Use unsafe thinking to align with entitled consumers

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This is not a political post. For as long as it takes you to read this post, I’d ask you to put aside whether you think Nike was right or wrong to feature Colin Kaepernick in it’s “Just do it” ad, and acknowledge that it was a high-risk move.

Author, Jonah Sachs calls this type of move “unsafe thinking.” Sachs cites other examples like CVS deciding to stop the sales of cigarettes. When CVS began to consider the decision, the unsafe question that they asked was whether they could make more money by not selling tobacco – compared to the $2 billion in tobacco sales they were making at the time.  I’m not so sure that CVS was employing unsafe thinking though, as much as bowing to the pressures of a health care market, and a recognition of the hypocracy of selling billions of dollars worth of cigarettes while claiming a mission to deliver health to their community.

Nike, on the other hand, had to know that it would alienate a segment of its customer base. I wonder if they were surprised when people began to cut their swoosh of their socks, burn their shoes, and vow to never purchase from the brand again.

We have long advocated for aligning your company’s values with those of your consumers. But, what the Nike example shows is that your customers aren’t all aligned. So, you have to go a little deeper. Figure out which values are most important to the customers you want to keep. In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer we consider examples such as TOMS, Thrive Market, and Figs that pursue a buy-one-give-one model or how Danish pharma company, Nordisk supplies insulin at reduced prices in developing countries. These are values that are important to the company, but they are not particularly controversial.

Increasingly, however, we see the rise of activist commerce. Sleeping Giant, an anonymous watchdog organization, alerts brands when their advertising appears on extremist websites – with an inherent threat to boycott them if they don’t react. Consumers that want to take control can download buycott, whose barcode scanning app lets them vote with their wallet on all sorts of issues that might be individually important to them.

When it comes to aligning with consumers, companies that identify the causes their customers believe in and find creative ways to support those causes will create a way to differentiate themselves in the consumer’s mind. How controversial you want to be, is up to you. But, start by employing some unsafe thinking. And then, just do it.

Want to Be Customer Obsessed? Forrester Recommends Starting With Email

Shar VBCustomer Obsession is a theme that Forrester has spent the past few years researching and advocating. It’s not so different from consumer-first marketing. Both terms refer to the practice of allowing insights about consumer behavior to dictate brand behavior.

In a recent Forbes interview, analyst Shar VanBoskirk explained that many brands understand the idea of Customer Obsession, but get stuck when they try to implement it. In a big company, so many processes are already in place to push merchandise, run a sale, or send mass messages that personalizing interactions or communicating with individuals based on their needs is hard to prioritize.

Shar’s research shows that email is an affordable, effective tool that brands can use to become more customer obsessed. It makes sense. Most brands have email platforms, email experts and a lot of information about the consumers that receive their messages. The email team also usually has a reasonable amount of autonomy to direct their messaging strategy.

Rather than think of email as only a promotional tool, email should be used as a communication channel, where marketers interact with individuals. Email can be used for market research, for personalized updates based on past behavior, or just to create goodwill with heartwarming stories.

Shar cites Hilton as a good example. The company delivers a personalized “year in review” email that shows a customer everywhere they traveled, loyalty rewards, and how close they were to reaching the next level of loyalty status. This simple (and automated!) email then allows for Hilton to create ongoing customer-obsessed communication. For example, Hilton could easily send a follow-up that helps the customer achieve extra points to graduate from gold to platinum member status.

Email marketers can be customer obsessed without overhauling the marketing department. Hilton doesn’t need to know every single thing about a customer to send a personalized email, they just need to pull a year’s worth of sales activity into a standard template.  Many customer-obsessed email campaigns can be relatively straightforward, like reminding people what’s in their shopping cart before it expires. Or they can be really complicated. Netflix uses an algorithm to understand consumer’s preferences and recommend movies. Customer-obsessed email campaigns can also pull double-duty. Many personalized digital companies from Birch-Box to TheNest use survey emails to better understand customer preferences – and these messages get significant customer participation. Some companies like Spotify put little survey questions throughout their online experience to gather data when the consumer is most engaged.

Yet, even before data is gathered, the concept of thinking about the customer’s needs must become part of the planning. Someone at Hilton understood that customers react well to seeing a review of their past activity and that the personal touch will mean significantly more than another “Labor Day Weekend Sale” message.

