What causes hostility towards brands?

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When my former colleage Augie Ray posted recently that he has “given up on Amazon until they become a better employer and corporate citizen” it set me thinking. I realized something about how I patronize different brands. When I favor a brand, it’s often due to aligned values — I’m willing to spend more at Patagonia, for example, than at many of their competitors. Yes, they produce a quality product, but I also respect, and am willing to compensate them, for their principles.

I once commented that some companies seem to engage in “concerted acts of hostility” rather than “random acts of kindness.” And, unlike Augie’s principled stand against Amazon, I realized that when I have blacklisted brands, it’s almost always due to negative customer experience – or concerted act of hostility. There are companies that I refuse to patronize. For example:

  • I once rented a car from Hertz to drive to Miami airport. When I missed my flight, I ended up driving back home. I went back to Hertz, was given the same car, which hadn’t even been cleaned yet, and they charged me for two one-way rentals (which was significantly higher than returning it to the same rental center, even though I ultimately did).
  • Avis isn’t any better. They recently charged me for an extra day when returning a car that was 20 minutes late. They failed to take into consideration the fact that I received it late — waiting in line for more than an hour to pick it up — two days previously.
  • Uber has pissed me off in so many ways, but the final straw was when I ordered from UberEats when my son was in hospital. The driver drove in the opposite direction for 20 minutes to deliver a different order, and took more than an hour to actually get our food to us. When I spoke to customer service, initially they hung up on me. When I dialled back, they denied that he dropped off another order, finally admitted that he did, and then told me that our food was delivered within their permitted window. The food was cold and congealed. The customer service was just cold.
  • I live two doors away from a hotel in Palm Beach – The Tideline. It has a beautiful outdoor patio which we should love to frequent. We used to go their occasionally for breakfast or lunch, but the service is so bad that it was hard to keep going back. The final straw was when my son and I were sitting at the Sushi bar eating dinner, and were informed that we wouldn’t be able to order for 45 minutes because they had just received a large order. This had happened to my wife and I previously (although not in the middle of our meal). Beause it had happened before, and we had previously been told the cause, I asked them if it was because the owner had put in the order. And, they confirmed it. So, the billionaire owner of the hotel would rather interrupt a patron’s dinner so that he can be served. I’m not spending any more of my money at his establishment.
  • I once drove more than an hour for an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. After waiting another hour to be seen, I was told that the doctor I was waiting to see was not an ENT specialist – which is why I had set up the appointment to see him. The RN was pleasant about it, but we canceled the appointment. I pointed out to the receptionist what had happened, and she didn’t seem to care. Nobody ever followed up with me either to apologize or to schedule with an actual ENT specialist.

To complicate matters, I do know that my expectations are higher for the Cleveland Clinic than for other hospitals. This is mainly due to having heard from their executives while I was at Forrester, about how much emphasis they place on customer experience. When they failed to meet basic courtesy, yet claim to value CX, I gave up on them.

I had a similarly nuanced experience with JetBlue. I used to hold them to a higher standard due to the experiences that I had enjoyed. When they let me down, badly, on a subsequent occassion, I stopped flying them for a while. Then, when I began to fly with them again, I changed how I thought about them. I now think of them as just another uncaring airline. They’re no worse than the others, but I no longer think of them as better. And, then there’s brands like Comcast, that I’d love to avoid, but I live in a condo which has a monopolistic relationship with the company. I live with them, but loath them.

I don’t have the answers on this one, but I’m intrigued to explore further. Do shared values lead to higher loyalty, while negative experiences lead to hostility? Certainly for me, that’s the case, but what’s your experience?

 

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.

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!

How aligned are your values with your customers?

As part of our research for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we surveyed 7,000 consumers in six countries. From the survey data, we define four segments of consumer – three of which are entitled in some form – and define those that show both dimensions of entitlement as “Fully Entitled”. Of these Fully Entitled consumers, 34% told us that they “only shop from places that support the same causes that I do,” and we write in the book that one way to demonstrate reciprocal value with consumers is to align your company with your consumers’ values.

But, what happens when you change direction? I just came across a Washington Post article that highlights how customers of Bonobos, Moosejaw, and ModCloth stopped shopping from these retailers after they were acquired by Walmart. As one former Bonobos devotee comments in the article: “I don’t begrudge a company for selling itself, but there’s something particularly egregious about the Walmart deal. I don’t like the way they treat their employees or how they’ve put smaller retailers out of business. It’s not a company I want to support.” In other words, their values no longer align with mine.

Time will tell whether this is a smart move by Walmart to broaden its customer base by appealing to non-traditional Walmart buyers. But, I don’t think it will be enough ultimately to simply own those businesses and expect the customers to stay. Walmart will need to change some of its corporate values to retain them.

It’s too easy in this day and age for consumers to understand corporate structures, track corporate behavior, and assess whether their values align. And, consumers are more willing than ever to vote with their wallets. If you don’t know what your customers care about, it’s time to start finding out! You don’t have to slavishly succumb to every demand, but you shouldn’t be surprised when customers notice and act accordingly.

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,”