File under: Improv might just save your company.
Archive for January, 2006
Nike does two things exceedingly well: The first is product design. The second is marketing.
But I’m still trying to wrap my mind around whether or not Nike purposely focuses its innovation on cooler products rather than better products.
(Yes, there is a difference.)
I’m a triathlete, so I know a lot of runners. (And by a lot, I mean A LOT!) Not one runs in Nike. Zero. Zip. (Okay, maybe the track kids, but track cleats and super light racing flats are different from regular running shoes.)
Guess what running shoes most runners with a few years experience use: Mizuno, Asics, Saucony, Brooks, Pearl Izumi, even.
Exactly. Unless you’re an athlete, you’ve probably never heard of any of those brands.
What you know is Nike. Adidas. Reebok. New Balance.
The truth is that despite all of its innovation, all of its patents around the Air product line(s) and all of its marketing, almost nobody runs in Nike. (At least not for very long.) Most people who wear Nike shoes wear them to make a statement about their identity. Their lifestyle. Their place in the world. They don’t wear Nike running shoes because they’re going to help them run faster or further or more comfortably.
People who run in Nike shoes might look cool, but they are also the ones I see limping into running stores looking for a solution to their aches and pains.
The reason I bought my Nike Triaxx sports watch was because it looked cool and unique. When I run with a purpose, I switch to my Timex Ironman watch, or my Polar heart rate monitor. The only reason I swim in Nike briefs instead of Speedo is because the Nike swim brief looks better. It has nothing to do with performance. I never wear my Nike running vest to run. That’s what my Pearl Izumi vest is for. The Nike vest is what I wear before and after I run because it looks cooler – and because I don’t want to ruin it by drenching it in sweat every day.
The truth is that Nike is the Tommy Hilfiger of the sportswear world. The locker room’s Kenneth Cole. The stadium’s DKNY. Nike is all about blending sports with style. It’s about making jocks look trendy, and the trendy look sporty.
What Nike really is, is a sports couture house.
Nike, like DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole and Brooks Brothers, provides us with clothes and accessories that help us define an image. But, to be fair, the same could be said of Adidas, Puma and Reebok.
What makes Nike different from anyone else in that regard is the focus of its advertising. Every year, Nike produces at least one ad that transcends image and takes us to a whole different place: Feeling.
Five seconds into the spot, no matter what you happen to be doing, you find yourself looking up at the TV. Fifteen seconds into it, your competitive juices are flowing. By the time it ends, you’re ready to head out the door and set a new personal best. It doesn’t matter if your sport is baseball, running, surfing or bull riding. The message is this: You’re an athlete. You’re a champion. Now go out there and unleash your superpowers.
Just do it.
Nike goes beyond making sports cool and glamorous and sexy. Nike actually makes us feel that we are part of a community. A brotherhood/sisterhood. We’re athletes. Nike channels that need, that basic component of the human psyche to belong and to feel that we can do something meaningful and courageous and brave and extraordinary. Nike, in becoming synonymous with sport, becomes the vehicle through which we experience our own athleticism.
In short, whether or not we run to the store to buy Nike products, Nike starts fires in our souls. How many brands can claim to do that?
When you buy a Nike product, you are buying into that promise. That image. That culture. When you wear the Nike swoosh, you are making a statement: I’m an athlete. I’m one of them. I’m one of you. You’re also spreading the gospel of sport.
The Nike brand completely transcends its products by making them seem like mere tools of the trade. Athletic accessories. Parts and components with which to customize your own athletic experience.
Your own athletic journey.
Obviously, I love all of Nike’s designs. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of Nike’s products. Nike’s fabricks rock. I was very impressed with what Nike’s Mike Parker had to say about innovation and the creative structure inside his company. (Thanks to fellow Corante contributor John Winsor for the interview.) Nike’s relentless pursuit of new technologies is awe-inspiring. I love Nike’s ads. I love Nike’s websites. Yeah, I’m a big fan.
But there’s a price you pay for focusing on designing cool, inspiring products rather than actually making better products: You end up appealing only to beginner and very light usage athletes.
The rest of us, the millions of runners, cyclists, swimmers, hikers, skiers, skaters, mountain bikers and triathletes, we aren’t really buying Nike’s stuff anymore. We can’t run or ride or trek in their shoes. We know their clothes won’t last if we wash them every day. Their optics aren’t the best. All in all, Nike just isn’t making products for us anymore, and it’s too bad… because we all wish they would.
We’d all buy Nike stuff in a heartbeat if we knew it were designed with performance in mind. You know… like in the good old days.
Nothing’s stopping you, Nike. You have the talent, you have the production capabilities, you have the distribution outlets, you have a captive market, and you still have the authenticity of your brand. So… please, please, please get out there and build us a real running shoe. Just do it.
And if you’ve forgotten how, I can dig up a few hundred thousand folks who’ll be more than happy to help.
Call me crazy, but whether Nike is still Nike twenty years from now may very well depend on whether or not you start working for them again.
Let’s face it: The PR industry hasn’t had a very good couple of decades. Between the public relations field’s relatively negative image (no, “spinster” is not an endearing term), its stubborn reliance on irrelevant “control” messages, and the backseat it generally takes to more glamorous marketing fields such as… advertising and well, branding, let’s just say that PR has kinda sorta become Marketing’s redheaded stepchild.
Well, that’s all about to change. PR is making a comeback… only not how you’d expect. Think blogs. Think satellite radio. Think word-of-mouth marketing and the growing influence of WOMMA. Think truth and ethics and relevance.
Does this sound a bit pie in the sky? Maybe a little. But if PR is to survive the coming decade, it’s going to have to adapt to changes that are as drastic as they are inevitable. To paraphrase Corante’s own Neville Hobson: if the public can’t get authentic and relevant messages from marketing and/or PR firms, they will get them elsewhere. Smart PR professionals will figure that out. Less smart PR professionals will simply find themselves… out of a job.