This insight might be the best takeaway from Shar’s research – that email marketers have the power to think about what communication the customer might want, and then craft a campaign around that concept. A customer-obsessed email marketer would try to determine what makes those customers tick first and build around that, rather than blast them with “clever” but vanilla messages that focus only on extoling the products virtues, rather than truly connecting with the consumers’ needs.

 

adidas shows how to demonstrate shared values

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I’m not exactly a fan of (American) Football. But, when you live in Florida, you can’t avoid the hype – especially as it relates to college football. This weekend the University of Miami will kick-off their season against LSU, which ordinarily wouldn’t interest me in the slightest. However, one story that caught my eye is that the Miami team uniforms will be made of repurposed and recycled materials. 

The uniforms were created by adidas in partnership with Parley For The Oceans – a partnership that began a few years ago with a limited edition sneaker, and has grown to include other partnerships with Stella McCartney, iconic European (round ball) football teams such as Manchester United, Juventus, and Real Madrid, World Cup national teams, and now, the Miami Hurricanes.

I first became aware of the adidas-Parley relationship last Christmas. My son wanted a pair of their sneakers, and I honestly thought the recycled plastic thing was a gimmick. But, at the same time, I was happy that he thought it was important. And, we had told him he could pick his own pair.

Since I saw the Hurricanes news, I clicked through to a few other articles and was really impressed with adidas’ strategy and commitment. This is no gimmick. Some of their shoes built with recycled materials are highly rated by serious runners and magazines. In 2017, adidas sold 1 million pairs of these shoes, is aiming for 5 million this year, and hopes to only use recycled plastic in its shoes by 2024

This is actually a really impressive demonstration of aligning with customer values. There’s so much bluster about straws and plastic bags in the news these days, and here’s a major brand quietly making a difference. In June and July, more than 900,000 runners participated in adidas and Parley’s “Run for the Oceans” – completing more than 12 million kilometers, including at events in 15 major world cities. adidas also put its money where it’s social consciousness is and matched the first million kilometers run with $1 per km in funding for Parley Ocean School initiatives.

In Miami, after the game, the adidas x Parley A1 jerseys will be auctioned off, with proceeds to benefit the world renowned University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS).

In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we advocate that brands should “align company values with your consumers’ values.” adidas gives a perfect example of how to execute on this principle.

Enjoy the long weekend – and, if you’re into it, enjoy the game!

What’s your whining channel of choice?

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 9.33.58 AMI was listening to a podcast this morning when the interviewee mentioned that his twitter account had just been verified. If you didn’t know, Twitter verifies “accounts of public interest” so that the public can know that each is an authentic account. The interviewer, who already has a verified account, quipped that the best thing about that was that the interviewee’s complaints would now be dealt with more quickly by companies.

I laughed, and then I realized the inherent message. Some communications channels are better than others for whining. And, I know I’m guilty too. I’ve shouted into the Twitter ether (tweether?) at Comcast, US Airways (now part of American), Avis, ProFlowers, Starwood Hotels, JetBlue, and countless others.

For sure, there’s something cathartic about firing off a tweet in the moment to bitch about some shoddy service or deplorable experience. But, there’s more to it than that. Generally, you’re far more likely to get a response via Twitter than calling a service center (many of which have caused the present consternation in the first place). The social teams at most brands are really quick to respond to questions and complaints on Twitter. Of course, it helps that they know that your followers, and their followers will see your tweet and their response.

Few social teams are empowered to resolve your concern, although I have had some success with teams helping route me to the right people to resolve an issue. But, the cynic in me would say that a major part of their role is to remove the conversation from the public view, and prevent the negative story from gaining traction.

Let me take the example of ProFlowers. In May, my wife received flowers from a friend which were dry and shrivelled when they arrived. My wife called the customer service team who sent a new bouquet. This happened three times. By now, they were sending free vases and had refunded my wife’s friend. I took to twitter after the third screw-up, and the ProFlowers team responded within 15 minutes. They were apologetic, and gave me an email address that I was expected to contact to come to a resolution. Since, I didn’t expect anything to change, I didn’t email them. But, they succeeded in making it look like they were concerned and responsive. However, I will never buy anything from ProFlowers. I will never recommend ProFlowers. I will be an active brand assassin every time I tell this story.

What ProFlowers, and most other companies, fail to realize is although they quashed the public conversation, they didn’t resolve my issue. They never followed up. They lost my trust. They showed that they are not consumer-first. And, they’ve earned a brand assassin as a result. It’s not enough to deal with and try to limit or hide the whining. Understand the customer’s real concern, and do everything you can to make it right. That’s consumer-first. And, it’s critical when seeking to engage and build relationships with entitled consumers.

