Four Marketing Lessons I Learned on Summer Vacation

August 31, 2009

As some of you may know, I had the luxury of taking a vacation a few weeks ago.  My vacations are very rarely of the relaxing kind.  I am someone who has a hard time sitting still, and so my vacations are generally full of activities.  This vacation was no exception as I spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state.

While on my trip, I had the opportunity to hear some very inspiring speakers including Daniel Pink, Anna Deavere Smith, and George Kembel talk about their perspectives on creativity and innovation.  I heard several ideas during the week that made me think that if only I had learned these things when I was still working in marketing for larger organizations, I would have done things differently, and perhaps would have generated far better, more creative work.  Because I think that these ideas have important implications for marketing, and business in general, I thought I would highlight a few for you — just in case you didn’t get a chance to take your own summer vacation.

What I learned on summer vacation:

  1. Rewards don’t work well when creativity is required.  This idea was championed by Daniel Pink who cited study after study that showed that contingent motivators (if you do this, I’ll give you that) do not spawn greater creativity.  Contingent motivators do work well for processes or routines, but they actually limit creative thinking.  Therefore, organizations that try to motivate their employees to develop new products or innovations through things like bonuses or promotions, are not going to get the best creative thinking out of their people.  The rewards change the focus to achieving a goal and become a distraction. 
  2. Self direction leads to engagement (which in turn leads to creative thinking).  If  contingent rewards don’t work to generate creative thinking, what does?  According to Daniel Pink, as long as people are compensated adequately and fairly, one successful motivator is  autonomy or self direction.  Giving individuals the ability to direct how, where, when, and what they work on leads to higher overall engagement and therefore more creative thinking.  I can speak to this first hand.  Since I have begun to run my own business, I have noticed a real increase in my passion for my work.   Now that I choose when, where, and what I work on, my productivity and creativity are higher than they were when I did not have this autonomy.  I realize that it isn’t realistic for companies to allow employees to only work on what the employees want to work on all of the time, but why not some of the time?  Why not start with setting aside one day where everyone gets to work on anything they want for the whole day, with the understanding that at the end of the day, everyone has to show what he did.  Why not see what ideas are uncovered?  FedEx does this once a month.  Why not at least give it a try?
  3. Empathy gives meaning to your work, which is motivating.  Most people who have taken a marketing class know that understanding a customer’s needs is critical to successfully marketing a product.  However, it fascinates me how many people skip over the step that they need to follow to really understand their customer’s needs.  There are a lot of organizations that consider research to be a ‘nice to have’, and most of them don’t think that they have the time or resources to invest in understanding their customer, so they decide to work off of a hunch.  While I understand why they do this, this approach is flawed.  As George Kembel explained, research gives marketers the opportunity to truly empathize with their customer and really understand their customer’s needs.  If they can walk in their customer’s shoes, they more acutely ‘feel their customer’s pain’ so to speak, and therefore have a greater motivation to think creatively to resolve the ‘pain’ or need.
  4. The power of the words ‘thank you’ should be leveraged more often.  Okay.  This idea was not one I picked up from the speakers.  This was one that struck me on my flight to my vacation destination.  I was sincerely thanked twice by the flight attendants at Continental Airlines for switching my seat by two rows on the plane so that a family could sit together.  The action took very little for me to do, but I felt like a rockstar as far as the flight attendants were concerned because they were so grateful.  This experience got me to thinking about how organizations really miss the opportunity to make their customers feel very special (and increase their loyalty), just by authentically thanking them for giving their business.  It doesn’t take much as long as it is sincere and personal.  Do you have a process or program for thanking your customers?  What about the ones who not only give you business, but who help build your brand for you (i.e. by positive word of mouth, referrals, feedback, etc.)?  If not, perhaps it is something you should consider.

So those were my big ‘a-ha’s from my vacation.  What about you?  Do these spur any additional thoughts or ideas?  Or did your own vacation generate some ideas you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear from you.

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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.