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VIRAL MARKETING

How Would You Sell That: Treasure Hunters Roadshow

Treasure Hunters Roadshow needs a social media makeover. Four experts offer advice.

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The Treasure Hunters Roadshow is part pawnshop, part traveling carnival. Every week, the $75 million company sends crews to about 50 cities. They set up shop in a hotel or convention-center conference room, and they purchase gold, silver, and other collectibles and valuables from local residents. (The portrait of George Washington, below, along with a letter he wrote, sold for $30,000 at a Georgia Roadshow event.) Then they head back home to Springfield, Illinois, and resell the items at a profit. Each show's success depends on the three-year-old company's ability to spread the word that it is coming to town. And the Treasure Hunters have become quite adept at using old media -- print, radio, and television -- to do so. But CEO Jeff Parsons admits that the company needs help introducing its brand online. "We really are laymen when it comes to what's out there," he says.

PITCH NO. 1: Locate customers online and meet them there

Jim Amos, CEO of Tasti D-Lite, a chain of frozen dessert shops based in Franklin, Tennessee
Everything in social media starts with listening. Where are Treasure Hunters's customers, and how are they interacting with each other? Are they using Twitter? Swapping pictures on Flickr? Find out, and then create more virtual touch points to encourage sharing of road show stories. And everything should point back to the company's website, where customers can sign up for alerts to let them know when the road show will be in their area.

PITCH NO. 2: Create an online event

Jeff Robe, director of marketing at Blendtec, a manufacturer of blenders in Orem, Utah
Treasure Hunters should have an event like "The Great American Treasure Hunt," with an Indiana Jones theme. Maybe its guy could be Illinois Smith. He could tweet about all the towns he visits and the treasures he finds. People would register on the website to be amateur treasure hunters and receive information about the kinds of items the company is looking for. For example, the company could post on Facebook that it is coming to Dayton, Ohio, and offer to pay a 10 percent finder's fee for memorabilia about the Wright brothers, who are from the city.

PITCH NO. 3: Leverage e-mail

Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon, an online coupon provider in Chicago
Decide what behavior you want online users to have. Twitter and Facebook are the flashy new toys right now, but if you want customers to show up when you go to their town, e-mail is the most cost-effective way to target them. With a simple two-field form -- asking for an e-mail address and a Zip code -- you can send a would-be customer an e-mail before you come to town. That sign-up should take place on the first page of the website; make it as simple as possible.

PITCH NO. 4: Start blogging

Howie Goldklang, co-owner of The Establishment, a hair salon and spa with locations in Milwaukee and Los Angeles
The act of bringing in your treasures, getting an offer on the spot, and having to decide right then -- a customer might face some anxiety there. But if you humanize the process, you can build trust and pull people in. I would start a blog that features actual faces of the company. Make the reps at the events the stars. I would also use Twitter and Facebook to reach a younger demographic who can knock on Grandma's door and say, "Hey, these people are coming to town. Let's all go together."

FEEDBACK ON THE FEEDBACK:

Parsons liked almost everything he heard. "I love the blog idea; why aren't we doing that?" he says. "If I understand how Facebook and Twitter work, I think we're a natural for that. We can share stories on Facebook -- put photos on there, and tell the stories. Twitter sounds like a great source where we can post immediately from a location when we find something unusual. I especially love the treasure hunt idea, because we can give the customer direction. I can even see having our appraisal experts do online valuations."




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