Data Transparency Delivers Long Term Benefits

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I was interviewed by DMNews for a piece on the challenges of delivering personalization to consumers who are skeptical about sharing their data.  It’s a good piece that underscores the importance of telling consumers the truth about what you intend to do with their data and the benefits they will receive.

 

The changing face of malls, and retail success

IndochinoI don’t go to malls very often. But I went yesterday with my wife and son to get some back-to-school gear for my son. I was struck by two things. First, there were very few empty spaces. I keep reading about how Amazon will lead to the death of retail and how malls are suffering. And, maybe they are. But, I expected a far more depressing experience than the one we had. And, yes, some of that might be related to my low expectations.

The bigger surprise for me though was the number of brands that I think of as online brands that had their own storefront – I noticed Casper, Untuckit, Peloton, and INDOCHINO. Maybe, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, we interviewed INDOCHINO CEO, Drew Green and featured the company’s success in Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. According to Drew, brands like INDOCHINO are opening physical stores because:

  • The aforementioned retail apocolypse makes real estate more affordable;
  • Employees, known as Style Guides at INDOCHINO, focus on helping the consumer get what they want – and not just selling whatever inventory is in stock at the time;
  • Style Guides also provide expert measurements to ensure customer’s clothes fit perfectly;
  • Retail is a marketing channel – it provides brand exposure, an opportunity to boost customer experience, and customers that start their relationship in a store go on to order more confidently online.

I don’t know if all of these reasons apply to the other brands that I saw – INDOCHINO is a great example of a Consumer-First business. But, there’s no doubt that these businesses are changing the face of malls. Who knows what they’ll look like the next time I visit if my record of once-every-few-years holds up!

Best Buy thrives by delivering value to customers

Best Buy should be dead

Bloomberg Businessweek; July 19, 2018

In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we demonstrate how a focus on reciprocal value forges strong customer relationships. We show how companies can gain a sustainable edge by finding new ways to deliver value to consumers. And, we argue that once you have created value for customers, you must build on that value, creating a consistent reputation for giving customers what they feel entitled to—or what they will feel entitled to once they get used to it.

During my Forrester Research days, I always enjoyed speaking to the CRM team at Best Buy and often quoted one of their communications mantras: “give, don’t take.” What they meant was that they tried to find ways to provide value to customers in their communications, and not to focus on extracting value from them. In the years since, like many other retailers, Best Buy struggled. In fact, it almost collapsed during the great recession, losing $1.7 billion in one quarter in early 2012.

Yet, with a new CEO and a significant focus on delivering reciprocal value, Bloomburg Businessweek recently published a feature emphasizing that Best Buy is not only still alive, but thriving. I saw a few of the examples that we recommend companies follow to build reciprocal value:

  • Enhance your product or service. Best Buy introduced the role of “in-home advisors” which it describes as personal chief technology officers. Hubert Joly, Best Buy’s CEO who has led the change at the company, describes how advisors “…can talk about what’s possible, be human, make it real.” And, he adds that it can be “a great way to make a sale, but it’s also the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” We love this way of thinking, In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we point out that “a marketer who treats you like a friend is always to going to be looking for opportunities to give you a little bit more of the things you like best.”
  • Reduce consumer effort. One of the things that’s really cool about the advisor role is how they seemlessly coordinate with Best Buy’s Geek Squad team which helps with repairs and installations. In the Bloomberg Businessweek story, an advisor identifies a customer need to connect their electronics and she is able to arrange for a Geek Squad member to show up within the hour. No hassle. No battery of phone calls. No effort on the customer’s behalf.
  • Solve the consumer’s broader problem. The in-home advisory program grew out of Best Buy’s strategic growth office, which the article refers to as “a safe space for ideas.” The program has three rules: no job is too small; we will come to your home for free; and we will be comfortable not closing a deal. Advisors are tasked with, and trained to, identify a customers need and to speak with the customer in terms of value. They set out to help customers achieve a broad objective, such as making their home “smart” or connecting all of their disparate technologies.

If this all feels too daunting or too far above your pay grade. Don’t despair. Pick ideas that you can implement and start small. One of my favorite aspects of the article is a theory that Joly refers to as the bicycle theory. He points out that “If you try to direct a bicycle at standstill, you fall. The key is to get moving,”