Tag Archives: Word-of-Mouth

Is “Content Marketing” the new “Promised Land”?

Content Management is critically important when used with Pull marketingContent, Content, Content…it’s the new buzz word in marketing circles these days. Since Social Media isn’t living up to its claims for many companies, they are looking for the new “silver bullet”…which now happens to be “Content Marketing or Content Management.” Is it the new found Promised Land for marketing?

I would encourage you to think a bit broader and deeper when it comes to a discussion about Content Marketing. We have to remind ourselves that “Content Marketing” is actually just a “TOOL” with a Bigger Purpose if used correctly. Like many of the other traditional, digital, and social media “tools” already being used, this one can fit into the same category…unless you THINK DIFFERENTLY.

Start with the concept that generally, “Marketing ruins everything.” OK, I know this will get some people’s feathers ruffled and for others of you, you will say Amen, it is completely accurate. The point I want to make is that when marketing gets a hold of “a new thing (tool)” they tend to do two things to it…over use it and use it incorrectly. Content Marketing probably won’t be any different so it will follow the same path at some point in the future…unless you treat it differently.

If you think of Content Marketing as a “tool” you are missing the point and its value.

There are two concepts in marketing…“PUSH” and “PULL” marketing. All traditional marketing was designed as “Push”…shoving out lots of ads and other information to the audience. This worked amazingly well in the Industrial Revolution when there weren’t any other options for the consumer to hear about products and services. Ad agencies were born and raked in millions of dollars on the backs of this approach. It has essentially died when we left the Industrial Revolution behind and entered into the Internet/Digital Revolution.

Unfortunately, many people in marketing didn’t get this was happening right under their nose. Instead, they saw a whole bunch of new “tools” called Social Media show up that they thought were simply a new and improved way to “push” their information to the customer. They were wrong. The customer initially thought this was pretty cool and welcomed the new way of getting information…then marketing ruined it. They started shoving everything they could…faster and in more volume…than they ever had before. They thought this would work…it didn’t. It was still “push marketing” only using a different tool called Social Media instead of direct mail, TV, radio, magazines, billboards, and a host of other traditional media tools.

The audience grew up and learned how they wanted to receive information and it wasn’t by having billions of pieces thrown at them through every channel they were on…they learned where the “off switch” was and turned off this barrage of messaging. The numbers have been declining steadily and marketing is wondering why their audience doesn’t want to see their valuable ads and self-promotional information. They really never did…

Enter Content Marketing as a new way to “push” more information to the customer. It is new because it actually involves content…something of substance (written, video, podcast, etc.). The consumer is asking for this…they want to learn more but invest less time in consuming the information. Once again we are seeing most marketing groups seeing the next “Promised Land” and as such are shoving more and more “content” to their audience. The right concept…wrong execution.

The content isn’t RELEVANT, HELPFUL, or TIMELY for their audience…it is just once again voluminous amounts of information…much of what we can already get by doing a search. This is where marketing stands to “ruin content marketing” as they have done for so many other forms of media.

But there is a solution…“PULL MARKETING.”

Pull Marketing is all about the “customer WANTING the information you have because it is relevant, helpful, and timely and so they PULL it to them…when they want and how they want.” This is an entirely different way to think about marketing. It is marketing the customer actually wants in their life because it is VALUABLE to them.

CONTENT MARKETING is an absolutely amazing way to create an effective PULL MARKETING strategy and execute it in a way the customer will love. Now companies have the opportunity to truly understand their customers wants and needs and anticipate what will be helpful and relevant in their lives and then give this to them in a timely manner. When marketing adopts this mindset, they have crossed over from the old traditional “push” process and adopted a completely different strategy of “pull” into their strategy.

THIS WORKS…AND THE CUSTOMER IS BEGGING YOU FOR IT.

Content Marketing can be the next PROMISED LAND for your marketing and company efforts…if you adopt a “PULL MARKETING” strategy and erase the “PUSH” strategy from your brain. Content marketing is absolutely something that your audience will love and reward you for when developed with a PULL MARKETING STRATEGY. It is what they want…marketing just has to understand this and not screw it up again.

What will you do as the leader of your company…the business owner and CEO? Will you allow your marketing to be done the old traditional way and lose the immense value in front of you that you could benefit from by using a “PULL CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGY?” I believe the leadership team needs to direct the marketing function to be more OBSESSED with their CUSTOMERS and give them the ability to create a powerful PULL MARKETING strategy…using CONTENT as the core. Today leadership teams need to be more involved in marketing than ever before.

Today it can help to significantly solidify your brand, create true differentiation, and endear your customers to you in ways your competition can’t…this is where marketing and customer obsession can become your true competitive advantage. When this happens, Content Marketing can become the new PROMISED LAND for your company…and your customers will reward you both with business and much more WORD-OF-MOUTH…and we all know this is the ultimate success for marketing and the organization  overall.

