Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Talk to the Brand

When it comes to social media and especially Twitter, you might be surprised at who is listening. And sometimes, they are just waiting to make your dreams come true!

(We interrupt this blog for a quick disclaimer...this may be a lengthy one as you need to know the background to get the whole story. However, it will be worth your while as there's a chance to win free stuff later on. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

Back on March 11th, 2010, I started this blog with a post entitled "Be Careful What You Tweet". I had learned early in my Twitter journey just how powerful the medium could be, but little did I know just how much truth there was in that statement and what a fun ride Twitter would continue to take me on over the next 18 months.

Besides connecting with PR professionals (both sports and corporate), sports business types who have helped me gain knowledge and insight into my profession, and celebrities who entertain me, one of my favorite things about Twitter is the ability to connect with brands I use.

When I purchase something from a brand, I like to think that it is the start of a relationship. If they provide me with a good product or experience, I am going to be loyal to them and tell others about what a great relationship I have with that brand. I don't do this as a way to get something from them, but as a way to say thank you. As you know from reading my blog, for me it's all about relationships and social media really helps the relationship between brand and consumer develop and grow if the brand has a good interaction strategy in place.

One of my favorite brands to interact with is Outback Steakhouse. I love to eat at the restaurant whenever I get a chance because I know that the food will be great. Since the closest Outback to my house is 45 minutes away, it's always a special occassion when I get to go. My wife and I have celebrated many birthdays and anniversaries there and associate it with fun times.

This past March while traveling to Florida with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team, I tweeted one night about wanting to eat at Outback. Almost immediately, I got a tweet back from the Outback account with a link to the closest locations near me. I couldn't believe it! I wasn't able to get to the restaurant that night, but I did go the next day and then tweeted a picture of my meal and the fun fact that coincidentally it fueled me to my fastest five-mile run to date.

Well, that started a back-and-forth tweet banter with the brand that has continued over the months since. My Twitter followers have chimed in from time to time stating their love for the brand and it's been fun to watch the interaction with them as well. I would like to think that I've pushed some business Outback's way because once you get the thought of a hot, juicy Outback Special or a Bloomin' Onion on your mind your stomach takes charge from there. :)

Then, in June, I received an e-mail from Dan Holm, the person behind the account, asking if I wanted to do some brainstorming with them. I wouldn't be compensated other than maybe getting a gift certificate or something if they liked one of my ideas. Well, I didn't care if they didn't give me anything 'cause I knew that it would be fun to just be part of the conversation. So, I responded seven minutes later with an enthusiastic "Yes!"

The next day, I received a detailed e-mail back from Dan unveiling that Outback would be rolling out the new wood fire grill option and asking for ideas on how to spread the word and get customers excited primarily via social media. I was told that there was no limit to the ideas and to dream big as budget was not a concern, but that I could not share any of these details with anyone.

Well, I ended up being in Florida about that time (Outback corporate is located in Tampa) and I tried to meet up with Dan in person to discuss the e-mail, but due to schedule conflicts we ended up just talking on the phone. I also followed up with an e-mail with thoughts. Here was part of that e-mail: "I wonder as part of your new iniative if you should have some of your most loyal fans try both versions of the cooking options in the same visit. You could do this through coupons/vouchers or you could even work in conjunction with a company like Klout ( to give these away and thus even increase your exposure to the new product line. You could also put survey links on the bottom of your receipts that offer $X off to customers if they come back within a certain timeframe and try one of the new options. The key, though, will be getting some of your most loyal people trying them and sharing their experience with their friends. Word of mouth (or stomach in this case) is always the best kind of advertising and also the cheapest."

Well, little did I know that Outback would give away 1,000,000 free steak vouchers when they unveiled their new wood fire grill option on August 24th! I was blown away! Now, I'm not saying that anything I told them directly impacted their marketing plan, but it was fun to feel like maybe I had some small role in making 1,000,000 people (and their stomachs) a little happier. :) Ironically, though, I didn't even qualify for the free steak giveaway due to living more than 25 miles from an Outback. But, Dan assured me that I would be taken care of and I did end up with a voucher.

I've continued to have fun tweeting back and forth with the Outback account and have even pulled them into conversations with the xBox account and the Southwest Airlines account - two other brands who listen intently to what their followers have to say. It's also been fun to watch some of my friends and followers have the same level of interaction with Outback and come to love the brand as much as I do.

