Case study: Social media engagement as a point of differentiation


social media engagement

by Trevor Young, {grow} Community Member

It’s pretty crazy out here in the marketing world. We have apps for this, tools for that … technological solutions are springing up daily, promising to solve the challenges currently faced by business owners and marketers.

This is understandable, of course, as the demand for “silver bullet” solutions heats up, it’s only natural tech savvy entrepreneurs will attempt to satiate the need.

Unfortunately there are no silver bullets and technology by itself isn’t going to be the savior you’re hoping for. But use the technology to deepen the intensity of connection you have with customers – now you’re talking!

Engagement as differentiation

There was an interesting article in the Sloan Management Review recently about how active social media engagement might be more important than marketing (or maybe it IS marketing). I think I have a case study for you that demonstrates this.

Husband-and-wife team Brian and Rachel Goulet don’t let technology get in the way of good old-fashioned passion, humanity, generosity, and helpfulness.

Brian and Rachel run The Goulet Pen Company, an online store that sells fountain pens, paper, ink and wax seals (don’t you just love the irony here, marketing and selling such ‘old school’ items via the internet?).

The thing is, Brian and Rachel understand social media and content marketing – indeed, marketing generally as it pertains to 2015 – better than most high-priced marketing directors.

The Goulets have discovered that basing one’s marketing communications on the triumvirate of content, conversation and community is an effective and cost efficient way to cut through the clutter and build one’s brand in today’s noisy social age.

The Goulet Pen Company is just six years old, employs 30 people, occupies a 12,000 square foot office/warehouse complex in Ashland, Virginia, and since inception has posted annual growth of between 50 to 100 percent.

That Goulet is growing at such a steady clip is testament to the company’s product offering and exceptional customer service, but there’s a lot more to it.

Having a great product is table stakes today – it’s a given if you simply want to even have a chance of competing in the marketplace.

Take a look at the Goulet blog. Don’t just look at the first page – scroll through a few of them. Notice the effort that’s gone into its production, the depth of thought contained within the copy, the love that’s gone into the images they create.

Now swing by their YouTube channel. That’s right, the one with nearly six million views. Watch one of the many Goulet Q&A videos (92 at last count), weekly episodes that run close to an hour-long each, in which Brian painstakingly answers questions people submit via email, Facebook and Twitter.

Check their Facebook Page and Twitter account. Notice how responsive they are, how, dare I say human (as opposed to a scripted drone).

Check out Reddit, where Rachel Goulet stops by for a chat (or to respond to comments made about their business, good, bad or indifferent).

Taking a different approach pays off

Many (most?) business owners and company executives approach their marketing with the overarching question: How many leads will our social media and content marketing effort squeeze into our sales funnel, what sort of conversion rate can we expect and ultimately how much revenue can we generate?

Brian Goulet, on the other hand, takes a different approach. He asks: “How can we help the most people?” – and then sets about creating rich, useful original content that educates customers, solves their fountain pen and ink issues and problems, and inspires them to become more creative.

Guess what? Folks love it!

  • “You guys are awesome. I tell everyone I know about you, even if they have no interest in writing or writing products.” (SOURCE – Goulet Blog)
  • “I love the video tutorials, I love the personal touches in each order, I love the fast feedback on emails. I hope you guys are in biz for a long long time. Live long and Prosper!” (SOURCE – Goulet Blog)
  • “Not really a question, but I just wanted to thank you for all the hard work you guys put into the site, videos…” (SOURCE – Reddit)

When was the last time any of your customers thanked you on Reddit, or hat-tipped your brand on Yelp, or bothered to stop by your blog to proclaim: “You guys are awesome”?

Longer term solution

When I wrote earlier there are no silver bullets when it comes to effective marketing today, I may not have been entirely truthful :) There is just one silver bullet, albeit it’s coated in gold and it’s a longer term solution. It’s called humanity.

In coming years, using social media and online publishing platforms without humanity and all that comes with it will put you at a distinct disadvantage.

Businesses such as Goulet inherently understand this (even though it might not be obvious at first) and that’s why they’re thriving with their marketing while everyone else is trying to find a way around Facebook or Google’s latest algorithm change.

Remember: People are now empowered and they love it! They have more information at their fingertips than ever before. They have connections and influence. In a world of abundance, they don’t need you or your products and services. So how are you going to appeal to this increasingly discerning customer base?

The answer is inject a spirit of generosity into your business, bring your people out from the shadows and humanize your organization, add value by publishing helpful and relevant ‘non-salesy’ information, but most of all, lead with your heart.

The last word

In response to a question posed by a viewer of the Goulet Q&A online video show about how Brian and Rachel manage the brand’s social media efforts, Brian says:

“We’re all grassroots here,” he says. Social media is less about having a lot of experience and “more about understanding who our audience is on each platform.”

