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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fiskars: 360 Years Young & Innovating With Customers

Fiskateers Blog
I consider Fiskars fascinating: it's an old company, about to celebrate its 360th birthday, [check out the Fiskars Cinema Series] with a young soul, willing to experiment with new and social approaches to connect with customers. I know Fiskars as the scissor company -- you know, the ones with the recognizable orange handles. I also know Fiskars as the company that has unleashed a tsunami of fan-based enthusiasm and innovation in the form of Fiskateers.

Back in November 2008, I reported on Francois Gossieaux's CMO 2.0 conversation about the Fiskateers. On June 16th, 2009, I spoke directly with Suzanne Fanning, Director of Fiskars Corporate Communications. Suzanne had just returned from Project Orange Thumb, Extreme Garden Makeover project in Toronto, Canada, where Fiskars had transformed a desolate space outside Toronto with representatives from Canadian Tire and the City of Toronto into a community garden [see Media Alert - Fiskars, Canadian Tire and the City of Toronto partner to create Scarborough Village garden and Fiskars launches regeneration project]. The results were phenomenal [see makeover pictures], and Fiskars continues in other US locations.

When I approached Suzanne, I wanted to learn more about how she and Fiskars integrate Fiskateers with other more traditional marketing programs. How, too, do the other Fiskars business segments fit in?

Her responses were in keeping with the CMO 2.0 conversation, and also highlighted the transformative nature of social based programs for a company intent on integrating the customer voice into their overall business and innovating with it.

Suzanne's overarching concern is making sure that the Fiskateers program isn't just online hype [which I imagine can get challenging with so many marketers watching and admiring]. Rather, it represents intense person to person conversations. Last year, 5 Fiskateers events took place across the country. In July, all Fiskateers are invited to Orlando for the 360 birthday party of Fiskars. She finds it is critical to have in person events. Not only do they enable face to face interaction, but the interaction sustains and strengthens online programs. Furthermore, those interactions [including meetings] get blogged making them widely disseminated so the entire community benefits.

When you visit the Fiskars website, you'll notice three options: Garden, Crafting & Sewing and School.

I asked Suzanne about the overlap between garden and crafting tools that I had noticed on the Fiskateers blog. I was surprised - mostly because I hadn't expected the overlap - although the integration of the products made sense.

She explained that, yes, this is a community of crafters, but garden tools make sense, too, in certain circumstances. Fiskars will do giveaways and there's a natural connection for Fiskateers if they are creating gift baskets or doing outdoor projects. After all, Martha does both!

School is separate, although Fiskars works with teachers, has gotten teacher recommendations for its products, and has partnered with Scholastic on lesson plans and teacher resources. The category differs from garden and craft tools in that the relationship building is more complex: is it with the kids, the parents, the teachers, or all three?

Fiskars has a Twitter [see worldwide Twitter account] and Facebook [see Fiskars official facebook page] presence where the company doesn't limit itself to one end use segment or another. Suzanne explained that those two platforms aren't as specialized and help promote Fiskars the brand. In fact, you'll note quite a bit of Facebook activity relating to the upcoming 360 birthday celebration.

Suzanne visualizes the platforms and programs in terms of a pyramid. At the bottom is broad social media: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube. In the middle is the Fiskars website, with Fiskars TV, contests that might attract user generated galleries, projects and articles, and similar type elements. Then, at the top, Fiskateers and Project Orange Thumb gardeners; it's the realm of focused, dedicated, enthusiasts.

When I alternate between the website and the Fiskateers Blog, I can't help but be struck by the the blog's intense energy and momentum, all a result of what Fiskateers inject into everything they do. It's powerful. And Project Orange Thumb looks to have similar potential.

I asked about retail relationships. Fiskateers started out as a public relations program with, initially, more of a 'feel good' quality. As it has evolved, it has gone beyond 'feel good.' Now Fiskateers engage with engineers around product development [including live chats around the Trimmer; and here is an example of Fiskaneers asking for Fiskateers' feedback.] Feedback has been so beneficial that they have continued. Talk about innovation and co-creation at work.