To understand the changes facing the PR world and its new role in the development of enduring brands, you kind of have to do a little bit of digging. Because we know that you have a pretty busy schedule, we’ve put together a short list of articles, blog posts and podcasts that shed some light on this little thing we like to call PR 2.0.
Okay, here we go. Let’s start at the beginning: (…)
Check out Marc Babej’s interview of Robert Passikoff. Especially the part about the role that emotional connections play in branding (and by default, in purchasing habits).
If it isn’t obvious to you already, there definitely seems to be a correlation between the role that emotions play in our purchasing habits, and the degree to which a product has been commoditized. (Assuming that’s even a real word.)
How much of a role, for example, do emotions play in buying toilet paper vs. a cup of coffee from Starbucks?
A set of truck tires vs. a new Powerbook?
A new furnace vs. a beautiful carbon fiber time-trial bike?
My point is that not every product (or brand) needs to worry about creating an emotional connection with its customers.
(No, I haven’t fallen on my head. Thanks for asking.)
I know, I know, this seems to go completely against what I usually preach, but it needs to be said: When it comes to building brands, sometimes, just giving customers a simple and effective product is all you need to worry about. You don’t need to sell a dream or a lifestyle or a coolness factor. You don’t need to promise great customer service or tell your customers about your family values or your commitment to quality. Sometimes, emotions have absolutely nothing to do with why your customers buy your product(s). All they want to know is that it’s going to work, that it’s going to work every time, and that it’ll always be there for you.
Look, as a victim of seasonal allergies, all I care about when I buy tissues is a) that they won’t explode when I blow my nose, and b) that they won’t rub my skin raw after a few hours of heavy usage. That’s it. It’s more about product features and dependability than emotional connections.
Same with my dish soap.
Same with my running shoes.
Same with my rewritable DVDs.
Same with my Chiquita bananas.
When AT&T – wait… no, it’s at&t now – tries to sell me on the concept of a connected world (whatever that means) with warm visuals and emotionally charged music, it’s wasting its time – and mine. All I want to know is that I’ll be getting the best possible connection on my international calls at the best possible price, and that my bill won’t get screwed up. Whether the honchos at at&t want to admit it or not, their global telecom empire is little more than a commodity in my world.
Sorry, at&t, I don’t mean to bruise any egos, but you’re just another bill in the mail, right next to my credit cards, my trash service, my cable provider and my utilities.
The reality is this: If your product is a commodity, emotions are pretty unlikely to affect your customers’ purchasing decisions. Instead, building value (features, dependability and pricepoints) might be a more straightforward affair. Perhaps even more importantly, focusing on broad (and deep) distribution channels might yield better results.
If your product is more of a luxury (even a small luxury – or “treat”), the importance of features doesn’t diminish, but the role played by emotions in your customers’ decision to purchase it increases. Think Cartier watches. Think Zipp 808 race wheels (yes, I’m a cycling geek). Think a dozen hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, even.
If you think that one of the prerequisites for building a strong brand is the development of an emotional connection with customers, think again. Whenever possible, yes, it’s great, but if you’re an at&t or a Kleenex or a Heads & Shoulders shampoo, don’t waste your time. There are more relevant things for you to focus on.
Read: Friendly Skies – Part 1
Before I start, I want to say that I have run into some fantastic flight attendants in my travels. Professional, friendly, funny, caring… They’re out there. They’re rare, but they’re out there.
I wanted to start with that because where I am going next probably isn’t going to make most flight attendants happy. And unless you’re in that first category (the great flight attendants), well… that’s just too bad.
I know that flight attendants wear many hats: They help load and unload passengers. They are in charge of security inside the cabin. They provide safety training and are there to assist passengers in case of an emergency. They serve drinks and food. They babysit 40-200 passengers on who knows how many flights each week. They’re on their feet a lot. They’re constantly traveling.
It’s a tough job.
I get that.
But see, part of their job is to take care of passengers. Customers. People.
Take care of them.
They are called “flight attendants” for a reason.
They aren’t called “cabin police.”
See where I’m going with this?
I’ve noticed that many flight attendants these days aren’t all that nice, especially in the main cabin.
Well, guess what? The majority of the airlines’ customers are back here with me. They’re not in the front with the half dozen empty couches waiting for upgrades to step forward. They’re back here. We‘re back here. The customers. The folks whose cash keeps airline from going out of business. The folks whose patronage flight attendants depend on to keep wearing that uniform.
I know their job is hard, but so is Jane Spears’. Jane is a waitress at a very busy restaurant not far from where I work. Jane always smiles. Jane gets great tips. People give up their place in line just to make sure they get one of her tables. Jane is one of the reasons why the restaurant she works for does so well.
Part of the job of a flight attendant is to serve drinks and food. It’s only a small part of the job, but they can’t avoid it. I am not suggesting that they are an airline waitstaff. Not at all. They do a lot more. But you get my point.
Jane works for tips, and Jane makes a killing. Not every waiter in her restaurant takes home the same amount of cash. But the thing about Jane is that every day, even when she’s having a bad day, she is exceptional at taking care of people. She always smiles. She’s always fast. She makes everyone want to come back.
When I spend four hours on a plane and watch flight attendants treat customer after customer like cattle, I think about Jane. I think about how amazing it would be if every flight attendant were just like her. Pleasant. Soothing. Fast. Caring. Personable.
The way flight attendants used to be.
I think about how much I would be willing to pay extra for each ticket just to fly with an airline that promises that kind of service. $20. $50. I don’t know. When you give your customers something of tangible value, pricepoints become less of a concern.
