Archives for the month of: June, 2012

Explosive growth is a good problem to have. You are on your way to becoming/having a brand.

Explosive growth that you cannot satisfy is a bad problem to have. You are on your way to ruining the brand you could have had.

Fortune favors the prepared.

Christine Crandell in her seminal work “Buyer 3.0 and the Buyer’s Journey” takes us through today’s research and evaluation process B2B buyers engage in before even reaching out to a vendor for information.

The very basic lesson is that you (the vendor) need to be visible and findable in the arenas and trusted networks where buyers start their research, and Christine gives very good guidance for how to be visible, and what needs to be visible.

Additionally, she has identified six characteristics of Buyer 3.0 that today’s marketers need to be acutely aware of:

  • Views the buying experience as a precursor of the customer experience.
  • Outcome-driven and expects to receive meaningful value at every step.
  • Thoroughly researches potential purchases and alternatives long before contacting sellers.
  • Considers any inconsistencies in the buying “experience” as a warning sign that future expectations will not be met.
  • Uses multiple social channels to interact with and expects sellers to be able to follow the conversation across channels.
  • Proactively shares product and seller experiences with his/her social graph.

The research phase pointed out above in bullet three is captured in her Seller’s Compass™, and she makes the point that 70% of research that leads to a buying cycle is performed before the buyer even reaches out to the vendor. You don’t stand much of a chance if you don’t get this right.

Copyright 2012, Christine Crandell

However, I think the Seller’s Compass™ isn’t just guidance for marketers; it is a blueprint for every step in customer life-cycle planning and management that must be exercised by every department that ever touches the customer.

Instead, I call the Seller’s Compass™ the Brand Wheel. The buyer’s journey—the expectations and experiences—goes beyond brand planning, straight to the heart of corporate culture. A brand can only thrive if it is supported and championed by the right corporate culture. Marketing, Sales, and Customer Care must act and communicate in unison to continuously deliver the expected (promised!) brand experience.

And while I hold corporate culture responsible for this, strategic and executive leadership is responsible for corporate culture. Now all they have to do is pin this on their wall and get a clue (How? The Services Gap Model; future post.)

The best value proposition is to solve a complex problem simply.

The issue is that this doesn’t create any real barriers to entry for competitors since they could easily copy the solution (can you afford a full-fledged patent dispute not knowing if victory will be assured?).

Complex solutions are easy to sell…because they are complex. The complexity implies value, and people are willing to pay a lot for that—they’re not willing to pay much for simple solutions [that deliver the same value]. Paying for the process seems much more important than paying for the result.

We all know the adage about consultants: if you can’t be part of the solution, be part of the problem and continue to get paid.

Imagine then a consultancy that doesn’t sell fish, but instead teaches its customers how to fish.

Kepner-Tregoe (KT) has a product called “Problem Solving & Decision Making” (PSDM) that teaches companies how to problem-solve. Such a shame then that KT’s best PSDM marketing asset—a customer video testimonial—is buried deep within the site.

You’ll never find the video—the site is a bit of a marketing (UI/UX) disaster. So here are two links to the video. Enjoy.

It’s a very powerful message, and a very simple (but not simplistic) solution. I wonder how well it is selling. And I wonder if they get repeat business from turning customers into thinkers and independent problem-solvers.

The only way to create a brand is to deliver to expectations that were set correctly in the first place.

A brand is a promise, a social contract, an implied guarantee, a reducer of risk. However, all that presupposes that a brand is centered on a positive experience (or the promise of one).

Psychologically brands are emotional reactions toward these expectations, be they repeat or first-time. Emotional reactions are formed over the short- or long-term depending on the circumstances, but are generally long-lasting in either case. However, they are not always positive.

Therefore, I believe that because both positive and negative emotions  toward expectations exist, positive and negative brands must exist as well. Having a brand does not mean you have succeeded, it means you’ve succeeded or failed rather well—nothing in-between.

Riffing off the idea of the net promoter/detractor continuum, I think of brands the following way:

Think of laundry detergent. You have thirty choices, but will typically prefer one over all others, and if that one is not available you may decide to go with a fallback choice as a last resort. And there may be one choice that you will always avoid, even if it’s the last bottle left on the shelf. The rest of the choices are neutral, meaning they are not brands, as you have no feelings about them. Brand, by definition, is therefore a personal experience.

