single – day. It starts with the elevator ride to my office – check in to work (I don’t have a foursquare location for my house because my husband would rather keep that private). As soon as I pull up to the parking lot of any of my destinations, I get out of the car, click my remote key thingy to lock it, and open up the foursquare app. When I was in London earlier this year, I bought an international data plan so I could check in (and use the Internet and other apps) – I scored lots of points and got a sweet London Calling badge. My friends who attended Boston’s Social Media Day with me over the summer hovered over a table of social media giveaways – we each walked away with a complete set of foursquare badge buttons.

I think the other part that keeps me going is the possibility of getting a discount. But those are few and far between too. The Gap’s occasionally had some foursquare coupons, and so has Newbury Comics (a funky CD store chain in New England). Lots of places have partnered with American Express to offer coupons or deals, but I don’t have an American Express card. I get more benefits from loyalty cards (especially Panera Bread, Sephora and DSW) than I have in 3 years of foursquare check-ins.

It seems like there hasn’t been enough interest to sustain an app like foursquare. Most businesses aren’t aware of it, and the ones who are haven’t been leveraging it to appeal to loyal customers. They’re relying on those loyalty programs that give them better access to customers, who have to provide the company itself with their valuable personal information in exchange for an account or card. Some of its functions can be completed with other apps that have the advantage of ubiquity and popularity – check ins with Facebook mobile, and reviews/tips with Yelp.

Is checking in worth it? Not for me, not lately. One day, I’m going to get to the office and decide to check my email on that elevator ride to work instead of checking in on foursquare. That day is coming soon.

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