There was a recent discussion started that I would like to repost here, as there are great nuggets of information found within.
Original PostI’m still trying to wrap my arms around all this and I am wondering what tools folks use to maintain and manage a conversation with users.
I have a “hard” product (meaning not software) and I want to provide a platform for folks to interact and provide feedback. What is the right web tool for this?
Is it simply a forum or are there new tools that facilitate this exchange more effectively? And if it is a forum, any feedback on what the best solution is that is out there (for my small business budget).
There is no perfect tool for developing community. Blogs can facilitate it, so can forums. So can conferences, skypecasts, email discussion lists, seminars, phone calls, happy hours, social networking, the list goes on and on. Community is built through quality communication among your community, which, as a pinko marketer you are a part of.
But even more important than the tools are the time, energy and attitude that you bring to nurturing the community. If you genuinely care about the community (as a whole and individuals!) and their love of your product/service, then they’ll care your company.
Strong relationships are the ultimate competitive advantage because there is no shortcut to creating them. They take time, love, caring and blood/sweat/tears. But I’ll take them over patents any day of the week.
Reply #2 (Original author posts more information)
Thanks for the offer of generating ideas. Hopefully I can keep this fairly short, but it does require some background.
My company markets bamboo fly fishing rods. Typically–99.9% of the time in today’s marketplace, a fly fishing rod is made of a graphite or carbon fiber material. However, between about 1880 and 1960, the majority rod was made of bamboo–split bamboo to be exact.
The maker splits a bamboo culm length-wise (of a particular variety called Tonkin that is grown in a 20,000 acre area in southern China), and then proceeds to plane the split pieces by hand into very exact (within .004-inch) 60-degree triangular shaped and tapered strips that are glued together in sixes to form a hexagonal rod–about 1/2-inch or less in diameter at the base and 1/8-inch or less at the tip. This is a long and labor-intensive process that yields a completed rod in about 50-75 hours. Hence the move to “plastic” materials that can be mass produced.
There is a certain nostalgic element to fishing a bamboo rod, but because of the labor involved, they usually sell today for US$1200 to US$3000 and there is very often a waiting list of up to 18 months from popular makers. My thinking (and the reason I started the company) is that nobody should have to pay that kind of money or wait for a rod (and it wasn’t always like that–when bamboo was the norm, there were production shops that put these out by the millions in any and every grade for all fishermen–fly fishermen or otherwise).
So, over the last four years I have developed a relationship with a family in China that builds the rods at a rate that allows me to sell in the US$400 range and to keep lots of rods on hand for immediate delivery.
That’s the business. I sell over the Internet and and via mail order direct to customers. I am toying with a deal where I work with fly fishing guides and outfitters to have them advocate the rods and get affiliate-like finders fees. I advertise in the right magazines. I do some email marketing. It is a very conventional business and I would like to figure out how to create a community. And I understand that I need an online and offline community.
My business goal is to “right-size” the business by selling about 1200 rods per year. (I am currently doing about 300 a year).
The things that I deal with include the following:
1. Made in China. Can be a big deal for some fly fishers (“USA, USA, USA”–oh brother! We do live in a global economy).
2. Shock factor of the price vs. competition. Many cannot believe I can offer a quality product at the price I do. But the rods are as well build as any available. I have a lot of happy fly fishermen.
3. A large interest in the 55-80 year old set (though this is just one segment) that is for the most part offline. I often get letters in the mail with interesting penmanship. These are people that actually fished bamboo at one time, not like me that wished I did.
4. Choosing a fly rod requires “feeling” the action. Selling over the Internet or mail order is kind of stupid. People really want to try before they buy.
5. It is a niche of a niche market. US, there are probably 4 to 5 million fly fishermen, maybe that many again in the rest of the world. Those interested in bamboo are probably 10-20% of this group.
6. Because bamboo has something of a mystic and is rare, getting rods into the hands of fly fishers often causes a stir.
7. I run the business part time out of my house. That means limited resources, time and focus. I am a “virtual” business with just me (and my wife and kids) as owner/chief bottle washer. I want to keep it like that. As you can see, I have “outsourced” manufacturing and continue to do so in areas of finance, marketing, etc.
That’s the long-winded version of the business (I know, very unpinko). Bring it on, I am very open to suggestions and criticism.
The URL is www.split-bamboo.com (Company name is Headwaters Bamboo Rod Company).
Just a quick thought from a non-marketer: For me, a truly organic and sustainable way to build community is to tell a compelling story. Story draws people in, and if the story gives hints of more story to come, it keeps people coming back for more.
That said, I think you’ve got potential for some great story in your product. You mention you’ve developed a relationship with a family in China who make the rods. As a potential community member, I would love to hear about that family. See pictures. Read a travelogue of your trip to set up your business. Not only could this be great reading, but it would go a long way to alleviate assumptions some folks have about anything made in China — ie, that it’s *all* crappy, poorly paid factory work.
Another place to explore story is with some of your old timer customers. Grab one or two that you know personally and go for a fishing trip! Take lots of pictures. Talk about old school fishing and blog it! The life stories that come out during a day of fishing …. I can only imagine. (Hah — think “A River Runs Through It” Podcast style! )
Reply #4 (my reply)
I grew up in McCall, a small mountain town in central Idaho. McCall is a fisherman’s paradise. I spent many days of my childhood with my father, brother and close family friend fishing the many streams and lakes around McCall. Ray, the family friend, and my father were great fly fisherman , while my brother and I were simply bait fisherman. Its not that we didn’t aspire to become fly fisherman, its just that we did not have the patience or dexterity as children to do much with a fly rod other than make bird’s nests out of the line after several casts.
When I turned 12, my father bought me my first fly rod. That was the day that I became a fly fisherman. Between the advice that I received from my father and from Ray, I became a pretty decent fisherman over the years. Fly fishing is rather easy to learn but difficult to master. Ray taught me how to tie my own flies and how to tell which hatch was on. Both Ray and my father taught me that there is much more to fly fishing than simply catching fish. There were a lot of things that they told in an off handed fashion that I didn’t really understand until I was at the university. It was then that I realized that there are many life lessons that can be learned while casting a fly.
I basically gave up fishing when I went to grad school in Arizona. Its hard to be too interested in fishing when you have to drive long distances just to get to crappy trout fishing. However, I seemed to always make at least one trip back to Idaho per year and would always manage to get in a few days of fishing while I was there. When I went back in 1998 just before I moved to Europe, my father told me that Ray had cancer and didn’t have more than 6-8 months to live.
Of course we all wanted to get one last fishing trip in with Ray. We ended up going to one of our favorite old haunts that we used to go to when my brother and I were just kids. It wasn’t the best place to fish, but it was a short drive and it was easy for Ray to get in and out of the water there.
There we were on that fabulous fall day, all in our float tubes – my father, Ray, my brother and me. It was a beautiful site. We didn’t catch many fish that day. In fact, I don’t think I caught one, but it was the best day of fly fishing that I have ever had. It was the last day I would fish with my friend Ray.