The brand, and your emotional attitude toward it, is a mix of personal and external influences, typically not within the control of the brand owner—actually, you are the brand owner; the originator is the brand steward. How you react toward a brand decides whether it’s a positive or negative brand. Past experience matters a lot, but so does testimony from your peer group (family, friends, colleagues), and trusted third-party advisor (e.g., Consumer Reports) when approaching a first-time experience.

Since brand loyalty is more easily lost than won, brand stewards have to have a deep understanding of the motivations and emotions for being a choice, lest they wish to run risk of sitting on a negative brand at any point in time.

If I have a negative reaction at the thought of you or your product (U.S. Airways, Cox, Sucralose), you have/are a negative brand with me.

Where the net promoter/detractor concept comes back into play is the ratio of positive vs. negative emotions toward you/your brand. It’s much more important to avoid creating negative experiences than it is creating positive ones. You can always work on improving yourself; it is nearly impossible to erase negative experiences and emotions, however.

Note that I don’t have to share my negative feelings about you with others—to damage you—to have a very negative impact on your business. Instead, many of us have the memory of an elephant and will abide by our positive and negative experiences for a long time. And while the customer definitely is not always right, be aware that you are continuously building a positive-negative brand ratio.

J.C. Penney has in a very short span of time managed to become a negative brand for many.

My wife and I joined in a family trip to Hawaii to celebrate her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Each person booked his/her own flight and accommodations, but as it turned out eight out of ten of us were on the same non-stop flight out of Phoenix.

Yes, I did fly US Airways, even though they punish me for being a good customer (previous post). It’s called monopoly power.

My wife is lucky in that as a phenomenal freelance editor she has so many adoring clients that she’s always drowning in work (a real problem, actually…). She’s been pulling 3+ all-nighters per week for the past month just so that she can actually go on this trip. She hasn’t flown since 9/11—we’ve literally been driving cross-country to get everywhere.

We all bought tickets in fourth class (First: First Class; Second: Business; Third: Economy with extra leg room; Fourth: Economy with “normal” leg room). I fly fourth class 99% of the time, but have occasionally stumbled into better seating. However, to give my wife some respite and something to look forward to since she’s avoided flying, I decided to upgrade us to first class. Anyone who has flown internationally knows that first class on a US airline is barely equivalent to business class on other airlines, but it is remarkably better than fourth class (that still doesn’t make it good, however).

We are seated in the third row. The flight attendant comes around to take our meal order: “I’m sorry, but we’re all out of choices, we only have tortellini left but we have a lot it.” My jaw only hit the floor at her follow up: “I hope that’s okay with you (?).”

It’s the first time my wife is flying first class, and she’s not having a first-class experience. U.S. Airways has quickly become a negative brand with her. And I’m still struggling with what my answer to the above question should have been.

It’s not how or to whom you market, it’s how you position what you market.

[Really, I’d prefer sticking to writing about good branding and marketing strategies, but Salesforce.com makes it too easy to keep this thread going.]

The saga continues. First, Salesforce.com cannot figure out what my needs and expectations are, even though I’ve expressed them many times before (previous post). Then they cannot follow up properly on their own promises (other previous post; FYI, once I finally chatted with the Radian6 rep I had a phenomenal experience, and I made sure her boss knew).

As you recall, I renewed our Jigsaw (Data.com) subscription. However, you don’t know that once the renewal had kicked in our points were set to zero, meaning we could not access and download data anymore. NOT what should be happening after renewal.

My first step was to reach out to customer service. I filled out the service request form at Jigsaw’s website, and immediately received an auto-response email with my ticket number.

A day passed. Nothing happened.

I responded to the email, copying my account rep and my renewal manager.

A day passed. Nothing happened.

I forwarded the service request auto-response email to customer service at Data.com.

A day passed. Nothing happened.

I called and learned that (a) they are really backed up, and (b) my ticket is not in the system—so it doesn’t really matter how backed up they are because they’ll never get to my issue (?).

I also finally learned through osmosis that the corporate-, training-, and customer service cultures at Salesforce.com are to not give a crap. The person I spoke with did eventually get my issue resolved, but that is beside the point (taking responsibility the first time around is the point).

The lesson for marketers? Customer life-cycle experience is your brand. Else, your best hope for survival is to have a permanent monopoly, this way you have license to deliver crappy customer service round-the-clock.

If you are not marketing strategically, you are not marketing.

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