That brings us to last night. My wife and I had the opportunity to attend a screening of The Mighty Macs, a movie about a women's basketball team from a small college beating the odds to play for a national championship, down in Columbus. Since we were going to be in the vicinity of several Outbacks, I decided to find the closest one and make the most of the trip. When I figured out that the closest one was on Bethel Road, I decided to just be funny and tweet Outback about it. What happened next blew me away!

Almost immediately, I started getting tweets and direct messages back from Outback. They jumped on it right away and had the proprieter Chris Pyles ready to go when we arrived. We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by a worker with an umbrella since it was raining. Our table was set up and ready for us when we walked in and our food also quickly arrived. We had fun talking to Chris, Shanelle (the floor manager), and Katie (our server). (Chris and Shanelle are pictured below in the picture that Katie took.) They all really enjoyed playing their role in the red carpet-like treatment and had enjoyed getting the call from corporate to hook us up. The food was great and I really enjoyed the new wood fire grill option. And, the best part about it was that they picked up the tab! I couldn't believe it! We had caught a small glimpse of what it was like to be a celebrity and all because Outback cared enough about one of its loyal customers to have some fun and make it happen. I'll definitely go back to that location again whenever I get the chance because once again we made memories and had a great night.

So, what am I trying to say besides how cool Outback is and how thankful I am that they chose me to have some fun with? The truth is that the good brands are out there listening to their customers and wanting them to have a good experience with their product. If you have that good experience, why not say thank you? Spread the word because your friends and followers just might want to try them out too. And while you shouldn't go looking or begging for free swag, you just never know what might happen.

Speaking of free swag (see, I didn't forget my promise back at the beginning of this novel), I have two vouchers for free appetizers at Outback that they sent me labeled "for your friends". Well, what better way to give them to my friends than through social media since that's how this all started. So, here's the deal. Post a comment about this blog or about a brand that you love interacting with by Monday, September 12th, and I will randomly pick two people to receive them. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and thanks for reading!


Maggie Hayon said...

Truly awesome... I've also had experiences with Twitter where I didn't enjoy something and that company is doing everything to change my experience. I always make sure to comment to brands on how much I love them too! Southwest is one of the best - in the air and online!

Stephen Mayes said...

Great story. It's great to hear about brands that care today. Your testimony, or "word of stomach" has lead to me deciding I will go to outback this weekend!

stacey said... are the coolest media socialite I've ever personally

Admittedly, I haven't used Twitter much and I don't put myself out there like you do, although I wish I could, but what a great night for you!!

Way to go on playing a part of a such a big undertaking. I only wish I had half your spunk and drive.

miskel said...

What a great story! :) I love Outback, it's always a treat for us ~ the closest is in Seattle (over 2 hours away). We're in Seattle 6 times a year...I guess that keeps us from spending too much there. ;)

Secret (deodorant) is another fun company. They sometimes throw out random questions and pick respondents to receive a special package. :) They send it Priority Mail, with each item inside individually wrapped (like a present) and a personal note enclosed. :) Very cool. :)

Joy Helton said...

I don't Twitter, either, but recently was I chatting online with a representative from LLBean. I had an 8-9 year old backpack with a strap that needed repaired. They don't do repairs, but she said if I got it fixed somewhere local, LLBean would reimburse me. OR - I could just return the backpack for a full refund! Seriously, on a 8 year old backpack!?!?

Gail said...

I don't have an Outback near me (anymore), so when I go, it's the Queensland Salad (no bacon, no croutons) and its awesome baked potatoes ... about the only time I eat potatoes anymore. There's an Outback about a shout away from my sister's home and I'll be there next week. I'll channel your great experience during our visit!

Unknown said...

My brother, Brad, had a similar experience at Chipotle when he checked in on FourSquare at their Fishers, Indiana location and the manager came out and gave him a free gift card for checking in. He sat down and talked to him and asked about his visit. It showed the manager was willing to take the time to LISTEN and TALK to the customer to better them experience.


The Thief/Rev. Run said...

I've had good experiences as well with Chipotle. When I was a youth pastor, I stopped in and asked if they would sponsor our area youth Super Bowl party with a door prize. The manager asked me how many youth we expected... and gave me a whole stack of free burrito coupons, one for each expected teenager.

They also served my friend for free when he came in wearing his Army uniform.

Geoff said...

Such a great story,, Dave! Glad to hear that brands like Outback are willing to take a chance and then the reward is just fantastic!

Eric Buck said...

