Top 6 marketing articles from the last two weeks (3/7-3/21)

March 22, 2010

It has been a little while since I compiled my list of marketing articles and posts that I have found to be particularly insightful. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read several articles that I really enjoyed, and I thought I would highlight these, just in case you might have missed them (after all, a lot of people are on spring break these days).  I hope you find a few of these useful or interesting.  Enjoy!

CMOs, Go Beyond a PR Plan to Prepare for an Inevitable Product Crisis (Ad Age).  There have obviously been quite a few branding crises these days — between spokespeople losing their respect and credibility to massive product failures and recalls.  This article provides a great reminder of the plan that every brand leader should have in place before a crisis strikes.  The plan should not just have a well-planned PR component, but it must consider and address every touch point that the brand has with its target customers.  The article raises quite a few issues that might not be top of mind in the heat of the moment, but that are absolutely critical to the crisis management process.

Real-Time Brand Management:  Lessons from Virgin America’s Hellish Flight (Harvard Business Review). Continuing from the theme of the first article, this blog post presents a good miniature case study of how Virgin America quickly managed a perception crisis last week.  While this article does not necessarily highlight the plan that Virgin America had in place to mitigate the crisis, it does illustrate some additional things that brands can do routinely before a crisis occurs so that when it does, the brand can be managed in “real time”.

Wal*Mart, Target, Best Buy Named Most Valuable (Retail) Brands (Brandweek).  While the list of the most valuable retail brands is fairly interesting in itself, this article provides some good commentary regarding the strategies that helped brands grow and the strategies that undermined the value of brands.  One unsuccessful strategy mentioned is the “flight to price” strategy.  The analysis of the strategies is applicable to all types of consumer brands — not just retail brands.

Opinion:  Customer Service is Key Strategy (Brandweek).  Joseph Jaffe, the author of this editorial, writes, “During increasingly confusing, cluttered and complex times, what is it that really separates — or differentiates — one company, product, service or brand from another?”  He answers his own question that customer service or “servicing the customer” is the key differentiator for brands and should be the focal point for the marketing department.

How to Write a Mission Statement that Doesn’t Suck (Fast Company).  The author Dan Heath provides an entertaining yet very accurate assessment of how the mission statement development process can fail.  For anyone who has ever participated in developing a mission statement, this article is worth reading just for its humor and insight, if nothing else.  If you are currently developing or revamping your mission statement, this article provides great inspiration for what you should focus on, and what you should avoid.

Shopping Aisles at Cutting Edge of Consumer Research and Tech (Ad Age).  This article provides some interesting examples of what consumer packaged goods companies are doing to study their consumers during the act of shopping for products (from making the shopping list at home to purchasing in the store).  The emphasis on and investment in shopper marketing in the last few years has grown substantially among CPGs and retailers, and it is fascinating to understand some of the insights that have been uncovered.  If you are in the process of considering investing in or building a shopper marketing research program, this article worth reviewing.

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Top 5 Marketing Reading Recommendations 1/11-1/24

January 25, 2010

Two weeks ago, I published a list of some of my favorite marketing articles that I had read over the previous several weeks.  I got a lot of great feedback that this list was very helpful to fellow marketers, and so I’ve decided to make it a regular post.  So with that, here’s a list of marketing related articles from 1/11-1/24 that I recommend you take a look at. Enjoy!

  1. Is Your Brand a Beacon or a Spotlight? (Ad Age). The article explains that while many brands are based on understanding their customers and their customer’s current needs, it is important for brands to stand for more than this.  Brands should also have an aspirational component to them to make them especially compelling to their customers.  This article is a great argument for brands to have a defined brand vision.
  2. Build Your Customer Experience Roadmap (Forbes).  This article summarizes the findings from a recent report from Forrester Research that ranks brands in terms of the overall customer experience that they provide.  The article highlights examples of brands in several categories that are providing excellent customer experiences, and then it provides ‘Three Golden Rules of Customer Experience.’  This article is definitely worth a read for anyone who is interested in improving the experiences that customers have with a brand, or anyone who is interested in improving customer loyalty for a brand.
  3. The Cost of Not Branding (MediaPost Online Metrics Insider). This post is a refreshing reminder that not investing in marketing or branding has a cost associated with it, and it mentions a couple of examples of how one could calculate the cost of not investing in branding.  For individuals who often find themselves in a position where they have to justify their marketing budgets, they will find this post very helpful.
  4. More CPG Players Embrace E-Commerce (Ad Age). This is an interesting article that describes how CPG companies are seizing a new opportunity to sell products to and better understand their consumers through e-commerce. For marketers in the consumer packaged goods industry who are not yet exploring e-commerce as a channel, this article is a good thought-starter.
  5. A New Rung on the Social Technographics Ladder (Forrester). For those of you who have read or are familiar with the book Groundswell, you know about the different technographic profiles that your customers may have when it comes to social media — these are the creators, the critics, the joiners, etc.  In a new report, Forrester Research unveils a new social technographic, the Conversationalist, and explains why this is a group that brands will want to watch closely.

Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #3: Focusing on the Sale

December 14, 2009

Once upon a time, companies who measured the profit coming from each transaction, product line, or customer segment were considered to be first in class.  Over time this best practice of measuring profitability has evolved from focusing on individual transactions to focusing on the profitability of the total customer experience. Unfortunately, some organizations have not adapted to this new approach.

In today’s highly connected world, customers are seeking to build relationships with brands, and they do not view marketing activities and transactions independently.  Each of these are just different types of  touch points that a customer has with a brand, and the customer does not really distinguish between them.  For example, a great purchase experience is a superior marketing tactic that will drive future purchases.   For the customer, the overall experience that he has with a brand (which includes all types of touch points) impacts his future relationship (and likelihood of additional purchases) with the brand.

Since customers are evaluating a brand based on their total experience, companies should also focus on this total experience. From a measurement and analysis standpoint, instead of trying to maximize profits for any given product line or transaction type, companies should try to maximize profitability over their total customer experience. As a result, this might mean that a company should lower its price (and profitability) on some products that introduce a customer to the brand in order to maximize the total number of products that a customer purchases over the lifetime of the relationship with the brand.  It also might mean that a company should heavily invest in certain marketing programs with existing loyal customers, if it will help customers recommend the brand to others.

The key to successfully maximizing the value of the total brand experience is understanding the role each transaction and touch point plays in the development of the experience.  Once a company stops focusing only on the sale, but instead on the long term relationship, it will unlock long term profit potential.


5 Ways to Activate Your Customers

October 28, 2009

It seems that it is a commonly held belief that a highly satisfied customer is one of the strongest marketing assets a business can have.

Despite this accepted assertion, I have recently been in contact with a surprisingly large number of businesses that haven’t given any thought to how they can leverage this asset.  These businesses have been hoping that word of mouth will be an inexpensive, effortless method for growing sales and their customer base.  To a degree, they are right; positive word of mouth will help.  But they could grow so much more if they thought about how to activate their satisfied customers.

What I mean by activating customers is very simple:  motivating customers and giving them tools to enable them to spread a brand’s message easily and authentically.  Customers generally like to share information that they acquire through their experiences with products/services and brands.  By activating this inclination, a business has a greater chance of having customers share their experiences with others and spreading the news or information that the business wants them to pass along.

There are many ways to activate customers.  Some of these are unique to certain industries, business models, or customer segments. However, below are a few ideas that should be applicable to most businesses.  None of these has to be complex or expensive, but these suggestions do require some thought, planning, ongoing management, and measurement to have the greatest impact.  Take a read through these to help spark some ideas on the best ways to activate your customers.

5 Activation ideas

  1. Create a program to formally recognize your best customers. Acknowledge and thank them for being good customers.  Make them feel valued and appreciated with special offers, ‘sneak peaks’ of new offerings, etc.  These customers will feel more loyal, and hopefully so special that they can’t help but tell their friend about their special treatment and great relationship they have with your business.
  2. Give your customers a voice and solicit their ideas and opinions in low or high tech ways. The medium isn’t as important as the act of listening to your customers.  The important aspects of this are that you can ask your customers what they think, give them a chance to respond, and consider their responses in the future to improve your products, services, or overall customer experience.  These things can be accomplished through social media tools, but they can also be accomplished through face to face discussions, phone conversations, focus groups, customer events, and other outlets.  The medium you choose really should be driven by your customers’ preferences.
  3. Keep your customers informed. Whether it is a new product launch or your next tradeshow appearance, ensure your customers are ‘in the know’ so that they can anticipate their next experience with your brand.  By keeping them updated on a regular basis on your news (such as through a newsletter, email, or blog), you can stay top of mind with them and further help them spread your news to other potential customers.
  4. Arm your customers with exclusive ‘marketing materials’. Ideally, this would be something that they can use in their daily lives, but that also happens to tell your brand’s story for you when they use it around others.  These ‘marketing materials’ could be product samples, special catalogs, or any other collateral that customers would find useful and better yet, would be proud to share with their friends because it is so unique or exclusive, and it has made them feel special by receiving it.
  5. Implement a ‘tell a friend’ referral program. For every person a customer refers to you resulting in a strong lead or a sale, give a ‘thank you’ in some form to the referring customer.  There are two things about the referral program that are very important.  First of all, the thank you has to be sincere.  The customer should believe that you really are thankful.  Secondly, the program should motivate the customer to continue to refer people to your brand.  This motivation typically means rewarding the customer in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them.  The hardest part about this is figuring out what that is (and this is where you refer back to #2).