I think maybe that there’s a better way to inspire customer loyalty than through air mileage rewards programs.
I also wonder how quickly most flight attendants would start being more like Jane if they made their money on tips.
This is the part where you stop and read that last line again. That’s right: Tips.
Here’s the deal: Airlines charge extra for meals now. $7 for a lousy day-old salad. It’s just a matter of time before the pretzels and the quarter cup of soda aren’t free anymore either. Why not go with the full restaurant model?
Now… flight attendants have zero control over the quality of the food being served on their flight, but they have complete control over how it is served. How the drinks are served.
How passengers are treated.
I’m thinking that if the airlines can’t pay their flight attendants enough to make them happy, if they can’t train them well enough to make them friendly, then maybe they should let us do it for them with our own cash.
Maybe if flight attendants made a good portion of their money from tips, things would turn around a bit. In-flight customer experience would improve dramatically. People wouldn’t get talked down to. Food carts wouldn’t be used as weapons.
That’s right. Tips. Just like waiters. Bellhops. Maitres D’Hotel. Doormen. Bathroom attendants.
Tips give flight attendants an incentive to work a little smarter. To treat us better. Perhaps to take pride in their jobs again, even.
Imagine what $1 for every third passenger could add to your bottom-line each week.
Imagine what $1 from zero passenger would do to your bottom-line each week.
I know this is going to sound slimy, but I have to say it: *Cringing* This might be a good way for airlines to save money. The slime melts off when you realize that by putting flight attendants’ livelyhood in the hands of passengers, you’re giving your flight attendants the power and the incentive to boost customer satisfaction and their own cash flow.
Give us cheaper tickets. Give us a small cash refund on our ticket right at the gate. Tell us:
“If you don’t have a great experience flying with us today, here’s $3 back, but if you do, thank your cabin crew on the way out.”
Would some flight attendants leave? Sure. But they would probably be the ones who need to leave anyway. The food cart bullies. Shame on them.
Will this ever happen? Probably not. There are unions to contend with, for one. It would require a huge paradigm shift in the airline industry. It would require a tremendous amount of scrutiny to prevent management abuses. The public would have to be made aware of it. Airlines would have to provide real value to make this work. A lame “please tip your attendants” plea wouldn’t be enough.
Airlines would actually have to start thinking about pulling themselves out of the “also in” mentality that has been driving them into the red for over a decade.
Airlines would have to start focusing on their customers again.
Reward miles aren’t cutting it. Crappy seats aren’t cutting it. Lousy attitudes in the cabin aren’t cutting it. Something needs to change.
Tips for flight attendants might not be the answer, but it might be a good start.
… And yes, catch a candid interview of Corante contributor John Moore (Brand Autopsy) while you’re at it.
Think back to the super caravelles and their lavish bathrooms.
Think back to the professionalism, poise and attention to detail that were as much a part of being a flight attendant as the perfectly tailored uniforms.
Think back to comfortable seats, even in coach.
Think back to real silverware, large food trays and freshly baked buns.
Think back to when airlines still focused on their passengers’ experience rather than trying to stack as many asses in seats as humanly possible.
Here’s the deal: I’m only 34, so my memories of air travel don’t go beyond the late seventies. Actually, my first intercontinental flight was in 1982, when I first came to the US on vacation. At the time, I was either flying PanAm, TWA, British Caledonian or Sabena.
In 20 years, airlines have gone from pretty good to lousy, and many of the big names have faded into oblivion. Sure, I am making a dangerous generalization here, but still. My experiences with air travel these past few years haven’t been great. I hadn’t really thought about it until a few months ago, when I flew Delta to attend a friend’s wedding just a few hours outside of Kansas City, MO.
Very simply, here’s what happened: I got on my plane, and started making my way to seat 27C… but somewhere between rows 14 and 18, I realized that something wasn’t right: I still felt like I was in first class. I stopped, looked around, and saw that all of the seats in the cabin were wide leather seats… not the skinny little ill-designed shoe-horns I usually have to fold myself into.
As soon as I sank into my comfortable armchair, I dove for the emergency card in the seat pocket in front of me, and looked at the cover. MD88. Delta still flies the good old MD88. Thank god for small miracles.
Let me tell you something: Despite its ample size, the MD88 takes off, flies, and lands like a rodeo bull. Every time I land in one of those things, it feels like we’re going to bounce right off the runway and end up tumbling into a field, BUT those seats make it all worthwhile. I’m not kidding. A comfortable seat can cover a whole lot of in-flight sins.
Take the $7 the airlines want to charge you for a stale salad in a cheap cardboard box, for starters. What’s THAT about? $7 for a day-old salad? People are suckers. If you’re sitting in the back of the plane, you’re lucky if there’s anything left by the time the cart makes its way back to you. (So not only are people desperate enough to spend $7 on a crappy meal, but the airlines don’t even carry enough food for everyone on the plane.) That’s what I call adding insult to injury, but that’s just me.
Speaking of carts, I remember a time when flight attendants gently tapped you on the shoulder if they needed to get by. Nowadays, they just roll. I guess they’ll keep right on rolling until they finally fracture someone’s elbow. I’ve actually witnessed a pair purposely bump people with the corner of their carts to knock them out of the way.
Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” they said “please keep the aisle clear, sir.”
That wasn’t Delta though, or the MD88. This was on an US Airways A-321, where even a lean, medium-built guy like me can’t completely fit in what is basically little more than a sardine seat.
As sad as it is, I guess when you spend more time training flight attendants to be cops than hostesses, when customer service is just a line item on a checklist, some of the politeness and basic human compassion that we once took for granted are bound to become a casualty of war.
Maybe instead of a plastic pair of wings on their chest, we should just give them a badge and a taser gun. Maybe we should be read our miranda rights somewhere between the belt buckle instructions and the life vest demo.