Early on in the Fiskateers program, the question of surveys came up. Suzanne suggested that Fiskateers be involved. At first, it was hard convincing the internal organization; they feared what they would hear back. She prevailed and - guess what? - Fiskars has discovered that Fiskateers are amazing predictors of best products. Talk about a grounding approach to keep your finger on the pulse of your marketplace.

Fiskars has seen a beneficial change in retail relationships; it's easy now to walk up to Target and recommend specific products. Fiskars can justify the recommendation based on consumer feedback gathered through and from Fiskateers, offering a different level of value and insight to retailers. They have even started conducting surveys on behalf of retailers. Talk about adding new value and a sure way to make private label products irrelevant!

Suzanne's role has a lot to do with bridging between the corporate organization and the Fiskateers. It's not always easy. She has to make sure that the fun benefits the corporation. The benefits are substantial, though, in the form of product feedback, innovation, ready and qualified focus groups base, and -of course- the strong word-of-mouth generated in the blogosphere.

Fiskateers watch for mention of Fiskars and product placements across a range of TV shows; they're far better than any clipping service! [She initially created awareness by having a Fiskars citing contest, but now Fiskateers automatically notice and communicate citings.]

Furthermore, by engaging with both consumers and store owners, Fiskateer interactions have led to a 3x sales growth increase. I'm not surprised! Fiskateers are passionate about what they do and how they do it and ready to talk about that passion. If a retailer is equally passionate about his or her business, they how not to respond in kind in the face of unbridled enthusiasm?

Suzanne mentioned - and this had me rethinking how powerful the Fiskateers network is - that many independent store owners are Fiskateers, actively participating in committees, and bringing customers with them to events. They like having a connection to the company, and will routinely defend the company when they hear negativity, even helping out customer service on message boards, adding links to videos, and resolving issues.

Think about it: Fiskateers are passionate Fiskars brand ambassadors. Yet, they are also end consumers of Fiskars products, often retail customers purchasing Fiskars products to sell to end consumers, and fully engaged in the Fiskateer community which transforms Fiskars' products into tools that do more than just cut. Rather, they become tools for friendship.

In listening to Suzanne, I couldn't help but realize that she is facilitator, coordinator, enabler, nurturer and protector of this amazing Fiskateer community. She shields it from corporate pressures while ensuring that it keeps evolving and never gets stale -- by adding committees, appointing new leads every 2 years. She watches what the Fiskateers do and when she senses a need, will help address it. Perhaps it's a bulletin board or a widget. She says it's important to enable and be active enough that she can respond quickly with no loss of momentum.

Although it's a large community - Fiskateers now total over 6400 growing by 120 new members per month - it's an active one. Committees [aka Fiskamittees] and smaller groups bring together those with common interests, around a specific charity or children or pets... However, the focus is not on growth, but rather on deepening relationships and involvement. If you remember from the previous post, membership is purposely NOT automatic. To become a Fiskateer, one must be invited. It's based on a powerful word-of-mouth referral system.

At the same time, it only works because of a genuine interest in customers and a strong desire to help them solve the issues that matter to them. The entire Fiskateer program would fall apart if Fiskars were to force products or edicts about the company onto these brand ambassadors. In backing off, Fiskars has helped inspire creative and intense friendships.

[Read these entries from the Brains On Fire blog for additional insight on how transformative brand ambassador programs can be, including a video clip from a recent FIRE session.]

I asked about traditional marketing programs. Fiskars advertises in a few magazines. This year, though, resources have shifted to social media given how much more effective it is. When consumers don't believe ads and prefer to Google their questions, isn't it better to encourage the word-of-mouth that Fiskateers generate? Consumers believe what they read; they can discern that it's genuine and filled with authentic passion.

Press releases make sense for events or product releases [we can expect one for the upcoming official 360th birthday celebration!].

However, if you want to really know what's happening at Fiskars, I suggest that you read through the Fiskateers' Blog, Suzanne's Blog and even the Facebook page. On all of those platforms, you'll observe true engagement.

I'm even more fascinated with Fiskars having had the benefit of Suzanne's insights. Happy 360th Birthday, Fiskars and thank you, Suzanne, for your time. I look forward to hearing, reading and seeing more.

Related article:
Consumer-centric innovation: Tapping into consumer insights to drive growth from Deloitte.


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