blog: archives

TRAVERSE MARKETING

You have your product and your partners in place and core of customers that value what you offer who maintain your cash fl ow and profitability. Opportunities beckon in other markets, providing chance to duplicate your success. You scope out thepotential and speak to a few people. The board is supportive, you give it your best shot and in a few months you are seeing a sizeable return on your investment. If only it were that simple. For more see: Traverse Marketing

Marketing Brief

Redefining your assets.2

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The 180º Right Turn

After doing a 360º About Face (see last entry) you will now be able to see yourself as your customers see you – not through your well-groomed surveys – but through their values and where and how you fit.

Which means you can make the right move (turn), to build your marketing programs and messaging from the customer’s perspective – opposite (180º) from the way you were facing in your previous marketing endeavors.

Anecdotally: I recently spoke with a senior executive in one of Dell’s divisions. Their internal retrospective critique was that Dell had focused too much on pricing in its messaging. While listening I did a quick 360º About Face and said to myself: “I didn’t buy Dell for a discount product. I bought Dell because I could get what I needed faster and to my door without paying for things I didn’t want.” In fact I don’t think I ever bought a Dell product at the advertised price. Dell’s price-point marketing reinforced to me the economy of its distribution model.

I never thought of Dell as a discounter, and I was both a consumer and business customer. All I needed from Dell was that their primary concern was to keep shovelling me with the technology I needed, faster and more cost-effectively than anyone else, and my loyalty was/is won. Marketing values reflect differently with customers, which presents the challenge of trying to pin the tail on the donkey while wearing the blindfold. Lack of line of sight is a great inhibitor.

One way to be sure you have line of sight is to stand in the place you are aiming at and look back at where you are pointing from (it works great on the golfing green). Stand on the opposite side and figure out how to make your objective reach the goal. You need this perspective before you can make the 180º Right Turn. One way to get perspective is to tune into the customer dialog while it is happening all around you. Web 2.0 publishing offers an unlimited resource for marketers to navigate a 180º right turn, (although there should be a health warning that such powerful direct feedback from customers can cause marketing whiplash in the dire haste to stem the negative feedback circulating through blogs, chatrooms and forums).

The rise of the corporate blogger needs to be more than a trend. It is a wellspring for interactive communication that is collaborative and ultimately supportive, even if the criticism can be brutal. Collaborative brainstorming sites are another face of the customer that lets marketers embrace attitudes so foreign to their internal culture you’d think they never really met face-to-face with a customer. Not all marketers can be successful in the blogsphere, as their customers often don’t rate them high enough in their priorities to take the time to engage in this sort of dialog. An alternative technique called Web Voyaging lets you tune into the voice of the customer and build an interaction that can guide you to make the right choices to build your business.

It is a methodology designed by an Interactive PR Agency partner of my studio Hydrogen Creative, and it relies on tracing 50 online communities that represent your target audience, and preparing well thought out topics or opinions and posting these to their community to gauge the response. The immediacy of the medium and the authenticity of the response is what make this a compelling technique to reach out to customers. Once you have done the 360º About Face you develop the sensitivity to hear customer feedback in the proper context. You resist making knee-jerk rationalizations of why the customer is saying the opposite of what you were hoping to hear. I am so frustrated by research companies that carefully craft questions in order that the answers are tolerable to their paying clients. If you don’t think it happens, “Ha, ha, ha, to you.”

The idea of the 180º Right Turn is to embrace with humility the reality that all the smarts you have and all the brilliance that inspires you to get up in the morning is subservient to a few terse comments from the people you need to buy your products who don’t share your sentiments about what you do best each day.

It is sometimes a painful awakening, but the good news is – once you make the turn – you get to channel all the brilliance and inspiration that you have into something that actually resonates with your customers.

Now that’s exciting.

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The 360º About-Face

I was once told that the furthest two points on a circle are right next to each other, because you have to travel the entire circumference to connect them. Sound silly? Try to draw a circle without connecting two points next to each other. You can’t do it. The paradox that the closest and furthest points of the circumference are adjacent is an interesting metaphor for how to miss or connect with customers.