The power of social media is truly amazing. Under Armour had a sweepstakes on Twitter (which they called a Tweepstakes) for a pair of their new shoes. All you had to do was watch their new commercial and tweet the name of an athlete wearing a pair of the shoes in the commercial with a special hashtag to enter. I decided i'd do it since it took little to no effort on my part, and the next morning I received a direct message that I was one of 10 winners chosen. I was amazed! Now more than ever the companies and brands that we use every day are no longer faceless, corporate giants, but are very accessible and open to conversation and dialogue. Some companies really care about their customers and they are reaping the benefits, while all the others get passed by.

JanM said...

Wow! Those photos of the food look fantastic. We are retired and have never eaten at an Outback. I think I could chomp down on that steak just fine! I heard the Blooming Onion is good, too. I'm going to start following @Outback and see what's up in their world. We don't have one near us but we do see them in Greenville, SC and Spartanburg, SC when we go down there - about 40-50 miles away. I'm going to try it. Now, I need to go eat lumch -- I got hungry looking at the photos. ;-)

jml_bryant said...

Thanks for your story Dave. I like how it intertwines between brand development and social media. Of course, the steak part adds a quite a bit as well!

Justin - @jml_bryant

Kelcey Z (@kelceyz) said...

Dave, this is just one more example of why we all have so much respect for you. What a great story, and since we're food buddies, of course I'm glad you got such star treatment at my favorite restaurant. I love finding brands that interact with their customers on social makes me even more likely to opt for those over other competitors.

Kelcey Z said...

And some of these other people's comments have great stories too! (Forgot to mention that in my original post...not trying to get an additional entry into the random drawing.)

Jay Stancil said...

Dave ... this is awesome. And to think you weren't too sure about this Twitter thing at first - much like running. LOL

I've not interacted with brands much, especially at the level you do, but I've had great experience during with Dish Network and AT&T to resolve some issues. Both have been great and very responsive.

OH, I do enjoy interacting with Bart Yasso & Runners' World. Those folks are always good to chat with.

Kathleen Hessert said...

Dave I'm impressed with the brands and you're the perfect example of an ADVOCATE that I keep telling brands they need to identify and take care of. I'm duly impressed with the engagement on your blog which can't possibly be simply for the sake of an Outback coupon. and yes I'll tweet this & use it as a case study as well in our social media education with clients. Enjoy

Anonymous said...


I think you are a true wizard in the art of connecting socially and I can see why Outback would solicit you for ideas. And I'm thrilled to hear you were treated like the rock star that you are.

-Becca Bernstein

William Wells III said...

Great post! I found it because @Outback just sent me the link.

Just got done communicating with them about the fact that I'm including them in a book I'm completing entitled "Going Social - Business Success is at Your Fingertips".

It's an article I wrote after an exchange involving a foursquare "Check In". Think you'll appreciate it.

Kuhndog said...

When I tweeted that I was going to Lowe's, Dave Parsons tweeted back then emailed me a coupon for ten bucks off the purch
ase of my vinyl flooring for my kitchen.

wwechampmandy said...

i really love interacting wih @vipnation ! i have won a personal VIP MEET AND GREAT with the band BUSH! vipnation has totally responded back and retweeted me a few times! also @livenation and @velvetdogcle and @loveline responds! Alot of WWE personas respond as well which is what i call the #twitterlottery ! when someone famous tweets you! LOL :)

Matt H said...

Just wanted to add a special thanks Dave! I'm very glad to have taken part in some of the conversations with @Outback and other brands via twitter.

Once again, it's fun to fit into the six degrees of MVNUSID, and also can't thank you and Jay enough for making me the social media person I am today!

MVNUSID said...

Thanks everyone for the great comments!!! I'm glad to hear that a lot of you have had dimilar experiences with other brands. Keep the conversation going and plug the interactive brands who enhance your experience with them.

Now for the big news!!! I just got a message from @Outback and...YOU ARE ALL WINNERS!!! They are going to send me a coupon for each of you and I'll get them out in the mail. With that being said, I need to get a mailing address from each of you. Please shoot it to me at and I'll turn them around as quick as possible once I get them.

Thanks again for stopping by and stay tuned to see what happens next with the Six Degrees of MVNUSID. :)

Bolender Initatives said...


Thank you for telling me about this blog today at lunch. There is a book I use in COM3013 Organizational Communication that you might find interesting. It is called "Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead." It is by Charlene Li. It presents examples of how companies keep in contact with consumers via social media.