L.L. Bean: The importance of relationships in CRM and social in CSR

This is a story about the bond between a brand and a customer and the importance of relationships to do good things together…

Guest post by Steven Gadecki, Director of Digital Marketing at SONY Pictures Television – Follow him on Twitter

My story begins when my mother bought me an L.L.Bean backpack when I first started attending Broome Community College (BCC) in Binghamton, NY. Little did I know at the time that this backpack would become the catalyst for the next 15 years of my life, and last me through: college, Habitat for Humanity, one year with AmeriCorps, hiking 104 mountains, exploring two new countries, 12 new states, one cross country move from New York to California, 14 national parks, 10 years at my current job and the introduction to my wife, which led to the birth of my son.

When the backpack had finally taken its last breath, I was standing at the garbage can ready to throw it away, but then started to remember everything that I had experienced with it. To simply toss it away felt too final, so I sat down and wrote a letter of all my memories and sent the letter and backpack to L.L.Bean. This was close to two years ago.

After a couple months, L.L.Bean wrote back to me saying that they appreciated my letter and that they’ve included my backpack into the official archives at the company headquarters. I was happy that it had a “Final resting spot” and found out later that the archive is a serious deal which actually houses the founder’s boots. They then reached out to me last summer saying that 2012 was the ‘100 year anniversary of L.L.Bean’ and that they wanted to include my letter and a picture of me with the pack in their centennial book. I couldn’t believe that my story was now going to be cemented into the official written history of the company and it was a real honor to be included. They gave me an advance copy of the book which I gave to my mother for Christmas, making a special day even sweeter for our family.

In February, they called me again saying that my story had resonated so much within their walls that they wanted to include me in their national ad campaign for the 100-year anniversary. I was dumbfounded at the turn of events and couldn’t believe how far everything had come since I had written my letter. In March, they took me up to Sequoia National Park, where they interviewed me and filmed me hiking in the forest. They put a cut down of my story in the spring and summer catalogs and a mini documentary about my backpack online. The feedback I’ve been getting from my friends and family has been incredibly humbling to me, as this just isn’t my world.

After everything, I was trying to figure out how to say “Thank You” to L.L.Bean, not only for my experience but also for their current “Million Moment Mission” campaign, where they’re donating a dollar to the National Park Foundation every time someone “Likes” or interacts with their Facebook page.

It was through a stronger voice than my own that I felt “great things to come” would happen.

So I reached out to the superintendent, senator, congressperson and governor associated with every national park that I visited with my pack, along with Habitat for Humanity, AmeriCorps and even Jimmy Carter. I asked them all to write thank you letters to L.L.Bean acknowledging what they’re doing, because it’s this kind of corporate responsibility that needs to be showcased to ensure it continues in the future. I felt that any effort that can be taken to ensure the national parks will be here for our future sons and daughters and their generation is not a wasted one. It has been a gratifying experience for me, as almost all of my letters have been responded to-even the letter I wrote Jimmy Carter.

And finally, the latest update to my story is a kind of happy ending to the whole tale. L.L.Bean has reached out to me inviting me into their “Discovery Project” pilot program. I’ve been selected, along with 17 other individuals, to come onboard to test gear for them over the next year. Can’t believe how far things have come since I wrote my initial letter.

Thank You!

Father, Husband and Avid Hiker,
Steven Gadecki

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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  • Dara Khajavi

    This was a beautiful post. Most products are lifeless objects that we throw away after we are done with them, but everyone once in awhile, there is a product that takes a life of its own. These products have their own individual stories and adventures. I will never look at my backpacks in the same way.

    This L.L. Bean campaign is so personal and real. This is the kind of advertising and marketing I hope to see more of in the future.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      I agree Dara. Thank you for the comment. I’m sure Steve will appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/kalpanachauhan kalpana chauhan

    A great post showcasing the relationship between a brand and an individual. We all get somethings once in a while that remain with us for a long part of journey of life. The important thing about the post is Steve’s identifying the relationship between him and product and L.L. Beans also adding to that by ta.king relationship forward. Such actions by companies make them apart from clutter of others who play trumpet of having great CRM.

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  • Karin Sebelin

    Moving story, Brian!

    We should never underestimate good relationships … and we should follow this “higher voice” that sometimes tries to speak to us … I have learned to trust this “higher voice”! Sometimes our heart shows us the right way and shows us where we belong …

  • http://twitter.com/Farogroep Faro Training

    This is what it’s all about… great post! #inspire

  • David Doolin

    This is the kind of business I aspire to build.

  • Michelle Ingram

    This is a great story and campaign. I think this the type of business that everyone should aspire to.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Indeed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/gadecki Steven Gadecki

    Thank you so much for this Brian! When I was accepted into The Discovery Project, I thought, “A year from now, what will I wish I had done with this opportunity.” It’s rare to be given such a chance in life and I wanted to experience this moment to the fullest. So I wrote down a ‘Discover’ list of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see; especially through my son Hunter’s eyes. I also made a ‘Discover’ sign and taking it everywhere I explore. Writing in my destinations along the way and taking a picture with it. Following L.L.Bean’s lead, every goal/moment that I accomplish on my “Discover” list. A donation will be made to the National Park Foundation on behalf of the people that affect my life… This feels like second Christmas. #LLBDiscovery

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      What a wonderful comment. Thank you for sharing your story with me over dinner, thanks for allowing me to share this story with everyone, and thanks for being a friend!

  • Anonymous

    A great example to all brands who want to not only be great, but to inspire others to be better, as well.

    Thanks for sharing Steven’s story!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thanks for the comment Lisa!

  • Juan Carlos Giraldo

    Awesome !..Great History!!

    I started my own project in Social Media and Brian Solis is a Leader that I follow.
    Actually Just I bought the book …”The Engage” !,Probably a day I’ll send You “my” Book with all my marks and Say : Thank You Brian …Now I’m a successful Social Media Mentor !..Like Steven with LL.Bean !
    Great Post and History!
    Juan Carlos

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you for sharing and thanks for reading Engage!

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  • Ron

    Thanks for sharing the story, and kudos to Steven for taking a moment to reflect at the garbage can. Reminds us of the journey we’re all on and to take stock occasionally despite the pressures to simply keep moving…

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Yes…Cheers!

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  • http://www.apptegic.com/ Ryan Connors

    Great way to form a true connection with the consumer, and look- free PR as a result.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      True! It’s a great story though…especially since it was shared with me by the customer and not the brand.

    • http://www.apptegic.com/ Ryan Connors

      Now that’s what I call a real-time response.

  • http://www.noggindigital.com/ Zach Kasperski

    Wow! This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read in a while, mainly due to the wonderful story that was told.

    It reminded me of my days in school – elementary through college – when my friends would have LL Bean backpacks that were a part of them. Unfortunately, I was never included in this “club,” but I did get to see how people felt about the backpacks that were such a big part of their learning experience. Several of these kids used the bag year after year, and as the kids changed, so did the bag. The marks, scars, and discoloration saved the memories of years past. Each bag told a different story that each user experienced. Now, that’s a brand experience.

    This post was inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

  • george carlton

    That’s so awesome! How encouraging it is to see a company really fulfill the promises of its brand–and become more human in the process. Enjoy your adventures, Steven! I hope they inspire you as much as they do the rest of us.

  • klgman822

    Did L. L. Bean give you a new backpack?

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  • http://blazestudios.biz/ Sacramento Web Design Company

    Great story, I’ve never even owned anything by L. L. Bean. I will have to check them out now.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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