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Content, strategy and creating value in a digital world

Should you pay customers for their time? A social media lesson for brands

Picture this – you’re the accounts payable clerk at a fast food company. In amongst the invoices for wholewheat bread, organic chicken mayonnaise and coffeecup holders, you find an unsolicited invoice from a customer who wants you to pay him for time spent waiting in your restaurant.

What do you do?

Do you see a blagger, a fool, or an opportunity?

Paul McCrudden [full disclosure: Paul is a colleague at Imagination], recently hit upon the idea of billing companies for the time he spends in their company.

For six weeks he used Daytum to track time spent with any and all brands –  from Pret (his regular lunch haunt), to Transport for London, to The Killers (whose concert he attended).

Then he sent out invoices, charging brands his regular hourly rate, less a generous 75% discount.

The response?

Initially, silence. Then a couple of messages from confused corporates – the head of Carluccios failed to understand why his time should be of value to them.

But now, a trickle of creative responses.

Pret a Manger not only paid him, they covered the cost of his trip to cash the cheque – see the letter from founder Julian Metcalfe here.

Cranberry sent an invoice
for the time spent reading Paul’s original letter and invoice

The lesson for brands: respond to consumer feedback, be awake to opportunities to engage with customers, and most importantly: be sure to craft the tone of your engagement.

Judge it right, and the return in goodwill could be massive. Get it wrong, and you risk looking like the po-faced guy at the party who just doesn’t get the joke.

It’s about being canny, nimble and just a little whimsical.

Take Pret’s response: they clearly recognised that Paul is their ideal customer – a high income, articulate, creator and influencer.

A quick read of Paul’s covering letter would have shown that not only is he highly connected, but that his campaign is all set to go viral via his social media profile and #sixweeks hashtag

By playing the game and effectively calling his bluff, they’ve guaranteed a much bigger return on their investment. They also cleverly took the opportunity to solicit some customer feedback – asking him whether in all the time spent in their restaurants, he had come up with any ideas for improvements

Savvy brand owners know that quick response to a meme can give them major kudos on the social web.

They were invited into a conversation, and by responding appropriately they can win fans and, perhaps more importantly, access user feedback of the highest quality.

Paul’s campaign is now starting to gain traction in the media – featuring on the Campaign and Wired blogs. A #sixweeks meme beckons. Watch this space…

Paul may already be £62 richer, but the companies who responded are whole lot more so.

Perhaps he should bill them for it.

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