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updated 7/14/2013 6:16:01 AM ET 2013-07-14T10:16:01

The race is on to add useful real-world elements to brand messaging that connect customers. Being real means adding elements of storytelling that can't just come from a copywriter in a cubicle. It's what I like to call "reality marketing." This kind of customer-generated content creates an immediate meaningful bond with the consumer that is part delight, part surprise and lots of fun.

Reality marketing is also economically efficient. You can stop spending money on the slick stuff because it doesn't guarantee a return on investment. Authenticity and simplicity, not glossy materials, get to where consumers' emotions live.

Here are three ways to work customers into your marketing efforts to help grow your business:

1. Reward your customers. Inviting customers to tell you what they think of your product directly on your website, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or other platforms, is a meaningful way of showing you care. For example, Oscar Mayer's program for its new Oscar Mayer Selects hot dogs, which launched in March 2010, offered customers a coupon to try the product and share a "Taste-a-Monial" on the company website or Facebook to get a second coupon -- basically a "tell us what you think" effort made public. In the process, the company developed spontaneous content for customers to read and enjoy and generated additional sales from the second coupon.

2. Let customers share inventive ways they're using your product. There is nothing more authentic than learning about how real people, not professional actors or spokespeople, use a product. There is so much to learn from the way people customize your product and if you can share that with your audience, you are giving them something that has actual value. For example, if you are a fashion company, consider inviting customers who have purchased one of your items to pin or post photos of them wearing the item. Likewise, food makers might ask customers for serving suggestions and recipes. Ask fans to pin pictures of themselves with your product and tag you on Pinterest. You can very easily re-pin those images on your own Pinterest page. This lets fans and potential customers know current users like what you're selling and gives them new ideas for ways to use it. You may even find that some of the recipes or style combinations provide inspiration for future new products.

3. Enable customers to create your marketing material. When you respond and engage directly with your customers on social media and other platforms, you have gone a long way to establishing an emotional attachment to your brand. Often the comments or photos they produce can be your best marketing material. For example, the diamond seller, Planet DNL features photos of its various engagement ring styles taken by customers on its blog. Not only does this kind of marketing engage and flatter customers, it's free!
 

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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