As marketers we tend to look at the market through the lens of our brand, product or service and accept whatever filters through. We define the product based on its finest qualities and spin these into potential benefits, having first made sure of competitive qualities through price, performance or appeal. It is a product-centric model: the product is at the centre, and its radius is a function of market segment and reach. Customers fill in the area of the circle. Completely full is nirvana.

In a customer-centric world, your product is just one point on the 360º circumference of a circle that constitutes the entire customer predicament. Your marketing efforts travel inwards on a direct line to the centre. If you reach the centre it means they bought you.

So there is also a paradox between the product-centric model and the customer-centric model: to the marketer the product is a 360º totality but to the customer it is a 1º Maybe.

How can these two disparate models be reconciled? The challenge for the marketer is to travel the remaining 359º to fully understand the customer predicament and then apply that knowledge. Touch Marketing is the expression I use to envelope customer values, position the product properly and develop a marketing platform that builds a relationship based on shared values. In the 360º view of the customer price may not be important, features may not be important. Convenience and simplicity might be important but you won’t know until you do the 360º About Face, learn how your customer really sees their world and relates to your product within everything they do.

It takes some effort to wrench oneself away from the comfort of one’s own perspective. Nobody wants to have their ‘comfort-tree’ shaken. I am not talking about customer-satisfaction. Too many marketers pat themselves on the back with positive customer survey responses and remain in marketing stasis. I am talking about real-life relevance:
–> how to make your marketing more relevant to customer values so that they embrace not only what you are selling now, but also what you will sell in the future. If you do the 360º About Face, your next products will also support their values.

You have to go as far away from what you know and feel about your business or products to learn what it means to be customer-centric. Then you will have done the 360º About Face and be ready to pick up your product, brand or service and build a meaningful relationship with your customers.

In case you thought I was advocating going this distance with every single customer – that would be unnecessary. Customers form into segments also. The classifications won’t always fit the precise definitions of your marketing textbook. Go and find out. In each case it’s interesting and you’ll learn something to help you grow your business.

The Government is the Nanny of the State

It could have been the worst teaching night of my experience, talking for 2.5 hours about the role of government in business to first year Under-Grad Business students. (okay, we took a five minute break). It ended up not quite so bad after I hit on the metaphor of the Government being the Nanny of the State.

When the children play nice, Nanny gets on with her knitting. Catch a boo-boo? Run to Nanny. Misbehave? Watch out for Nanny. Playing the bully? Nanny takes the bully down. Best case scenario, Nanny stays away until it’s time for treats.

The consensus of the class was: “Keep Government out of business as much as possible.” “Only as a last resort.” “Well, if the economy is completely failing, then of course we do need Government to step in.” I will not rant politics because the general consensus is “Right now we need Nanny”.

One part of my presentation to take home for the customer-centric marketer was ‘The reason why some industries self-regulate: to avoid the imposition of external regulation’. The ad industry is a good example in many countries, where advertising standards are self-adopted, rather than deal with the government as the ombudsman of integrity in advertising. Financial markets were also self-regulating (:o(.

The key point to be made is that, when an industry regulates itself, it generally does so with the goal of protecting itself from the consequences of being regulated from elsewhere. Regulation that is seen to be done, is not designed to protect the average Joe. It protects the industry it serves from a greater imposition of authority. Kids playing by the rules to keep Nanny out, rather than to be really, really fair. Did I mention that Financial markets were self-regulating (:o(

I believe increasingly, that the standards by which all commercial activity will become judged is through the regulatory lens of the CUSTOMER. The customer represents the primary moral imperative to ensure business continuity, customer frequency and loyalty. I wonder how the class would have reacted if I had inserted the word CUSTOMER in place of government throughout the entire presentation? We are not so resistant to the actions of our customers within private enterprise as we are to the Nanny of the State..

The Nanny of the State certainly has the customer in mind in times of crisis. Stimulation of retail activity, Keynesian economics to prime the pump of consumer spending et al. When will the penny truly drop that, by applying the right integrity and values within our business and our marketing, we can bypass the Government and do very nicely?

