CASE STUDY: How this CEO dances his way to social media success

 

What is it with CEOs and business leaders and their aversion to being out loud and proud on social media?

I don’t get it!

I read two interesting stats in Forbes this week:

  • 82% of buyers are more willing to place trust in a company when the C-suite is active on social media
  • if a CEO uses social media, 77% of buyers are more likely to make a purchase.

Okay, rant over. When I do see a CEO who’s using social media creatively, it really catches my eye because, well, it’s a rare occurrence.

Case in point:

The man in the video is Steve Plarre, CEO of Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses, a well-established 80-strong franchised retail chain in Melbourne.

I interviewed Steve on my Ticker TV show, BRAND BUILDERS. I was keen to hear the backstory to his foray into made-for-social-media video series dubbed ‘Corona-oke Parody Songs’.

Steve takes up the story:

“When the whole crisis started, we very quickly moved to, well, what happened if we were going to be closed and if we couldn’t supply our cakes?

“At a core level, as a brand, we deliver happiness to people through food, it just happens to be bakery items … nothing we sell is desperately in need, other than maybe emotionally. We thought … how could we make sure that if that happens … we continue to deliver some happiness?

“We quickly moved to, well, look, what have we got in the business? I don’t mind having a dance and a sing and I’ve done a couple of these funny little things for our gala awards and we thought … let’s get into it.

“My family’s very cheesy. We love a good food pun so my daughters and I started doing a couple of little sort of 15-second snippets … using a couple of little Apple tools, and we started with things like ‘Another One Bites The Crust’ and ‘Girls Just Want to Have Buns’, that kind of stuff, and people really liked it.

We’re a family business … we could do a much better job of letting people know that we might have 80 stores, but we’re still a family business at heart. Also, we’ve had to cut the marketing budget a bit and so … what free tools have we got? I’m in isolation at home and we thought we’d test it out.

“Turns out it’s been great. Kind of wish we’d been doing it for the last couple of years.”

Steve said the Ferguson Plarre marketing team tagged the video series ‘Corona-oke’. They turned the initiative into a competition and invited customers to suggest songs they’d like to see Steve cover in a video.

This is where things get interesting. CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners are pretty busy people and all too often they will cite a lack of time as an excuse for not getting involved in social media, or creating content for online channels.

I find it’s a real mindset thing. Those business leaders that do the whole social media/content marketing well tend to believe wholeheartedly in the idea, and so carve out time to make it happen. Of course, those that don’t believe in connecting with customers through social channels will easily find excuses why they can’t get involved.

Making it happen

A bit goes into the Ferguson Plarre videos; it’s a case of getting by with the resources you have, and making it happen.

I asked Steve how long did it take to produce the videos.

“First of all, this had been my sort of go-to creative thing for 20 or so years. It started in high school, rewriting the words to great songs with some funny jingles and I used to write some of my own music. Some people play golf … I play music, so that the lyric writing stuff happens really quickly.

“But the bit that really takes a long time, I’ve learned now that my wife has dusted off her media production skills, is cutting it all together and doing this visual bit.”

Steve estimates it takes his wife “maybe a day to do a video like Vanilla Slice” (the video featured at the top of this article).

Putting people’s skills to good use

According to Steve: “I think it’s getting people who are finding some skills that they really like using and have fun with … and we’ve got other people in the business whose skills are cracking jokes and humour, and we’ve put them to work with communicating with our franchisees and keeping mental wellbeing and happiness levels up.”

I think Steve has nailed it there.

In a lot of businesses, you’ve got talent in the organisation and it’s just a matter of tapping it. People are passionate about all sorts of things. I’ve heard of one business owner and they were staggered to discover that one of their employees was a blogger with hundreds of thousands of readers. In another case, an employee in a multinational consulting firm was an artist with a massive following on YouTube. Her bosses were pretty impressed when they found out.

I’ve always thought that social media and creating content for a company, it works best when it’s a top-down and bottom-up situation. In other words, it involves the whole organisation. You need the leaders involved but also, it works really well when it’s part of the DNA of the business and everyone’s pitching ideas in.

Steve agrees.

“This whole (coronavirus) crisis has forced people to really scratch below the surface for the resources they have because money has just totally run out for some businesses. It certainly hurt Ferguson Plarre … the people in my business know that I don’t mind showing up on a stage and doing some funny stuff, but forcing ourselves to know that our support managers for our franchisees can’t be on the road as often as they’d like, or they’re at home homeschooling … you know, some of their technical skills are just superb.”

The key to creating content for your business is to ensure it’s on-brand. It’s one thing to produce funny pun-laden videos, but it’s another to ensure it aligns with the values of your business.  

According to Steve: “That’s been a real test for us. We spent the last couple of years really trying to work out … what is it that we really deliver our customers? You know, we’re not in the bakery space, we’re not in the pie space … I sit and I watch our customers, we give them happiness. Some of older customers have been around for a long time … we’ve been around for a long time … it’s nostalgia, it’s comfort.

“A lot of people don’t want to think about the calories in a vanilla slice. You know, we’re not suggesting people should eat them every day, but when you are going to eat them, make sure the way it’s delivered heightens the experience of the vanilla slice or the pie, and it brings a little dose of sunshine.

“We talk about that little dose of sunshine a lot when we’re talking to our service people. You know, for every dollar that someone gives you, 50 cents is to the product and we’ll try and do a pretty good job of making that, but 50 cents is for the way they make you feel.

