What do ‘bespoke burgers’ have to do with entitled consumers?

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Back in my Forrester days, one of my favorite things was to be invited to a “WIM session”. Forrester analysts write research that captures the essence of what’s changing in the market, why that’s important now, and what the takeaways should be for the reader. But, then in big important research, we would bring together a bunch of analysts – often from different research teams – and conduct a “WIM Session.” WIM stands for “What it means.” We’d start from the future perspective envisioned in the report and ask questions about what will future would look like, how companies will have to change as a result, how the economy might change, or how consumer behaviors might change. We would pursue these questions down a “if that, then what?” chain until we got to the borderline-absurd.

Nick, Josh, and I conducted a similar “Dream Session” as we were wrapping up Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. We asked ourselves and our collaborators what would happen in a world of entitled consumers and consumer-first marketers. One of our predictions that we published in the book was that “Consumer-first marketing will give rise to a bespoke products economy.” We referenced INDOCHINO, which sells custom men’s suits, chinos, and shirts, and delivers products to consumers that exactly match their preferences, but didn’t exist until the consumer asked for them. Amazon can print books on demand. Tesla takes your order and builds a car to your spec. Nike and Adidas are selling more and more shoes that are one-off designs by individual customers.

And, then, this week McDonald’s announced that it will acquire Dynamic Yield, an “AI powered personalization platform,” and will use its decision technology to “increase personalization and improve customer experience” allowing the fast food restaurant to adjust digital menus at drive-thrus depending on the time of day, weather, traffic, or trending menus.

If you’d asked me for a list of potential acquirers for Dynamic Yield, I’d be lying if I said that I’d have put McDonald’s on that list. But, I applaud their foresight and hope, for their sake, that they can deliver on their aim to accelerate their digital transformation and “advance” and “elevate” “McDonald’s customer experience with technology and innovation.”

If even a burger joint sees the need or opportunity to invest $300 million in technology that enables it to become more customer-centric, is there a company out there that shouldn’t be thinking along these lines?

Sephora’s customer focus is simply brilliant (and, at times, brilliantly simple)

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I get pushback when I point to Disney, USAA, or T-Mobile as examples of companies that excel at consumer-first marketing or customer-centricity. People argue that these companies have some sort of unfair advantage or extenuating circumstance that somehow makes focusing on the customer easier for them. But, even if you’re not trying to be the next Disney or USAA, every company can improve – and that starts with a mindshift, and doesn’t have to involve spending lots of money upfront.

To make the point, I usually turn to Tom Boyles, former SVP of global customer managed relationships at Disney Parks & Resorts. Tom spent most of his career in banking, and would point out that his opportunity to connect with customers at Disney was no greater than at any other stage in his career. He once told me that people would look at him and say, “it’s easy for you to connect emotionally with customers. You’ve got everything from Mickey Mouse to Johnny Depp at your disposal.” But, Tom would turn that around and ask them, “what’s more emotional than the roof over the head of your family, your ability to send your children to college, or your ability to afford your retirement?” Mortgages, 529 accounts, and 401Ks could be boring products to promote, but if you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their emotional connection, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.

I’m not naive. I know that Disney spent more than $1 billion upgrading the customer experience at its parks. But, one of the reasons I point to Disney as a great example of a consumer-first business is because of the small things that it does. Look back at Tom’s title. He wasn’t running the CRM team. It was CMR – Customer managed relationships. Why? Because they believe that the customer owns the relationship and not the company. In Marketing to The Entitled Consumer, we reference the story of a security guard at a Disney park asking little girls that were dressed as princesses for their autographs.

I love finding small examples that demonstrate a firm’s commitment to being customer-first. Last week, on LinkedIn, I posted a picture of two stacks of shopping baskets in a Sephora store. The baskets are in two colors – one indicates that the shopper would like to be assisted and the other that they would like to be left alone. The response to my LinkedIn post has been tremendous. Thousands of people have viewed the post and hundreds have liked or commented. As I said in that post, customer-centricity and customer experience start with a mind shift – by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Sephora is another one of those companies that I point to as an example of a consumer-first business. They’ve shown over the years a commitment to understanding and providing value to their customers. But, what I loved about this example was its simplicity. You don’t have to invest a billion dollars as Disney did to overhaul your entire process and system. Instead, you can change your outlook – truly consider what is valuable to your customers and make small, incremental changes that can have major impacts on your customer’s experience.

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!