retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

By conventional measures, the Sugar Mountain Bake Shoppe on Park Avenue in Rochester, NY, isn’t really all that special. It’s a tiny little store, with a handful of tables, some cute decorations and really tasty and pricey cupcakes, if that’s your thing.

But this isn’t an age of conventional measures and the Sugar Mountain Bake Shoppe understands that in a way that many other businesses do not. The size of the business is completely different if you look at it through Facebook, where every day Sugar Mountain offers up delicious details of the daily specials and loads of information and how, why and where to order.

On Facebook, the tiny shop has more than 11,000 followers and their comments bring a passion for desserts that would overwhelm the little store in seconds. And with Facebook as a friend, Sugar Mountain can sustain a successful business in desserts and catering that might have been unthinkable in a different era.

In many ways the world of social networking that is all around us is a new phenomena, connecting people in groups and on subjects in numbers that stagger the imagination. Facebook, by far the biggest of the networks, is closing in on 1 billion users and many others, from Twitter to LinkedIn boast hundreds of millions of followers. In any given week more than 90% of social network users check in with their networks. Some 40% do so daily before having breakfast or getting dressed.

Yet in many ways, social networking is really old hat. Essentially, it is all about technology helping people come together in much the way humans have always gathered throughout the centuries. Now instead of meeting around the campfire, the cracker barrel or the water cooler, social networking gathers groups in cyberspace.

The groups they form are increasingly focused on businesses they use. Nearly 40% of consumers have friended or linked to retailers and brands through Facebook. Another 25% follow companies on Twitter. They don’t make these links simply to pad their “friend” statistics; they come to benefit. These friends and followers gain exclusive access to deals and offers and find interesting and important content.

And that’s where businesses find their opportunity and their challenge. Behavioral scientists suggest that a shopper needs three elements to make a purchase: motivation, ability and trigger. Minus one of the three, an action - linking to a company or buying a product or service - might never take place. But when companies manage to supply all three - like the Sugar Mountain Bake Shoppe - wonderful things happen. Purchasing is motivated and shoppers become active and activists.

These new insights on the human needs driving the use of social networking come clear in the consumer interviews at the heart of the second section of the newest study from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of North America. The second section of the study is available for free downloads starting this morning following a general session at the National Grocers Association convention. Visit http://bit.ly/UntanglingtheSocialWebPart2 to get the latest chapter, or click here to download the introduction and first section of the report.

As we’ve explained many times before, I am the research director of the Council and am heavily involved in this project.

Any qualms companies have about building a social networking presence will be quickly dispelled by the findings. When the Integer Group, the firm handling the study, asked shoppers why they failed to interact with specific companies in the social web, most said they either never thought about making that connection or couldn’t find any way it would benefit them to do so. Essentially, they had the ability to connect, but lacked the motivation or the trigger.

As a point of comparison, let’s return to the Sugar Mountain Bake Shoppe. Customers have the ability to connect and get motivated by the sumptuous descriptions of the special cupcakes of the day. The trigger is that all varieties are made in limited quantities, so if you wait…you lose.

The challenge for businesses is to bridge those gaps, to give your customers the connection, the motivation and the trigger to reward these new relationships. Done correctly, it creates a recipe that would delight even Sugar Mountain and your bottom line.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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