Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Use a Subject Matter Expert

The photography world descended on Cologne, Germany last week for the biennial trade fair known as Photokina.  Sony showed off at $2,700 compact camera.  Leica, the Duesenberg of the camera world, showed off their latest and greatest wunderkamera, the M, yours for just a tick under seven grand.  Of course, you cheapskates can make do with the lowly M-E for $5,450.  And Hasselblad, purveyors of Neil Armstrong’s moon camera, previewed their latest bijou, the as-yet-unpriced Lunar.

So what did Adorama, the mighty camera emporium, feature in one of its email newsletters this week?  A oversized frisbee for $17.  And that, friends, is how you use a subject matter expert to enliven your communications.

Don’t get it?  Let’s discuss how this approach works.

Of course, Adorama doesn’t just send out an email with a cheap accessory in it and call it a day, it provides context in the form of a subject matter expert.  Adorama’s newsletters include a weekly post from professional photographer Bryan Peterson, such as the one below:

Cheap tools for an expensive hobby

It doesn’t take a photography expert to write good retail copy for the latest big-ticket item from Nikon or Canon; you can simply point out the newest, biggest, baddest feature and leave it at that.  Similarly, it doesn’t take an expert gardener to wax poetic about a new fertilizer or lawnmower, nor does it take a fashionista to whip up excitement about a new item from a well-known designer.

Subject matter experts like Bryan Peterson give retailers--and other types of marketers--another type of opportunity, the opportunity to make a small-ticket sale.  While Adorama would certainly love to sell more Leicas, they don’t consider it slumming to ask for a smaller sale.  Smaller sales like these serve three key purposes:

  1. Revenue is revenue.  A $17 sale beats $0 any day.
  2. Keeping the customer engaged.  Most consumers can’t feed their big-time dreams on a daily basis, whether they care about photography, fashion or fishing.  However, many can feed their passion with smaller purchases on a more frequent basis.  Adorama and other retailers take advantage of this passion by making smaller sales that may someday lead to larger ones.
  3. Gathering data.  Every sale gives the retailer another data point and with it the opportunity to add dimension to their knowledge of the customer.

The expert approach works for non-retailers as well.  In many ways, the venerable white paper serves a similar function by asking for small amounts of time rather than small amounts of money.  From the customer or prospect perspective, the white paper serves as an expert introduction to a topic of interest.  Building trust and credibility with this relatively small investment of time may lead the customer or prospect to invest more time at a later date with the vendor for something like a request for proposal.  

How can you make subject matter experts work for you?  Here are some tips:

  • Think small.  Adorama’s email works because it flies in the face of the perception (okay, reality) that photography is an expensive hobby.  Experts in every field know plenty of inexpensive tricks-of-the-trade that they can share.

  • Use all your channels.  Adorama has a whole area of their site that archives these how-to articles.  Each article has several suggested items for sale as well.  Similarly, these updates work well in social media.

  • Give ‘em space.  Direct mailers know the mantra “the more you tell, the more you sell.”  However, in digital media, shorter tends to work better.  However however, when people show interest in a topic, they will read regardless of platform.  In the email example, Peterson has all the space he needs to discuss how to use a reflector.  That length only lends credibility.

  • Keep at it.  Weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly updates from subject matter experts train consumers to look for the message.  While they may not buy every time, each communication builds trust and hopefully relevance.

  • Watch it.  At the same time, the marketer should create measurements to track success.  First and foremost, the measurements should include some indication of whether the information encouraged consumers to do something, including purchase obviously but also follow-on actions such as reading more content or shopping.  These measurements can guide the marketer in expanding and tweaking the program.

Have you had success with subject matter experts?  Share some tips with us in the comments below.

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