blog: Relationship Marketing

The significance of truth in advertising

Did you know, zero gms of trans fat may not be a perfect 0? FDA regulations state 0.5 gms is permitted to disclosed as zero. Yet nutritionists believe that more than 2 gms of trans fat per daily diet can be harmful. How harmful? Who can say? But the notion that 25% of a harmful level is negligible seems to be an acceptable lie. (See: Are Marketers Out Smarting Us, by Stating Zero Trans Fat? http://everydayhealthforlife.com/zero-trans-fat-doesnt-necessarily-mean-zero/). Also, since the Organic Trade Association lobbied Congress to allow toxic additives in organic foods, you can probably only get true organic produce if you grow/raise it in your own backyard (See: What Does the USDA Organic Label Really Mean? http://www.care2.com/causes/what-does-the-usda-organic-label-really-mean.html)

Can we handle the truth?

Can placing a veil over the truth in order to gain acceptance really be considered a sustainable business model? Even if there is a standard return policy on most advertised offers, and a 1-year defects warranty, does the customer really want to make choices based on those caveats? Should shareholders be concerned that a high-speed advertising train might run out of track at some undefinable point when consumers flee having felt they were misled? Or, like the character Cypher in the Matrix, would consumers bask more happily in the glow of an illusion that whatever they are buying today is better than what they are replacing.

Truth is subjective

Self-image sets the tone for all forms of rationalization in making decisions. Self-image rarely aligns with how one is perceived, creating a perpetual ‘truth dichotomy’. For example, celebrities struggle when their public persona is not in synch with their self-image. Young, talented musicians sing about their personal frailties, yet the public demands role models of perfection. Take that idea into the democracy of consumer markets: when a brand overstates its claim in order to maintain its public persona it can fall from grace as easily as a Starlet of today becomes the Tabloid mockery of tomorrow.

Perception is Reality

In marketing and sales we would say it a bit differently: Expectations, once created, are like Promises. If you advertise to build customer expectations, you have to deliver on that promise.

Truth is also highly experiential and therefore highly subjective. While Customer Experience Departments aim to make the brand honest, it doesn’t mean the customer will have their expectations met.

Risk in advertising

Generating lots of awareness and response is not a true measure of success if the advertising sets expectations that are not sustainable. I am not talking about grounds to sue. Most mice-type at the bottom of the page protects the marketer. I simply mean where customers believed the ad and couldn’t sustain that belief in the product, either pre- or post-purchase.

On whom does the burden of truth  fall: the ad agency or the marketer? Does a creative ad deserve industry recognition if the brand that it represents sees a high rate of customer churn? To say ‘Yes’ puts the onus on the client. Is there any responsibility on the agency to do due diligence and inform the client when there is a misalignment between the advertising promise and the product delivery? When advertising is regarded as entertainment at the Superbowl, perhaps we have already accepted that it has entered the realm of fantasy and we have adjusted to that. But when it comes to hard cash that we feel was not well-spent, whom do we blame? The manufacturer or the ad agency.

Truth is hard to find

Advertisers, politicians, lawyers, real estate agents, journalists: we live in a world where Truth is constantly subject to distortion, concealed, deleted or being reinvented. But, isn’t it refreshing when an advertiser starts telling the truth? How do agencies manage this process? I believe that customer-centric marketing is the best advocate for truth in advertising. When major brands like McDonald’s opens up the kimono on how it creates ads and delivers its service we see consumers sit up and pay attention. I like that.

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A Report on the Customer Experience Conference, CMA – 11-04-2013

Overall: an uplifting event demonstrating that customer-centric marketing has come of age, albeit rushed through teen adolescence at light-speed, by the power of social media.

Some very strong presentations and some surprises:

GO Transit wins the award for a Public Agency teaching private enterprise how to go about their business: for putting customer experience at the front of the line and driving up commuter volumes. Their customer research, segmentation and designing their brand promise entirely around the customer’s values of ‘easy’ rather than a transportation value of ‘efficient’ is as customer-centric as can be. How far apart are easy and efficient? We usually separate them with a comma − easy, efficient − it rolls off the tongue. Go-Transit learned the hard way, that when you separate ‘efficient’ from ‘easy’ an entire customer base can fall through the cracks. Great job learning that and fixing it in such a comprehensive and successful way!

