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This article was published on December 19, 2012

Innovative Communicators: These companies are changing consumer outreach

Innovative Communicators: These companies are changing consumer outreach
Lauren Hockenson
Story by

Lauren Hockenson


Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. She also has a folder full of dog GIFs and uses them liberally on Twitter at @lhockenson.

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How do you speak to someone genuinely? In conversation, people value an honest, friendly and receptive person who listens just as much as he speaks . Anyone who has read a few lines of Emily Post knows how to behave well in public, and it’s easy to make a personal connection with someone simply by showing your personality.

As a brand, the line is a little more tenuous to walk. The conversation not only involves communicating a genuine personality, but also ensuring that you don’t veer too far into “brand speak” and lose your customers and fans in all of the noise. Unfortunately, brand communications anywhere outside of social media suffer from slow and clunky brand messaging, making it difficult to reach potential consumers in that necessary personal setting.

But, thankfully, there are companies out there who are trying to change all that, and are smoothing out the bumps in brand/consumer communication in creative and effective ways.

We spoke with two companies that are radically changing the ways that brands communicate with their consumers — making businesses big and small faster, smarter and more thoughtful when responding to the public’s needs.

What company do you think is revolutionizing communication? Let us know in the comments.

Brand to Consumer: Kapture

One of the most powerful things a brand can do is turn a casual customer into a “brand evangelist” — a fan who not only loves a product but is also willing to tap into their own social networks to promote it. Brand evangelists are worth their weight in gold, but like the previous metal, they’re just as hard to cultivate in meaningful quantities. It doesn’t help that brands rarely reward their customers for word-of-mouth endeavors, and it’s difficult to incentivize messaging without seeming fake or too forceful.

Enter Kapture, a New York based startup that has found a way to make brand evangelizing frictionless, interesting and fun for customers. Utilizing a combination of social check-ins, photography and social media broadcasting, the app is both a way for consumers to earn perks and a brand to score a fan with cache. And that fan always loves to take photos.

“We started this company a year and half ago to connect brands, services and merchants with the people who love to take photos and share with their friends via social media,” says Michael Szewczyk, CEO of Kapture. “We’re really trying to create the best user experience as possible.”

Kapture does this through “moments,” which are individual opportunities for consumers who use the app to take pictures of a brand or product at a specific location. For example, users can stop by a local juice bar, snap and share a picture of the pineapple smoothies they ordered, and receive a coupon for 50% off their next order automagically. Szewczyk says that customers enjoy using Kapture because it’s really close to the way people organically share their experiences.

“For the first time ever, users are getting an added experience aside from just taking a photo with their friends,” Szewczyk explains. “Whether that’s trying a new product, getting a free class or discounts, that new experience is the reason why people are starting to use Kapture.”

Teaming up with small and large businesses alike, Kapture aims to take real life brand interactions that are natural to a customer’s day and turn them into social shoutouts for the brand. Although its really only rolled out within the last couple months, Szewczyk says that the app has received plenty of positive feedback from brand partners, both local and national.

“It’s not a hard sell to show people that they can get more exposure through photography where there wasn’t before,” Szewczyk says. “They’re excited by the fact that people are having fun with the application.”

Consumer to Brand: Olark

Communication is not a one-way street, and it’s just as difficult to have a consumer have a positive experience communicating with the brand as it is the other way around. And, believe it or not, similar barriers are in place: because companies naturally foster a one-to-many relationship, it’s difficult to single out customers individually and listen to their needs.

And listening is key — especially if the company wants to stay in business.

“When you’re talking to your customer, it’s the most important conversation you’re having,” says Sunir Shah, Chief Marketing Officer at Y-Combinator developed customer service startup Olark.

Olark is founded on solving the listening problem within the customer service community, and do it as fast as possible. Shah says that this is made possible through Olark’s system, which relies on a simple code that can be cut and paste into every page of a brand’s business. Customers are then able to click at the bottom of a page and chat directly with a representative from the company.

“When you walk into a store, a clerk always comes up and asks ‘Can I help you?’ Shah says. “If you don’t go out of a store to get help, why would you go off the page? On-page chat helps people without interrupting their purchasing experience.”

The flexibility isn’t only on the consumer end, either. Olark users are able to access customer communications from any and all devices — including mobile devices and chat. This allows companies to completely divest themselves of a costly and time-heavy call systems that normally work their way into traditional customer service strategy.

“Even though the customer may be sitting, ready to get an answer, they may have to wait an hour or two hours to just get a response,” Shah adds. “If you have a customer who wants to get a response right away, you can answer them right away.”

The result is a secure, simple and fast way to get in touch with customers, and stay with them as they navigate the company websites. Olark has quickly risen as the communique of choice for fellow startups such as 99 Designs and Hipmunk, but Shah says it’s all about moving chat into the future of customer service.

“In the future, customer service will become real-time. Small town, small business values at scale,” Shah says.

Image: Thinkstock

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