ThinkPassenger’s red velvet rope approach is unique in the industry. It requires corporations to shed the megaphone approach to customer messaging and to connect with their customers one on one. They make it exclusive, fun and rewarding to both company and participant.
It’s typically full service, private and very exclusive. Think “privileged”. It begins with private invitations that are extended to the corporation’s customers. After accepting the invite, ThinkPassenger white gloves the community’s experience from beginning to end.
A Closer Look at ThinkPassenger
ThinkPassenger started in the music industry where they kept track of fans for popular bands. They’d then email fans if their band was in town for a gig. If proved successful, so they decided to do it for larger brands. The first was Disney’s ABC.
Insights, Innovation and Advocacy
“Our world is much more online, social and intimate with customer dialogue,” said Steve Howe, CEO of ThinkPassenger. “We start with three pillars that make up the foundation of every community.”
- Insights – build communities that seek to understand what their client’s customers like and how they feel about competitors.
- Innovation – Crowd sourced R&D. Ask the community for product improvement ideas, ideas for completely new products and respond to the corporation’s ideas for new products.
- Advocacy – Build customer champions that are more likely to purchase in the future and refer the company’s products to their social networks.
Why ThinkPassenger over Jive or Lithium?
Companies should use ThinkPassenger if they need 3rd party objectivity, have never built or run a brand community before or want proven community building methodologies. As many in the Fortune 1000 understand, building a community from scratch is tough. Most fail because of the lack of interest or the content is not engaging enough.
You may also want a private community if
- You don’t want your community research to become public.
- You want a one-on-one relationship with your customers without outside disruptions.
- You want to build relationships with an exclusive group of customers.
When asked why ThinkPassenger is chosen over their competitors: “We win through our client services and strategic direction help. We’ve developed best in class methodologies that no one has replicated. We also give solid advice for community building based on our own experience,” said Emily Gates, Vice President of Community Services.
But, if you’re confident in your company’s ability to run and manage a community or if your community is asking for a place to meet online, then use Jive, Lithium or another self service community platform.
My Impressions of ThinkPassenger
The company reminds me of a company I used to compete with called FreeMarkets (purchased by Ariba for $500m). They developed a full service approach to strategic sourcing while A.T. Kearney used a DIY solution. FreeMarkets typically beat Kearney (due to their full service offering) when the client was new to strategic sourcing while Kearney ended up with the business after the client was well trained on FreeMarkets technology.
The problem with A.T. Kearney’s approach is that FreeMarkets received the bulk of the revenue from their full service offering while A.T. Kearney received the crumbs. There’s a direct analogy to the community business model here. But I don’t see ThinkPassenger taking advantage of it.
ThinkPassenger should borrow the FreeMarkets playbook and start evangelizing the advantages of full service while tactfully knocking down the DIY providers. Do it publicly and do it relentlessly. Currently however, I see very little in the way of differentiated messaging. Yet given where we are in the community adoption cycle, ThinkPassenger should be the marquee name in the space. But today they are not.
They also need to build their brand vision. They need to get analysts, customers and prospects to think of them first when starting a customer or employee community for the first time. Leave them with the understanding that ThinkPassenger is the go to company for those organizations that lack the expertise to build world class communities.
FreeMarkets built a mission control center in the middle of their headquarters to handle their full service engagements. It was impressive. So impressive that it turned out to be there number one sales tool. Clients were flown in to view live events, analysts were given carte blanche access, and prospects were shown the control center to get more comfortable with FreeMarkets business practices. It was also the number one reason cited for using FreeMarkets instead of A.T, Kearney. It became part of their brand image.
ThinkPassenger needs to do something similar. They are a superior solution for inexperienced companies (which is the majority of them) yet they haven’t taken advantage of it yet.
What the CXO needs to know
ThinkPassenger has the better model for companies new to community building or for those companies not equipped to properly extract the greatest value from a customer or employee oriented community. Their SaaS model will also help you bypass IT.
If your organization is looking to explore customer or employee communities and you’re in the Fortune 1000, your better off choosing ThinkPassenger. Their white glove service reduces the risk you’ll face when proposing the idea to your executive team. Leverage and learn from their experience before you set up your own community.
They’ll also give you the opportunities to understand, analyze and make sense out of the vast social data created in the community to develop richer customer profiles and deeper relationships with community members. Trying to do this with an inexperienced team is too risky. Let ThinkPassenger assume the risk while educating your team on their vast experience.
(Cross-posted @ Seek Omega )