“That really translated to what are the things we think we’re allowed to do on social media and getting cheeky and having fun is good. You’re crossing that line for our brand … doing something a little bit edgy or rude or with swear words, that kind of stuff, that would not be right for us, but it could be right for other brands.”

Tips for CEOs and business owners

What tips has Steve got for other business owners and CEOs thinking of taking the leap into social media and putting themselves out there a little bit?

Steve said that even before the COVID-19 crisis, people were craving honesty and trust more than they ever had.

“I think post GFC and this whole fake news media thing that’s been going on, people just want to, I think, look in someone’s eye and feel that they can trust them.”

He says people would go for “an unpolished, almost embarrassing execution” compared to a really polished video production.

Steve mentioned that his next video was due to be published later in the day (that’s it above), and that “it’s pretty embarrassing”.

“I mean, I’m in high heels and fishnet stockings … but you know, I think people want to see that you’re just like them.”

So there you have it folks. Whether you’re in a bakery business or in other business, just be honest, Steve says.

“People are just craving it. The truth sets you free I think, especially now, so it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. If you need to take guidance from your brand managers or your lawyers, do that first. Fair enough. I mean, we’ve had to check in on certain things, but just be honest.

Connect with customers

“I think the capacity for people (leaders) to be out there, they don’t have to be singing a song, doing karaoke or something like that, like I am. But connecting to customers, knowing who your customer is, knowing what your brand proposition is and having the leader on social media, talking straight to customer, just gives the customer so much faith that if that’s what is happening at the top, everything between that and the product, or the service you deliver, there’s a good chance that’s going to be right. And I think that’s the real win.”

And it’s obviously not just about the leader of the business.

According to Steve: “It can be you and it can be your team. In a couple of weeks, I’ve got a duet set up with one of my baristas who is an awesome singer and put together a suggested bunch of lyrics for a song and we’re going to do that together. I think people, our customers, seeing leaders with their team members doing things together also speaks volumes about what’s going on.”

I say often, when it comes to social media, it’s not about having a Hollywood production. It’s about authenticity, while at the same time making sure the content is good. Viewers need to be able to see and hear the video clearly, of course, but it can still be a little bit rough around the edges; interestingly, sometimes that’s the stuff that people gravitate to.

What happens post-COVID-19?

The spark of creativity behind the Ferguson Plarre videos was obviously forced upon Steve and his team due to isolation measures, but what about once we come out of the fog of COVID-19 and things start getting back to normal, how will the brand start approaching things social media wise?  Will Steve’s recent experience with Facebook and YouTube change the way he looks social media and the types of things he and the marketing team do?

WATCH MY FULL INTERVIEW WITH STEVE PLARRE, CEO OF FERGUSON PLARRE BAKEHOUSES

I’m curious, because  I think behind the scenes videos opens up a vista of opportunities for business, especially a fun brand such as Ferguson Plarre.

Steve admits that people have been telling the company for a long time: where is your video content?

“We’ve got a little bit of stuff online, but really, it’s been very sort of franchise-centric. I think lots of businesses have been forced to do some stuff they would have never have done before. One, it would have taken four different people to nod their heads to get through the bureaucracy and then convince some other people to do it. Then sometimes the ideas die.

“Everyone’s had to be so agile, and we’ve had to take the risk. For us, a couple of months ago doing this kind of thing, maybe my board would have said – hey, you’ve got better things to do with your time mate … but in the light of what we’ve got going on here and the capacity to just make sure that we were continuing a conversation with our customers throughout this crisis, because lots of them can’t visit us like they used to before, we decided to get going with it.

“So this will be sticky for us.

“There’ll be other versions of us doing fun things on video. It’s proven that we don’t have to spend 10 grand on a big production. We can do some real stuff and in fact the real stuff’s probably more valuable … than something super, super polished.”

“One of the other ideas … obviously we’re bakers, my brother’s just a magnificent pastry cook and he’s got some really fun teenage girls at home who I just think would be fantastic in front of the camera. So you can imagine, you know, Mike Plarre saying, ‘Hey, here’s what I do when I’m at home … everyone’s got these ingredients in their pantry. Here’s my favourite pie that you can’t get at Ferguson Plarre, but it’s a beef stroganoff or something, and having his kids do that.

“I’ve got cake decorators who are just magnificent artists. So we’re busy trying to think about how do we put together a video that says, “Hey look, if you’ve got out some plasticine for practise or some real icing at home, here’s how you build a beautiful little unicorn for your next children’s birthday.”

ROUNDING UP:

  • Don’t wait until a crisis to take your social media efforts to the next level – start now!
  • People – your clients and customers – want to see CEOs and business leaders out on the social web, creating content, adding value and interacting with the public.
  • If you’re going to produce video for social media, it doesn’t need to be a Hollywood production: “Just be honest,” says Steve Plarre.
  • Using video to take people behind the public face of your business can be very powerful; you’d be surprised at the ideas you can come up with to provide a glimpse behind-the-scenes of what you do every day that people might find interesting, micro-stories that jump out on social media.
  • Utilise your partners and employees – how can you get them involved in creating content for your business? This is especially important if you have experts internally who can provide valuable tips and advice for the public.

LINKS

Ferguson Plarre website

Ferguson Plarre YouTube channel

Ferguson Plarre Facebook Page

Steve Plarre’s LinkedIn profile

 

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