“… in case of a water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will result in the indiscriminate smashing of a giant block of solid metal into the back of your head at the cabin crew’s discretion.”
What’s going on here? What’s this week’s excuse for the downward spiral of customer care in the airline industry? Money troubles? Security concerns? Profitability issues? Technology limitations?
How about this: Maybe the airlines aren’t doing much to make their employees all that happy? Maybe the airlines’ hiring requirements have… um… slackened some?
Or maybe the airlines just don’t care.
But being that I’m an optimist, I’d venture to say that it’s isn’t as much an issue of not caring as it is an issue of not knowing what’s going on outside of first class.
Perhaps if more airline executives cared enough to fly coach incognito, say, just for the sake of doing market research, they might get wise and fix the debacle that is the airline industry today.
We’re talking shambles, here.
We’re talking the last days of the Roman Empire.
We’re talking terminal denial.
It’s just about come to the point where you have to insert quarters into a meter just to use a filthy 2x3x5 bathroom. Don’t think it won’t happen either.
So yeah, the airlines could do better. A lot better. And some of them are trying. It’s great… and my hat’s off to any airline that tries to raise the bar a bit and make flying pleasant again. Or fun. Or memorable.
But here’s the thing: You don’t need clown outfits and superminis on leggy stewardesses to lure me into booking a flight with your airline. As a steerage passenger, here’s all I really want:
1) Friendly, courteous gate agents. (No, not just polite. I said “friendly”.)
2) Seats actually designed for adults of normal stature, not 5′ tall space aliens with a bad case of scoliosis.
3) Friendly, courteous flight attendants. (Yes, “friendly”.)
4) Not to be viciously rammed in my sleep by the unforgiving edge of a 200lb food cart.
5) Free meals on flights longer than 3 hours. Charge it to the ticket. Enough with the nonsense already.
6) If I am going to pay $7 for a meal, make it worth my while. I’ve had MRE’s better than this.
7) Prohibit people from carrying their fast food on the plane. It stinks the place up.
8) I don’t mean to be insensitive, but if the passenger next to me is so large that he takes up half of my seat, I want a partial refund right there on the spot.
9) Friendly, courteous flight attendants. (It’s worth mentioning again.)
10) Take off on time. Land on time. Don’t overbook.
Oh, and one last thing. If your airline uses “zones” to load your plane, here’s a tip: Don’t start with the front of the plane. If zone 1 is in the front of the plane and zone 5 is in the back of the plane, how about starting with zone 5? See, that way, the people in zone 5 aren’t in the way when the folks from zones 4 and 3 and 2 roll in. You could load a plane in ten minutes instead of twenty-five minutes.
Just in case you were spacing out just then: Start loading from the back. It’s faster.
If you’re going to treat us like cattle, at least drive us like cattle. It’s the least you can do.
Note: Check out another neat little post on airline experience crafting here.
This isn’t something you can leave to chance. You have to think about every little detail. You have to know what will make your customers smile and what will make them frown. You have to anticipate that there will be problems and that customers will look to you to fix these problems for them. How you deal with these situations is as much a part of the experience as anything else. Perhaps more so.
If a customer leaves your store or website angry, you will never see them again. They will drag your name in the dirt, and your reputation within their sphere of influence will be destroyed. For every customer you lose, they take perhaps ten more with them. The negative word-of-mouth they generate could spread to twenty. A hundred. Possibly more. Families. Communities. Corporations. You never know the impact that one person’s negative campaign against you will have. Ultimately, nobody wins. Your business loses revenue and gets bad publicity. Your customer leaves angry and frustrated. Nobody wins.
Still, many companies today allow this to happen.
Crafting a positive customer experience isn’t rocket science. Mostly, it’s about paying attention to details and about showing that you care. That’s it. It is never about going the extra mile. The extra mile concept is a myth. It’s more like going the extra inch: A twist of lemon in a glass instead of a wedge. An extra two seconds to call a customer by her name. An extra three calories burned to produce a friendly smile. An extra thirty seconds to upgrade a frustrated guest to a better room or a better table just because they had to wait longer than they should have. A friendly “sure, let me do that for you” instead of a “No, you’ll need to take this piece of paper to the third floor and fill out a request form.”
It doesn’t have to be about flat screen TVs above the urinals and Champagne fountains in the atrium. Most of the time, it’s simply about treating customers with respect, kindness and care. People just want to be taken care of. They don’t want to have to deal with rules and bureaucracy and disappointment. They probably already get that at work. Whether they are buying a car, a meal, a spa treatment or a gallon of detergent, when they come to you, they just want to have a pleasant experience that they can tell their friends about. Say “yes” to them more. Make it impossible for them not to love your products, your services, your brand. Make them excited about doing business with you.
“These guys have a really great website.”
“They are just so friendly there! It’s so refreshing.”
“I was in and out in five minutes. That’s pretty cool.”
All you have to do is get to know your customers better. Not just through impersonal feedback channels like online surveys and customer satisfaction cards, but… by actually sitting down with them. (Figuratively or not.) Listen to them talk about what they like and dislike and why. Music. Movies. Trips to the DMV. The lawnmower they just bought. Find out what they’re about. If you have a handful of contextual interpreters on your team, you will be able to translate what they tell you about themselves into insights that will help you serve them better.
It could be something as simple as a cleaner bathroom. Free ice cream for the kids. A wider selection of organic foods. A cooler selection of T-shirts. A truly user-friendly registration process. Friendlier salespeople. Cool music in the background. Vintage couches with TV’s and Playstations between clothing racks. Remembering a customer’s name when they come back. Being treated like a regular, even when you aren’t. Giving your customers simple ways to customize their own shopping experience.
