by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

I’m at the Forrester Marketing Conference in Los Angeles, which kicked off with a spiel about a woman in Cincinnati who pretty much dedicated her life to Ikea.

After regularly driving hundreds of miles to shop at the closest locations, she took it upon herself to campaign for a store closer by. Well, that, and a whole lot more:

  • She started a web site to note the most excruciatingly small details about the store
  • Regularly contacted journalists
  • Corresponded actively and often with Ikea
  • Made her license plate "IKEA,"
  • Invented and drew a patron saint for the brand (see below), and
  • When the store finally came to her city, camped out in the parking lot for the privilege of being among the first to walk into it


She's Ikea's Number One Fan.

So what did the company do when she applied for a job at the new store?

It ignored her. And I'm not so sure that I would have advised doing anything different.

Her example was intended to illustrate the new consumer behaviors (and expectations) of engagement. It's a valid point -- and the focus on this two-day event -- but by evidencing such egregiously aggressive involvement with the Ikea brand, it suggested the complexity of this emerging marketing model.

Businesses have always had to contend with crazy people. Back when I worked with Victoria's Secret, there were always a few people who wouldn't get off the call center phones. Ever. Ditto for some of the repeat walks-ins/loiter-arounds we'd get at Blockbuster stores now and then. Our response was to find ways to un-invite them from being customers.

The Internet can serve to do the opposite: it amplifies and extends this behavior. Now, these people are called influencers, or opinion leaders. And we're supposed to engage with them.

But, and intending no insult to Ikea Lady, they're still kinda wacky, aren't they? At a minimum, they're not the basis for a consumer marketing strategy. 

For every rabidly vocal advocate or detractor of your business, there are many, many more consumers who aren't really interested in engaging with your brand beyond buying and using whatever it is that you sell. 

It's not likely that they're getting influenced much by zealots, who are usually content with ranting at one another. Your average consumers are definitely going online for information about your business that might impact their purchase decisions, but I question whether much of that content is coming from people like the woman who swore her eternal soul to Ikea.

That's not to say that it's unimportant to understand what crazy people think, or how they might impact your business. And the groundswell approach that Forrester has pioneered suggests that online communities and networks have an ecology that is mutually-dependent, and in which your business is described and judged without you having much control over those outcomes. 

So the ways that your customers are influencing one another are vitally important to factor into your communications strategy. Forrester is onto something here, and it's great that there's an event focused on it (and attendance seems amazingly healthy, which is a testament to the hunger for this information among marketers). 

I just think that engagement needs to have a purpose and, in the case of the rare unmitigated zealot, the answer might not be to embrace him or her in the same way you would a more reasonable customer. 

The business case for engagement is going to have a lot less to do with greasing squeaky wheels than it will with oiling the entire machine.

Instead of finding more ways to engage with consumers, maybe marketers need to find ways to be sure that when consumers engage with/about you that their experiences are, well, engaging

That means meaningful. Relevant. Useful.

If you're active in that way, you also might choose not to offer a job to someone who wants to sleep in the parking lot of your store.

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