Will you adopt and drive a PUSH or PULL strategy as a leader of your company? This is an excellent time and opportunity to put your company in front of the pack of competitors.

INFLUENCERS or ADVOCATES…Where Should You Invest?

Advocates start with a foundation of TrustThere is so much talk today about “INFLUENCERS” and how companies need to build up an army of these people to help promote their brand. Is it real or the right thing to do? Should you invest money into this strategy and marketing tactic? Allow me to offer maybe a different perspective for you to consider before you dive into this approach.

I think it is important to clear up something that is often confused…the difference between an INFLUENCER and an ADVOCATE. Sometimes these words get used interchangeably and to me they are very different people.

An INFLUENCER is someone that helps persuade or influence someone else’s opinion about a company’s product, service, or experience. They may or may not have used the product or service or even had an experience with the company first hand but based on their position in the market their opinion matters more than others. Often times they can also compensated in some way for their opinions and influence over potential customers.

For example, let’s say someone is knowledgeable about a particular product or service based on their research in a particular area. They might write about this item and say that based on their research it appears to be a great product and something they would recommend to others. Because they are respected in their industry, they are viewed as someone who can speak with authority.

There are other examples of influencers as well…such as employees who work for your company. They can say how great it is to work there and how wonderful the people are and what great visionaries the leaders appear to be and so forth. They are “influencing” the audience because they have “insider” information about how things operate. There are other similar examples but they all have the same intent…to influence you in some way so the company stands out from the crowd and you will hopefully purchase their product or service.

An ADVOCATE is quite different. An Advocate is someone who has some personal experience with you, your employees, or your company in some way. They have usually used your product or service and have had an experience with your people or your company. While this isn’t a requirement, it is more often the case.

An ADVOCATE is someone who proactively tells someone else about you, your product or service, your company, and their experience…and they tell them with passion. They usually will emphatically recommend they work with our purchase from your company. They are people who speak with conviction about you, your employees, and your company. They tend to be quite absolute…meaning they simply tell others to work/buy from you without question.

They don’t have to have been a customer to be an Advocate for you. For example, I know of some professionals (attorneys, accountants, real estate, etc.) who I have never worked with because I haven’t had the need. But because I know them personally, have heard from others who have worked with them, and understand the experience they provide, I would emphatically tell others they are the ones to go see if they ever need these services. So I don’t need to have worked with them to be their Advocate and sing their praises…proactively to my friends, connections, or my general audience. I can speak very passionately about who they are and why I highly recommend them to others.

A KEY DIFFERENCE between an Influencer and an Advocate is the DEGREE OF TRUST.

As an ADVOCATE, I have a much higher degree of TRUST for a company than if I am just an INFLUENCER. And similarly, my TRUST as an INFLUENCER is greater than if I didn’t know the company at all or know anything about the experience they offer. In my opinion it is the DEGREE OF TRUST that clearly separates ADVOCATES from INFLUENCERS.

Both can be valuable to the efforts of a company to market and spread information about their BRAND. Both are definitely better than either using traditional marketing or social media to blast out messages  to thousands of people that don’t know you or care about you. Blasting lots of messages (Spraying and Praying) is the worst thing you can do today for your brand…it is a key reason for “brand erosion”. Both Influencers and Advocates offer a much more focused and personal approach to help share your message and brand with your desired audience.

I personally believe it is worth the investment to create ADVOCATES…above and beyond anything else…even INFLUENCERS. Advocates carry the highest degree of trust and they also send the potential customer directly to you…because they are a “trusted source”. An Influencer is better to have around than just an audience of “commodity consumers” but they still aren’t as trusted as an Advocate.

ADVOCATES also keep telling people over and over and over again about you…they don’t stop until they stop being an Advocate. They are committed to you and they are passionate about helping you…because they TRUST you. INFLUENCERS not so much…they have the information and justification but generally lack the enthusiasm and passion an Advocate conveys.

Having both is great…but if you only want one strategy, my recommendation is to build an ADVOCATE STRATEGY for your organization. This has many aspects to it with the end goal to provide such an incredible experience that your audience can’t wait to tell others about you. An Advocate is the highest level on the “Relationship Pyramid”…the pinnacle.

Only the very best organizations strive to create an army of Advocates because they know how strongly the can help their company grow. They not only generate more revenue for the company, they also help lower costs because they are essentially helping you to market. This combination increases profitability. Advocates increase your profitability. Influencers generally help increase revenues but have less impact on profitability.

Either way, both INFLUENCERS and ADVOCATES are valuable assets to any organization…far above doing nothing. Building a strategy that helps you create both is one of the best ways to lead your industry and cement your brand.