More often than not, crafting a memorable experience for your customers isn’t about going the extra mile. It’s about going the extra inch.
You don’t build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn’t.
Welcome to the fabulous world of the “also in”.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the “why bother”.
Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that’s a lot like Newsweek or Men’s Health or Fast Company… only more “average”. You could set out to produce a movie that’s a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but… you know… more “average”. You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike’s or Quizno’s and make a subway sandwich, but… just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you’re at it. I guess that would be swell.
To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.
Yep, you could do that.
I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just… um… average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?
Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It’s okay. Average is good enough.
Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it’s okay to go that route.
It isn’t like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn’t like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that’s the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.
You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that’s how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn’t it?
Or is it better design?
Or is it because their stores have red walls?
Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?
Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we’ve learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it’s safe to try it too?
Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?
You don’t have to answer that.
Not if you don’t want to.
Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.
(For the sake of expediency, let’s just say that there are LOTS.)
How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?
Only a handfull?
Why is that?
Of the thousands of companies you’ll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?
Why is that?
Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?
Again, why is that?
What does that tell you about average?
What does that tell you about the value of average?
Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.
What is it about these brands that makes them so special?
Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.
is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um… who would that be?)
Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.
Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target’s clothes are no better than old Navy’s. BMW arguably isn’t Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft’s sales. Pixar doesn’t always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most serious runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.
So what is it?
Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that’s only a symptom of their success.
What’s key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won’t be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.
That’s the promise of these brands.
When you buy me, I promise that…
You will look hip.
You will sleep better.
You will save time.
You will smell fantastic.
Your cold symptoms will vanish.
You won’t have to worry about quality.
Without a promise, a brand isn’t a brand. It’s just a mark.
There is no such thing as an “also in” brand.
Okay, now that you’ve read it, say it.
Really. Say it outloud:
“There is no such thing as an also in brand.”
When you’re an “also in,” what is your promise? What is your purpose?
“We’re kind of like Subway.”
“We’re kind of like Power Bar.”
“We’re kind of like CNN.”
Think about it.
I don’t care if you’re a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren’t there for a reason (other than just making money), you’re doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.
It’s just a matter of time.
If you’re going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.
If you’re going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.
If you’re going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.
I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I’ll save that for another day.
The point is that being an “also in” company doesn’t cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.
Not if you want to survive.
Copying other companies isn’t a strategy, it’s a death sentence.
Word to the wise: Don’t be a follower. There’s no safety in being second.
One blog, two homes… What could be better?
Yep, you read right: I am very happy to announce that the BrandBuilder blog has just joined Corante!
One of the many cool things about Corante is that it conveniently groups together a number of blogs you’re probably already reading… or should be. (Think Tom Asacker, Johnnie Moore, John Winsor, Jennifer Rice, etc.)
Not too shabby.
Okay, that’s it for me today. No worries, I’ll be back tomorrow with a real post.
Buying a product. Bringing it home. Taking it out of the box. Pressing PLAY. Turning the first page. Pulling the cork. Clipping-in. Hitting the ignition. Biting into the first slice. Slipping into it. Walking into the new store. Spraying it on. Plugging it in. Connecting the pieces. Reading the owner’s manual. Shifting up. Writing your name on it. Clicking SEND on the order form. Taking it for a spin. Just looking at it. Sharing it with a loved one. Holding it in your hand.
It should always feel like this.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a restaurant, a store, a website, a bank, a doctor’s office, a manufacturing plant or a creative firm; ask yourself this: Is the work you are doing today going to have that kind of effect on your customers? On your clients? On your fans?
Is your work really going to connect with the people you are doing this for?
Are they going to fall in love with it? Is it going to impact their lives? Is it going to inspire them? Make them smile? Wow them?
When they talk to their friends about you, will it be with awe? Will they be singing your praises?
Are you a lovebrand?
If not, stop what you’re doing. Put your pen down. Look around you. Think about why you’re there, sitting at your desk. Think about the project you’re working on. It could be a product launch. It could be a new menu. It could be a new floor display. A promotion. A party. A speech.
It could be anything.
Remarkable always hits the mark. Lovebrands always win.
The key to becoming a lovebrand is simply to love your customers first. I mean… seriously. Love them. Fall in love with them.
I’m not kidding.
If you’re a coffee shop, love them enough to give them the best damn cup of coffee they’ve ever had. If you’re a retail outlet, give them the best shopping experience they’ve ever had. Love them like you love a best friend. Do what you know will make them happy. Get to a point where you truly feel joy and pride when they love what you’ve done for them. When it enriches their lives. When you truly become part of it in some way.
Everything you do should be for them, not for you.
This isn’t about like. It’s about love.
Either you’re involved in a wonderful love affair with your customers and clients, or you aren’t.
So, once again…
Buying a product. Bringing it home. Taking it out of the box. Pressing PLAY. Turning the first page. Pulling the cork. Clipping-in. Biting into the first slice. Slipping into it. Walking into the new store. Spraying it on. Plugging it in. Connecting the pieces. Reading the owner’s manual. Taking it for a spin. Just looking at it. Sharing it with a loved one. Holding it in your hand.
It should always feel like this.
If what Guy writes is news to you, welcome to a whole new world of happy customers and business bliss. Really.
If what Guy writes describes what you’re already doing, then you are on the right track.
Either way, welcome to a brand new week. (Yep, it’s Monday again.)
Okay. Mea culpa. I spend waaaaaaaaaaaay too much time singing the praises of big brands like Starbucks, Apple, Target, BMW, etc., perhaps at the expense of smaller, local shops that also deserve to be recognized. I know.
It isn’t so much that I prefer big brands over small ones. It’s just that they’re easy for everyone who reads this blog to relate to.
(Thanks for calling me on it, Ardath.)