I hope that these ideas encourage you to think about the ways that you are activating your customers currently and inspire you to develop some additional methods you can give to your satisfied customers to leverage.  And if you have some other suggestions of ways to activate your customers, please share them.  They would be much appreciated!


Are you delighting your customer?

June 18, 2009

One question that I believe every business leader should be asking himself on a regular basis is “Is my brand taking every opportunity to delight my customer?” 

I do not mean ‘satisfy’ or even ‘keep’.  I mean delight so that customers appreciate the brand, become loyal to the brand, and genuinely want to share their positive experiences with the brand with others.  This is all very important at a time when retaining customers is becoming more challenging  and when word of mouth marketing from customers is becoming more widespread through social media. 

My guess is that there are a lot of leaders who would say that they are delighting their customers or that they are trying to, but the leaders are not going through the exercise on a regular basis of mapping out every customer touch point that they have and thinking, “Are we making this a delightful experience?” 

 I witnessed two examples in the last few weeks of companies whose leaders probably think that their brands are consistently delighting their customers.  However, if the leaders went through the customer touch point exercise, they would find that there isn’t consistency.

 Example 1:  Starbucks

My first example of a company not taking advantage of every opportunity to delight its customers is Starbucks.  On May 22nd and 23rd,  Starbucks had a technical glitch and double charged everyone who used a credit or debit card to make a purchase.  Once Starbucks realized the problem, it swiftly credited all cards for the second charge.  It solved the problem and satisfied its unhappy customers, but I don’t think it delighted them.  

It missed its opportunity.  

It could have delighted its customers by crediting everyone for the original charge and the errant charge and said, “It’s our mistake, so your drink is on us.”  

Alternatively, it could have generated some positive buzz (and probably additional transactions) by crediting the errant charge and telling customers that if they brought their credit card statements into a store to show that they were impacted by the glitch, they would get a free beverage of their choice. 

 Either of these things would have resolved the problem and it would have generated goodwill with the customers that the company is trying so hard to keep.

Example 2:  Land’s End

Recently I purchased three pieces of clothing from Land’s End online.  I am very petite, and I ordered two petite items and one regular size item, all in XS.  I had intended to order all three items in petite, but I accidentally ordered one in the wrong size.  I was obviously very disappointed and angry with myself when the regular size of one of the items arrived.  The ‘salt in the wound’ in this experience was when I had to send back the wrong item, and pay for shipping due to my error.  Now, I understand.  I messed up, but I would have been delighted if Land’s End had been so gracious to pick up the shipping of the return if I reordered the right size.  But they didn’t, and I wasn’t delighted. 

To take this one step further, if Land’s End really wanted to delight its customers, it could think about adding a ‘smart step’ into its online ordering process.  This would be something that when the system sees that someone orders two items in one size and a third in another size, it could just politely ‘flag’ to the customer that this is happening.  Just a nice “Are you sure you want this item in regular?”  

I know that might be a very expensive update to their online system, but if that had happened, I would have been very delighted because it would have helped me catch my mistake. 

 And I bet I would have told my friends about it. 

The Moral of the Story

These are just a couple of examples to help illustrate that there are all kinds of opportunities where companies could delight their customers, but they are being missed.  The best way to find them is to grab a few colleagues (or better yet a few customers) and map out all the brand’s customer interactions and dive into them.  Don’t just check the box and satisfy.  Strive for delight.  I bet some things come to light that wouldn’t be too hard or expensive to do and that would drive a long-term positive reward for the brand and for its customers.