1-800-Got-Junk? also rates top marks for walking the walk in customer-centric marketing. Compensating your franchisees based on the degree of positive customer feedback is a brilliant incentive, and immediately measurable through use of the net promoter score service. And then turning each high-score customer into a brand ambassador for lead-generation −very slick. If only all business models were so simple.

Other key ambassadors of integrated customer-centric business models, Porter Airlines and Miele Canada were very powerful reinforcements of the core value of the strategy.

It was very exciting to learn how Microsoft, Samsung and Canadian Tire have re-focused their energies on customer experience. If these Mega-brands in their respective markets have taken this on board, it is very encouraging to contemplate how customer-centric marketing will start to influence all aspects of delivering on the brand promise for marketers.

Most encouragingly, the conference was packed. Well done CMA for planning and hosting.

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My Google AdPicker, My Choice

When “Single Women Want You” ads started to appear in so many of the news and information sites I was browsing at my office, I became suspicious. Before that it was ads for a downtown hotel with a good reputation. I am not suggesting there was a connection, but my web-browsing exists solely for business (at home I prefer to read books), I am 25-years happily married, and have no reason to stay downtown in a hotel, so I was mystified why I was being haunted by these ads.

In Firefox I tweaked a few settings, so that now my cookies delete daily and the Women vanished.

Big news: Microsoft’s web browser default is now set to “Do not track”. This has earned the resentment of advertisers in general, because being able to track and insert ads wherever the customer searches and browses gives the advertiser a lot of impressions.

The beauty of Remarketing online is that the advertiser doesn’t have to pay Google until there is a click-through. Remarketing means your ad will follow an online web user through their successive browsing experience until you stop decide to stop paying for the campaign. This earns lots of impressions at no cost. Google is supposed to manage it so that the insertion of ads from sites you have visited does not become obvious or annoying. I don’t remember visiting any dating web-sites, but in my business I do a lot of research on advertisers, so it is possible I did, but not as a punter. Any tab left open in a browser, the duration-of-site-visit is clocked, even if you don’t look at the page. If my advertising market research tripped Google’s Remarketing program, then it became a very annoying feature!

Will this type of campaign flourish, or will the Do Not Track caucus win out?

Here is where I think the online ad universe is headed:

Users will start to set their browser privacy settings to “Do not track”. A lot of online advertisers will get bummed off.

Google will then present me with a personalized database of advertiser opt-ins called MyGoogleAdPicker so I can elect which ads to view based on my search and browse history, to enrich my daily browsing experience. I will also be able to add my own list of opt-ins of anything trending in Social Media, or word-on-the-street. Google will also be able to suggest – based on my search history, and some canny algorithm using demographic assumptions – any marketers that I might also find of interest under the category of MyGoogleAdPicker Plus. Google will offer incentives to use MyGoogleAdPicker Plus that will be charged back to the advertisers like an inverted PPC model.

Within this model, as an Internet-browser, I will have the expectation that every online banner I see is tailored to my interest. The advertiser will get a highly-qualified conversion rate and the web will have less clutter to worry about. You can’t get more customer-centric than that.

What is the down-side? Why isn’t this happening yet? Because the consumer market is not yet that savvy. It hasn’t pushed Google to take the initiative. But it will and they will. Not soon enough for single women perhaps. If the concept is my invention I’ll be happy take a percentage, but I hope someone is already hacking away at this model, because I am happy to appreciate the benefit, like every other Internet user.

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Stop gazing at your own corporate reflection

New research out of the Zeno Research Group suggests that more than one-third of CEOs ignore their company’s social media reputation when making important business decisions.

Strong language

On another note, almost two-thirds of CEOs do pay attention to their company’s social media reputation when making important business decisions. Reputation measurement is still a fairly new science given that the majority of customer opinions are still not recorded online in many demographics. Two-thirds is a pretty good sign to me that the immediacy of social media feedback is making enough waves to turn the tide of brand-centric marketing towards a more customer-centric model.

All research is skewed in some way, but let’s presume that these results are absolute, that 34% of CEOs will never pay attention to their social media reputation. Why not?

– The Gratification of Self-Image –

It is a human flaw that we cannot see our own failings as clearly as others see them. It is not just related to self-esteem. It is also related to the monumental effort required to make a fundamental change. So we manage to overlook our bulges, emotional reflexes, proportional misalignments and project a demeanour that masks the flaws that lurk beneath.

This is also true of businesses that are, in many cases, extensions of their decision-makers’ persona. Ego hides what it doesn’t like to see because change is hard.