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You shall not covet

I have always been puzzled by the biblical text that puts “You shall not covet” as the finishing flourish of the 10 Commandments, as if this is more heinous than murdering, lying, cheating, stealing. There is no action involved. It is more about attitude. What’s the problem here? And what does it have to do with customer-centric marketing? (The committed acolytes at this point will intone, “Customer-centric marketing embraces Life, the Universe and Everything” in 6-part harmony).

But if you think for a moment about what can transpire in the commercial world, based on the desire to achieve what someone else has (that you have not) then you have a frequent motive for businesses, sometimes egregiously, sometimes sublimely lying, cheating and stealing, to achieve their goals. In the geo-political and ethnic world, you get war.

So, in a nutshell, covetousness is a great way to kill any chance of a relationship.

When I speak about the Goals-centric enterprise (in contrast to customer-centric), there is a question as to the motive behind the goals of the enterprise. Covetousness, some would say, is the root of ambition, of aspiration, of even invention. If the emotion exists there must surely be a positive angle.

Relationships are also goal-centred. It just comes out that the goal of a relationship is to give to each other in a harmonious state of reciprocity, not to take from each other in a duel of one-upmanship. Coveting is also about exercising Control: to manipulate the relationship so as to exact the most reward for oneself.

Media and advertising are playgrounds for the exercise of control. Share of Mind: what is that? It is the calculated manipulation of media to control the consumer. Marketers talk about it as if it were a game of marbles. Hey, isn’t a game of marbles also about control? It is in the nature of competition to exercise influence and control in order to achieve your goals. But it can go wrong, because when the drive to control gets out of control something Evil happens.

Customer-centric marketing is about building relationships based on the customer’s values, separate from the latent desire to control. To control is inherently human, but to dominate is problematic. In friendships and relationships we exercise control to create an environment in which our wishes are shared. Competition comes from other potential relationships. The best, best friend is the one with whom we share such a harmony that other potential relationships cannot compete. There is some element of control in all relationships, but it is maintained within a healthy, bi-lateral state.

When your product, service or business fully embraces all the values and needs that your customer has for that slice of their life, competition cannot breach the relationship. BUT, when your product, service or business takes on that covetous, goals-centric mentality, the customer will get shorted out at some point, when the price goes up or the quality goes down or the services are cut back, for the wrong reasons. Relationships can even endure hardship, if they are based on maintaining shared values. There is a marketing technique for reaching out to these values and building relationships. I call it Touch Marketing, and I use it all the time.

Back to topic: so, the root of all evil is Covetousness. And the remedy is honest-to-goodness relationship building: in politics, in war, and in business.

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Which End of the Telescope Do You Use?

If you had never seen a telescope before it would be reasonable to look through the large end. It is wider, offers more light, and it could be assumed its primary purpose was to shrink things. There is a natural tendency to put your goals first, even when your intention is to focus on the customer. So the customer is smaller, remote and subservient to your marketing goals. It’s a happy thought to many a brand marketer that if the customer had its eyeball at the opposite end of your telescope it would see you many times greater than reality.

By some quirk of our human nature (call it ego), we all see our own perspective in magnification and everyone else’s in minimilization. It is not a simple thing to switch the roles around. But the truth  is that we are judged, not from our own perspective, but from that of the customer.

For example: I consulted with a construction company to develop a marketing platform within a key vertical. After research and competitive analysis I presented the the strategy and execution framework. The VP Marketing announced that they had implemented the same strategy 4 years earlier and it had failed in the execution. It wasn’t until my presentation that they realized they had used the wrong end of the telescope.

You can have the right data, the right strategy and manage to completely alienate your target market by thinking that the telescope is pointed in your direction.

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Jon Sherrington

Owner, Strategist, Writer – Hydrogen Creative Inc.

May 1996 – Present

My role is to provide strategic marketing guidance to clients to ensure their objectives are attainable, remain in focus and the communications solutions work.

My expertise is in how to realign goals-oriented brands, products, services or businesses to customer values to build loyalty, frequency and continuity.