The truth is that local businesses have some advantages over their big city cousins: They’re closer to their customers. They’re more nimble. They don’t have to appeal to a whole lot of people. They don’t have to make a lot of people rich. Everything is scaled-down… except the customer experience. Make that experience unique and you’ll have something special.
Here’s a quick example: Sheri’s Cafe Del Giorno doesn’t have the advertising budget of a Starbucks or a Coffee Bean & tea Company, but Sheri makes the best coffee in all of South Carolina (and that’s saying something). Most of her business comes from word-of-mouth. My wife will make me drive ten miles out of the way to go get coffee there.
Brand loyalty? Not a chance. Comfort (see previous post)? Not really. That certain something special? You bet.
As much as I like Starbucks (and I do), if their stuff were as good as Sheri’s, they wouldn’t have to build a store every quarter mile. We’d all be driving out of our way to buy coffee there.
Think about it.
The thing about Sheri’s Cafe Del Giorno is that it is absolutely unique. Just like the Bistrot De L’etang’s steak au poivre is the most scrumptious peppercorn steak you’ll ever eat anywhere on the planet, Sheri’s coffee is the closest thing to absolute java perfection you’re likely to find anywhere.
If Sheri decided to open thirty stores up and down the East coast, that certain something special would evaporate. Maybe not right away, but at some point, it would.
There’s just something that happens when people who are great at what they do – and passionate about it – manage to keep their endeavors on the smallish side. They put so much of themselves into every product and every customer experience that you can’t help but end up with something unique.
Maybe there’s also something special about doing business with someone who a) truly values you as a customer and b) is waist deep in crucial details every day.
When I was a kid, growing up in Paris (France, not Texas), I never saw the inside of a supermarket. There was a butcher down the street, and a boulangerie-patisserie, and an epicier (a small grocery store). We walked to the stores and bought stuff there, and everyone knew your names. The cuts of meat were carved just for you. Scales and wax paper and proud smiles were part of the experience. Wood shavings on the floor. Rows of cheeses lined up like museum pieces behind glass partitions.
We had conversations with these shop owners. They asked us how we liked that last pie we bought from them. That steak. That bottle of wine. If we weren’t 100% happy, they threw in something extra with that day’s purchase to make up for it.
It wasn’t just good business. They actually cared. It was a matter of personal satisfaction… and pride.
And there you have it: Very few big businesses are designed to take care of you the same way a small business can. A small shop. A privately owned boutique.
No matter how great your customer service is, you can’t beat the experience of dealing directly with a business owner. You just can’t.
That’s why smart large companies are working hard to try to tap into the small business vibe. (Think big, act small.) It’s going to be a tough challenge, even for the best of them… But it’s worth the effort. Trust me on this.
In the meantime, just for Ardath, below is my personal list of local favorites. (The microbreweries are too numerous to list, so I’ll leave them out this time.)
Sheri’s (The best coffee in Greenville. Period.)
Carolina Triathlon (A friendly bike shop staff that takes great care of every customer: What a concept!)
Orange Coat (Absolutely the coolest web design firm I’ve ever run into… And it isn’t in New York or San Francisco. It’s in Greenville.) Check out the site they put together for Deb Sofield.
O-Cha (Two words: Bubble Tea. One more: Addiction.)
Lemongrass (You can’t go wrong with Thai food, but these guys take it to a whole new level.)
Frank Roth (The best massage therapist in the history of Western civilization- So cool, he doesn’t even need a website.)
Venti (impossibly hip home interiors that make design geeks like me drool all over ourselves.)
Postcard From Paris (Genuine French provincial furniture for every southern suburban castle.)
Hincapie Sportswear (Okay, these guys are getting BIG, but they started small, cultivated a rabid local fan base, and keep their ties to the community pretty tight.)
I could go on and on and on, but you get the drift. Local shops can be a lot more relevant and precious to our lifestyles, our communities and our cultural identity. No… Let me rephrase that. Change precious to vital.
Imagine living in a place where every store, every business, every restaurant is a chain. A Franchise. A satellite office. Scary? Yeah. Scary.
Big isn’t necessarily better. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being small, or wanting to stay small. On the contrary. It’s a way for companies to ensure that they’ll never have to compromise. It’s a way to make sure they’ll always stay close to their customers. That details won’t be missed. That the superquality that made them so successful in the beginning won’t ever get watered-down or pushed aside.
It might still be too soon to say it, but in a year or two, a whole lot of global microbrands / global microventures will be giving the big brands a run for their money on a much broader scale. (This will have to be the topic of another post.)
Is small the new big? Not quite yet… but it looks like we’re headed that way.
One of last week’s topics dealt with Developing a Culture of Brand Performance Accountability (which… was actually the title of their post. Ahem.)
Here’s the meat of the post:
“Just as with financial performance, measurement is critical to
improvement for brand initiatives. Creating a culture of measurement-driven
brand assessments will help executives better understand how to derive the
greatest return from their investments. (…)
Simple steps based on increasing your understanding of your
customers, and their interactions with your brand, can be implemented through
For instance, the ability to quantify gaps in organizational alignment
behind your brand, or discontinuity in the customer experience (including
metrics such as loyalty, drivers of satisfaction, service levels, etc.) by
segment, region or product, can – and do – have profound impact at the executive
There you have it. Too few companies focus on assessing where their brands stand… And it’s obvious which companies do it, and which companies don’t. For the first batch, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Apple and Virgin, for starters. In the other batch… well… throw-in the companies you’ve never heard of.
There is, however, one thing that struck me about the post. In its original version, it mentions (customer) loyalty twice. Hmmm… Loyalty… That tricky little word.
There seem to be two schools of thought in regards to customer loyalty, these days: The first believes in it. The second thinks it’s dead. Both sides have very smart and insightful things to say on the subject. But… who’s right?