Understand your audience, answer their questions – be ever useful, helpful and relevant in your content efforts, and responsive to your customers’ needs via social media (and email).

That, my friends, is how you nail marketing today. Anything else is just window dressing.

trevor_youngTrevor Young is a speaker, blogger, podcaster and founder of the PR Warrior, a consulting and training agency that specializes in Content-Driven Social PR. Trevor’s book – ‘microDOMINATION: How to leverage social media and content marketing to build a mini-business empire around your personal brand’ – is out now through Wiley Publishing. Learn more about Trevor at or follow on Twitter @trevoryoung.

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Differentiation and Positioning: What Does Your Business Stand For?


Pursuing, attaining, and maintaining a competitive position in the market is at the heart of an effective marketing communications plan.

A well-crafted positioning statement defines your company’s direction. It answers two essential questions from the customers’ point of view: “What’s different about your business?” and “What unique benefit is derived from your product or services?”

Surprisingly, few companies exist where management is in total agreement on those answers—or even where the answers can be found.

The basic reason for answering those questions is to carve out turf that your brand aims to hold against competitors. That’s differentiation. The difference between what you offer and what others offer is important to customers.

Ideally, you’ll discover the important, single difference through research and strategic thinking.

Standing Out From the Competition

How can we win against competitors? What can we do that they are not doing, or cannot do or say, that’s important to customers?

The statement should be defined in a clear, simple communications strategy that covers the two questions above. It can be a very short paragraph defining the differentiation claim with no more than three key messages that powerfully support the claim. Then it has to be consistently applied across the organization, which absolutely includes “walking the talk.”

One thing successful brands have in common is they’ve established a clear difference that’s reflected in how they do things, what they’re known for, or what they create.

There are many opportunities for differentiating a new brand. It may how something is made, where it is made, how many years it has been made, the ingredients, how “hot” or “cool” it is, how easy it is to find, and level of social consciousness (think Newman’s Own and Patagonia). Jack Trout’s valuable book Differentiate or Die provides great insight and is the best read on the subject I’ve encountered.

Apple has differentiated itself in computers; Wal-Mart, Ikea, and Home Depot have in retailing for differing reasons. Waterford has it in crystal glassware. Porsche and Toyota have it in cars. Navy Seals have it among military services. McDonald’s has it in fast food. Jack Daniels has it in whiskey. Yosemite National Park has it in recreational destinations. Those companies all have established a “position” in the mind of the market, the people who care about what they offer. That perception is nourished and supported by organizations they want to keep it.

New brands have to carve out a new place in people’s minds that’s different. How that’s done well is whole other story. Attempting to be a “me, too” or copycat is not usually a successful strategy.

What’s Expressed by a Brand?

Positioning establishes business credentials and the mental “territory” you want to own. What does branding do for you? Can you even do branding for a small company?

Though you don’t have a branding staff, proper branding can, and should, be done right from the start or from the restart of a business.

The first essential thing to know is that a brand is not a logo or color scheme, although this is a common misconception. Rather, a brand is a promise of an experience.

If you don’t brand yourself, your competitors might… and your customers will eventually do so, too. But is that what you want? Is that what you want your employees to believe in and use as their guide in all their other marketing decisions?

Examine all your brand touchpoints by seeing where you interact with customers—and for how long and at what depth at each of these points. Don’t be surprised if some of these key touchpoints are in service or support, for example. Rank and rate these places, and also develop a list of key brand values. Then you can easily compare them with competitors and make sure you are different and that you provide customers with the appropriate experience.

There are places where smaller companies can provide branded experiences and services that are very personable and customizable to individual, localized needs—something that is very hard and often impossible for larger companies to accomplish. Even if larger companies pretend to offer personalized service, their large employee base may not care to execute on that promise—not that they would probably admit it.

Little Things Make a Big Difference

Small acts matter. Like answering a phone even though you are an online business. Or having a short delivery channel. Or an easy try-and-buy campaign with an easy return policy. Or personal customer support with personalized email. Or smart uniforms for your drivers. But you can’t claim a high-class brand position when you know you are offering cheap service. No problem, there are markets for most positions. Just know which one is yours.

Your brand values should be documented and shared throughout the company and your different marketing agencies. And all (including designers and planners) who interface with customers should be educated about striving to maintain these values.

Your brand promise then becomes the golden thread that helps shorten and clarify all design and management decisions. Sometimes, you may have to ignore good ideas because they just don’t fit in your company.

* * *

So, what about that name, logo, font, color scheme, tagline, and style guide?

Now, you see them as shorthand for the brand promise. They bring a consistent message to your customer and prospect base, across all channels, sales, and social media. The world learns what these words or symbols stand for—even though your world may be a small niche market where you have established a position and focused your brand efforts. Your customers and prospects know what to expect when you reach out to them while the visual aspects give them the memory handle for the experience promise.

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