CEOs are emperors of their enterprise. It takes a huge amount of ego to rise to such a position – ego that can fight even its own intelligence to justify its decisions.

– Adjusting to Reality –

Social media conversations are immediate, blunt, and have no regard for ego. It is the classic case of the Emperor vs. The Mob. We see in the Middle East, imperial models crashing, proportionate to the rising use of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook in those countries. Social media coalesces one person’s opinion into millions of shared values.

The CEO model is imperial. The Social Media model is democratic. With the proliferation of conversations and their influence on market performance, an Emperor who doesn’t know how to listen will be replaced by a republic. In commercial terms, that means your customers will defect or your Board will take you out.

Social media helps to inform a CEO of a failure to execute properly within the ranks of the organization. This is a huge benefit. Self-policing an organization can be oppressive and de-motivating to the workforce. Embracing social media as your source for checks and balances is a relatively cost-efficient monitoring tool for the Enterprise and justifies to all parts of the organization the need for training and improvement.

Zappos has a good model to show how an organization empowers its employees to make key decisions at the time of customer engagement. It is an effective, self-policing model where the employee defines their own career satisfaction through dynamic engagement with customers. Its online reputation score is very high. The Twelpforce from Best Buy is another great example of empowering dynamic response at the lowest level of customer engagement.

– Change by Osmosis –

The one-third will change, or die. There are very few businesses that are immune to public opinion, unless they are a legislative monopoly. This time next year the Zeno Group will have to find something more pertinent to research.

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How does customer service fit into your marketing mix?

This question was asked by Marketing Magazine to Longo’s Grocery Chain (see the November Special Issue on Customer Service).

I didn’t get to the answer. The question short-circuited my frontal lobe so I stopped reading. Let me explain.

I have, for the past 16 years, had a mania about customer-centric marketing. I have also been a critic of brand-centric marketing. I have never had a problem selling the strategy, but I have sometimes been a bit disappointed by the casual observation that “It doesn’t look much different”.

It has been a splinter in my brain to characterize the contrast between the science of customer-centric marketing and brand marketing without reaming off thousands of words.

Don’t breathe!  I may have found a solution. I am going to reword Marketing Magazine’s question:

HOW DOES MARKETING MIX FIT INTO YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE?

(I feel a bit dizzy. Need to take a moment.)

Customer-centric marketing takes brand ego out of the equation and replaces it with brand empathy, at every touch-point. It focuses your value proposition, media execution, product delivery, customer service and relationship management on the customer’s values.

“How does Customer Service Fit into your Marketing Mix?” vs. “How does Marketing Mix fit into your Customer Service?” It is an 180 degree flip. And it is a mind-set. Perhaps you can’t see the difference until you feel the difference.

Is it easy to make the transition?
No.

Is it so obvious when you have?
It may not be so noticeable to the casual observer, but it is very significant to the target audience and to your customer retention, share of wallet, marginal cost of marketing and all those other important variables.

So, how does your marketing mix fit into your customer service?

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The Customer is Queen (not King)

You know the old aphorism: “The Customer is King”. It turns out that nobody really means it. You have to wonder why. Let’s take a look….

WHAT IS A KING, ANYWAY?

Kings are confrontational — whatever conflicts with their rule must be challenged. Two kingdoms in conflict have limited choice: to conquer, negotiate, submit, or make an alliance.

What does it mean when we say that ‘The Customer is King’?

Most business owners would answer that it helps them to remember the ‘significance of the customer’. But it doesn’t mean the customer should have the power to dictate terms to the business. The Business is really the King.

WHAT IS A QUEEN?

In metaphor – the Queen is the consort to the ruler of the kingdom. If a King wants to extend his rule, he needs a loyal, supportive Queen who can raise princes that won’t challenge him, to keep the peace in his kingdom.

The ‘King’ is your business and the ‘Queen’ is your customer. The princes are your growth in market share, share of wallet etc. Be disloyal to your customers and they will rebel or defect.

 

Treat your customer like a Queen: two heads sharing common goals, values and interests. Don’t treat your customer like a King. You’ll butt heads and they’ll replace you with a competitor.

 

Play your cards right by reinforcing customer values to create a loyal, profitable and long-term relationship.

IT’S NOT A FAIRY TALE

It is in your best interest is to build long-term relationships with your customers by understanding and anticipating their values.

This is the top-spin that we put into Customer-centric marketing, to create, grow and sustain your customer relationships. It’s more than creative, more than branding, and more than rewards.

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.

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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