Is there such a thing as brand loyalty anymore?
The answer is yes. Absolutely. Think sports teams. Think Ford vs. Chevy. Think Playstation vs. X-Box. Think Apple vs. Microsoft.
Think dog people vs. cat people.
Think Republicans vs. Democrats.
Yeah, brand loyalty is alive and well. But unless you have two superbrands battling it out and inviting you to take sides, forget it. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist.
Without the element of archetypal supercompetition, without a corporate nemesis, brand loyalty is simply irrelevant.
Here’s a simple example: Most people love Google… Most of the searches that lead people to this blog come from Google. But because Google doesn’t have an arch-nemesis, no one is driven to be loyal to it. People simply use it. Loyalty isn’t an issue.
What you might mistake for brand loyalty is a lot more likely to be about customers’ habits, penchant for convenience, and comfort.
Remember that customers are people. People like patterns.
Once customers find something they like, something they can incorporate in their routine, that’s exactly what they do. Even I, Mr. Agent Of Change, Mr. Try Something New, shop at the same stores regularly. I read the same blogs. Return to the same TV shows every week. Hang out with the same friends. I even like to get gas from the same places.
You get the drift.
We’re humans. Ergo, we are creatures of habit.
Here’s how it works: You have your routine. One day, your routine gets disturbed. You alter it and try something new. (The store was out of your usual brand of olive oil and this forces you to buy another brand. Your favorite airline doesn’t have any flights available, so you have to book with another one.)
Outcome A: You like the new brand better and adopt it.
Outcome B: You don’t like the new brand better and return to your usual one next time around.
In other words, it takes a significant event for us to CHANGE our habits.
It takes a catalyst.
That catalyst could be a glowing recommendation from someone we trust. It could be a really cool ad. It could be the result of an unexpected shortage in the original product. It could be an accidental discovery. It could be the influence of a cultural phenomenon.
Check out the wheel of brand interaction. What it shows is a complex but repetitive pattern of purchasing behavior. The slinky-like spiral is a brand exposure/interaction pattern we go through either daily or weekly. Some brands are closer to our comfort zone (and lifestyle) than others. (Some brands, we have only superficial contact with, while others we have regular contact with.)
Occasionally, a catalyst will force one of the tentacles of slinky-like spiral pattern to either shift, or reach out a little further than normal.
Marketers spend most of their time focusing on designing some of these catalysts: Think POP displays. Advertising. Package design. PR. Promotions. Coupons. “Branding”. “Co-branding”. Licensing. Sponsorships. Establishing a presence at trade shows and special events… or just across the street from your office. Sampling. Buzz marketing. Giveaways. Swag. New product features. New product styling. New technology. Special edition releases. You get the idea.
It’s kind of a two-tiered cycle:
Phase 1: Building the brand’s contextual foundation – The idea is that exposure to brands will make us more likely to incorporate them into our routine. Familiarity, after all, breeds trust and comfort. (As in “oh yeah, I’ve never tried it, but I know that brand.”)
Phase 2: Triggering the change in purchasing habits – Give people a reason to try your product, and make it easy to do so. (Note: Some companies purposely bypass Phase 1 and focus their energy on impulse buyers.)
(Phase 3: Cross your fingers and hope the product is as good as you claim it is. You only get once chance to make a good impression. The best marketing in the world won’t save you if your product isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Read ground zero brand-building to know what I mean.)
People buy what they know, like and trust. They also tend to crave what they think will make their lives better. (That could be a red BMW convertible or a chrome-plated iPod or a new pair of Rudy Project sunglasses.) More often than not, purchasing habits are based on perceptions, expectations and experience, not loyalty.
Put simply, we tend to buy what we know only until we find something we like better. Brand loyalty is really brand comfort.
So the question you have to ask yourself is this: What are you doing to make your customers not want to consider switching over to other brands?
(Or if you’re trying to attract new customers, what are you doing to make your competitors’ customers want to consider switching to you?)
Does your brand evoke the same level of excitement and customer comfort as Target, Starbucks, Apple, Whole Foods and Virgin?
If not, why not?
So… Welcome to week two of 2006. How are your new years’ resolutions coming?
Remember that being the best at what you do isn’t about making grand declarations of intent. It’s about the small decisions you choose to make throughout the day, every day.
It’s about choosing to be better, just because you can… and because you should.
It’s about never cutting corners or taking the easy way out.
It’s about being true to yourself and to those around you.
It’s about inspiring others to be better as well.
It’s about changing lives. It doesn’t matter if you do it with a photo or a book or a cup of coffee or a set of carbon fiber wheels or a pen.
It’s about doing your best work every day, because the alternative… well, isn’t an alternative at all.
You want to build a lovebrand? Don’t believe the hype. Nothing could be easier. It’s all right here: Make the best products. Create the best customer experience. Craft the coolest ads, just for the fun of it. Through everything you do and offer, strive to inspire. Strive to change your customers’ lives for the better.
Change the rules. Write your own. Become a legend.
Believe it or not, it all starts with you.
I was surfing in Spike’s world today and caught this interesting little post about WOM… and the fact that it’s still very much misunderstood by a lot of folks. Here’s but a wee bit of what Spike had to say on the subject:
“Something’s become obvious to me: people are curious about this whole word
of mouth phenomenon, but think that it’s an add-on that can be separated out of
an identity project, put a price tag on and wrapped up in a nice little package
all the way over here.”
Alas, this may be a signal that – just like the relatively abstract meaning of the term brand - the definition of WOM is already starting to get all muddled out there in the corporate world.
Thank goodness for Aunt Clarity and her country cousin Repetition.
