Quirky additions to Fortune 1000 list show desire for customized products and services

By AK Brinson
Last month, Fortune magazine released its annual Fortune 1000 list. In addition to the expected oil giants, commercial banks and big-box retailers, this year’s list features an eclectic group of newcomers that do everything from brewing coffee to baking bread to helping you be healthier.
What do they have in common? They’ve invested in – and profited from – figuring out how to personalize and customize their offerings for individuals.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (No. 766 and probably best known as the owners of Keurig) saw sales nearly double from 2010 to 2011. They deliver value in single-cup serving machines that bring the coffee-house variety into your kitchen. You and your spouse no longer have to agree on the type of coffee you want to drink in the morning.

Panera Bread (No. 971) offers the “You Pick Two” option (as shown in the picture on the right), which allows customers to select from hundreds of combinations of soups, salads and sandwiches.
Weight Watchers (which weighed in at No. 973) gives its customers daily personalized “PointsPlus programs that allow individuals to tailor a weight loss/meal plan to their needs. In response to consumer feedback, Weight Watchers overhauled its Points system in 2010 and now offers more flexibility with PointsPlus.
The success of these personalization-centric companies demonstrates the billion-dollar impact that customization can have.
There are many ways companies can, and should, personalize their public relations and marketing communications. Here are five suggestions:
Customize pitches to journalists and bloggers. The days of “spray and pray” mass pitches are (thankfully) coming to an end. Now, proper pitching includes researching what individuals have written about recently, what they’re saying publicly on social media networks such as Twitter, and the requests for sources they put out on email lists such as HARO and Profnet. Technology and social media make it easier than ever to write stronger, more targeted pitches.
Personally thank customers for their business. According to Forbes, only 21 percent of stores personalize thank-you notes after an online purchase and only 5 percent personalize thank-yous after an in-store purchase.
Monitor social media and online forums for user feedback and respond to each user for better quality customer service. Social media allows companies to identify and solve customer service problems early in the process. A speedy response can turn a negative into a positive.
Design websites to be phone and tablet-friendly. Not only are people likely looking at your website on a smaller screen via a potentially slower cellular connection, they’re making judgments and taking action (or not taking action) based on what they see. So, websites coded to be just as accessible and user-friendly on a small screen are now a necessity.
Create targeted website content and LinkedIn company pages. LinkedIn has a targeting feature that will allow the information on a company page to target individual audiences (here’s how). Develop websites with special pages geared towards individual audiences.
What are some of your favorite tips for helping customers personally connect with your company?
Photo courtesy of Shannon Abigail Simbulan’s Flickr photostream.

Having Trouble Generating Coverage? Try Social Media

By Michelle Rash

There is a growing body of evidence that reporters are not only turning to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for recreation, but also for sourcing and research. For example, one survey found that nearly 45 percent of reporters read a corporate blog when conducting research on a specific company and that a quarter of all journalists visit a company’s Facebook page to gather information.
This ultimately raises the question – are companies doing enough on social media to generate the positive press coverage they want? While many companies are still shy about tapping into the power of social media to engage with reporters, one of our clients has recognized the value it can hold.
A Case Study
More than a year ago, RLF began managing a Twitter account for one of our clients targeted specifically at the media covering that industry.
Since taking over the account, it has grown from roughly 500 followers to more than 1,300 followers, including reporters at some of the nation’s largest newspapers, industry bloggers and government regulators. Through this account, RLF has been able to reach out to followers to promote research and press releases issued by our client, share the company’s point of view on important industry issues, and have conversations and engage with key reporters.
This interaction has led to some positive media coverage. In the most notable example, after seeing a tweet by the Associated Press promoting upcoming coverage on a variety of topics related to this client’s industry, RLF responded via tweet asking if sources were still needed for the stories. Less than 48 hours later, a spokesperson for our client was being interviewed by an AP writer for a story that earned national coverage.
Powerful Tools
While not every company needs to create a unique Twitter account for the media, companies should remember that Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites can be powerful tools for media outreach. Many news organizations and journalists have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts (this study found that four out of five business journalists use Twitter daily). Find which ones matter to your business and your industry, and connect with them through these channels. Praise a story, provide feedback on a topic they are covering, or find other ways to engage to help boost their awareness and increase your credibility.
On the flip side, as a growing number of reporters are using social media for work purposes, it’s important for companies and their spokespeople to understand that news is now more instantaneous than ever. I have seen reporters live tweet from events and press conferences, and tease out the details of interviews as soon as the discussion is complete. Things that were once considered too minor or irrelevant for a print or broadcast story may now get mentioned in a blog or on a Twitter feed. This makes it even more important for those being interviewed to be aware that once something has been said or done, it cannot be taken back. This should not dissuade you from interviews, but just as social media creates more opportunity for positive exposure, there is more opportunity for error.
Our experience with Twitter has found the benefits of social media, whether for customer engagement or media outreach, far outweigh any risks. As media keeps evolving, successful businesses must partner with companies such as ours to make sure both the message, and the medium in which it is delivered, are correct.