Okay… so for anyone who still hasn’t quite grasped this whole WOM thing, pull up a chair because we’re going to go over it in exactly three and a half minutes. (Yes, right now.)
Put your pencils down. All eyes on me.
Take a deep breath.
Are you ready?
Okay, here we go:
There are two main word-of-mouth catalysts (and I don’t mean the BzzAgent kind):
1) News-Related WOM: (Also known as Event-Related WOM.) For better or for worse, a product launch, a record store redesign, a re-branding coup, a class-action lawsuit or a big corporate merger can generate WOM. PR firms and ad agencies can (and should) play a significant role in facilitating WOM in these instances.
Yes, you need to think more in terms of actively facilitating WOM rather than generating it. (The first is both effective and ethical, while the latter is likely to be neither.)
(Generating = Fabricating, and you don’t want to go there.)
By itself, news-related WOM doesn’t do much to build a brand, but can – if shepherded correctly – help enhance and clarify it for the public.
News-related WOM sounds like this: “Hey, did you hear about that promotion (…) is doing?” or “Hey, check this out: (…) is going to start selling a hydrogen car completely built out of recycled materials next year” or “(…) won Best In Show again. Isn’t it like, five years in a row now?”
2) Customer Experience WOM: Exceptional products, service, and user experiences create WOM. Period.
(Likewise, lousy products, service and user experiences create… um… negative WOM.)
Customer experience WOM sounds like this: “Hey, have you gone into their new store yet? It’s the coolest thing.” or “Hey, have you seen (…)’s new movie yet? It’s incredible!” or “Dude, (…) makes the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. You won’t believe how good their stuff is!”
Because this type of WOM happens when customers interact with companies (either through advertising, products or services), it is much more intimately connected with what these companies stand for. (One of the crucial building blocks of their respective brand identities.)
It’s really pretty simple: If your company’s culture presses you to focus on great customer experiences, chances are that people will talk about that.
However, if your company’s culture is one of apathy, poor quality or even arrogance, chances are that people will talk about that too.
When it comes to your company’s identity, you are what you do, not what you say.
You’re either the company that treats people well, or just another company that treats its customers like cattle.
You’re either the company that keeps making really cool products every year, or just another company that makes middle-of-the-bell-curve-”same as” products.
You’re either the company that keeps its promises, or you’re not.
WOM is simply what happens when people talk about their perception of you. If you want some of that “great WOM”, all you have to do is… well, give them something great to talk about.
Something exciting, even.
Give your customers the best smelling bar of soap they’ve ever bought. The most fantastic suit they’ve ever worn. The most pleasant flight experience of their lives. The most delicious slice of cheesecake in the galaxy. The most pleasant receptionist. The fastest checkout lines. A free toy for their kids with every purchase. The most comfortable shoes in the world. The fastest time-trial bike they’ve ever raced on.
That’s what drives Customer Experience WOM.
What you do = who you are. You are either exceptional, or you aren’t. You are either WOM-worthy, or you aren’t.
So… If you want to get some of that WOM stuff, the question you have to ask yourselves is this:
Did you give your customers something exciting to talk about today?
If the answer is “no,” then… what are you going to do about it?
“Who among us has not had the horrible experience of a corporate offsite to build teamwork and to craft a mission statement?” That’s the question posed by Guy Kawasaki on his brand-spanking new blog Monday.
Don’t even get me started. Really. Don’t. Few things in the corporate world annoy me more than that kind of insipid summer-camp-for-adults-under-the-guise-of-career-boosting-seminar bull$&#%.
It was cool when we were ten. It might have still been of value when we were in college. By the time we’re in our thirties and beyond though, please spare us.
For the love of god, stop insulting our intelligence.
There are better ways to build stronger organizational bonds. There are better ways to foster innovation and cooperation. They’re much cheaper too… And unlike these worthless little mini-camps, they actually generate results.
Anyway… back to Guy’s post:
Day 2: Crafting the mission statement. A hot, crowded
room with easels of white paper and a facilitator who knows nothing about your
business. Everyone who is a director level and above in the company is
there—that’s sixty people. You each figure you get one word, so at the end of
the day, you have a sixty word mission statement like this:“The mission
of (your company) is to deliver superior quality products and services
for our customers and communities through leadership, innovation, and
(I’m getting hives just from the flashbacks.)
You get the picture, so I’ll cut to the chase: Guy’s suggestion is to forego the high-dollar mission-statement sessions and to focus instead on creating a relevant brand mantra. Guy explains that a mantra, unlike a mission statement, is just three words. That’s it. Three little words.
It boils down to this: If you can’t articulate your organization’s mission in three words, it isn’t clear enough to be relevant.
(Don’t feel bad about wanting to read that again.)
Here are some examples, from Guy’s post:
Federal Express: “Peace of mind”
Nike: “Authentic athletic performance”
Target: “Democratize design”
Mary Kay “Enriching women’s lives”
(I like FedEx and Mary Kay’s best.)
Guy makes another astute observation:
“The ultimate test for a mantra (or mission statement) is if
your telephone operators (Trixie and Biff) can tell you what it is. If they can,
then you’re onto something meaningful and memorable. If they can’t, then, well,
This is at the very core of your brand’s identity. If you can’t do this, if you don’t know, you’re deep in the soup. So ask yourself: What is your company about? Your organization? Your department, even?
What is its mission? Its purpose? Its raison d’etre? What is it that makes it special or different or better?
And because this doesn’t only apply to your company but also to brand you, turn those questions inward: What are you about? What makes you different? What’s your mantra?
Write them down and post them where you’ll see them pretty-much every day. If they’re good, let them guide you. If they aren’t, keep searching for them. Adjust them along the way, as needed. If you do that simple thing, you will be amazed at how much clearer the road ahead will become.
For Guy’s full post, click here.