Could you Survive if 25% of your Customers left TOMORROW?

Bad Customer Experiences can cost you 25% of your customers

According to a research conducted by McKinsey and Company, 25% of customers will defect (leave) after just one bad experience. That simply means if your company delivers a bad experience, you are at risk of one-fourth of them LEAVING!

Most businesses are not designed on fat enough margins to sustain this kind of a hit…yet they risk it every day because they believe in their product or service more than their experience. From my own research and in countless discussions with CEOs and Business Owners, most leaders focus more effort on strengthening their products or services, not investing in their customer experience. McKinsey tells us this is the wrong way to think in today’s highly competitive and commoditized world.

The problem that exists today, as opposed to years ago when we lived in the Industrial Revolution, is there are significantly more choices for customers in the market today…both B2C and B2B. Where a customer might have had 2 or 3 to choose from in the 90’s and early 2000’s, today they might have close to 50 in that same category. With this many choices, prices have been squeezed and margins cut to remain competitive.

Unless a company has a definite “first mover advantage” in a product category, they are selling products and services offered by many different competitors. Very few companies enjoy this “first mover advantage” so they are competing with other products and services based on price, availability, delivery, and terms. Unless you the best in these areas, the customer goes somewhere else…UNLESS YOUR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS INCREDIBLE…then the customer shops based on their experience rather than the commodity elements.

I have met very few companies…probably could count them on one hand…that could survive if 25% of their customers walked away today. It would be such a significant revenue hit it would throw the rest of their business into a tailspin. Most likely to a point of going out of business. I think this is too high of a level of risk most leaders would find unacceptable if they really analyzed their businesses.

On the other side of this issue is very positive news and lots of opportunity for those leaders who realize this and want to build their company around the customer experience. Other McKinsey research shows revenues can increase as much as 10% while costs can decrease by as much as 25%…coupled together this represents significant gains in margin/profitability! Other research shows even higher numbers…bottom line being there is tremendous upside for companies that become CUSTOMER OBSESSED and focus their entire business around delivering an incredible and remarkable customer experience.

I choose to focus on the upside rather than the potential downside. I see this as an incredible opportunity for those leaders that are “forward thinking” enough to get it, understand it is happening (based on their own industry indicators), and do something about it. Those leaders who “grab the bull by the horns” and see this as the incredible opportunity it is will not just lead their industries, they will DOMINATE THEIR INDUSTRY.

There has never been a better time in history to take advantage of such an imbalance between where companies are today and the opportunity to excel into tomorrow. The Internet Revolution has created this opportunity for all of us…including you and your industry, regardless of what it is. It really doesn’t matter if you are B2B or B2C and it works in virtually every industry category. The key is to recognize this exists and take advantage of it while you can be the leader, rather than playing catchup.

And if you are a leader, the other side to think about is the 25% of the customers your competitors will be losing due to their unimpressive customer experience. Who is going to pick up all these customers that are defecting…YOU AND YOUR COMPANY! You are now putting your company in a position to take over all these defecting customers, show them what an incredible experience looks like for them, and bring them into your customer base where you can treat them to something incredible.

This is your opportunity today!

As a leader, you can increase your risk by ignoring the research…which might cost you up to 25% of your customers because of the experience issues that might occur in your company. OR you can take a leadership role in your industry and be the safe haven for all these unhappy customers and bring them into your business and treat them royally. Both sides of this equation are happening right now…as I am writing this post…it’s up to you to decide which side of the 25% you want to be on today and into the future.

3 Reasons Why I hit DELETE instead of READING ON

When I get an e-mail, request, invitation, social media inquiry, or a host of other things, what causes me to simply hit the DELETE key rather than reading on? There are THREE MAIN REASONS I find in talking to most people as well as my own actions…I think you will be able to relate to one or more of these yourself.

It isn’t always about the catchy headline…I can get past that in less than a second and hit delete. It also doesn’t matter if it is some freebie giveaway of something else I don’t need…I can get past that in maybe 2 seconds and hit delete. There is more to this than meets the eye and there are some very specific reasons that cause me to READ ON and see what it is you have to say…

  1. TIME…I READ ON when you either save me or not waste my most valuable asset today…TIME (over 70% according to a recent Forrester Research report). When I read/see something I immediately ask myself the question, “Is this going to help ‘save’ me time or help me ‘make the most’ out of the time I have?” If the answer that immediately hits my brain is yes or maybe, I continue and READ ON to see more about this information or invite or whatever the offer is about. This is my first and most important decision point.

For example, when thousands of people were tested on where their eyes go when they see something on YouTube, their eyes went immediately to the TIMER, not titles or summaries or comments. And the majority of people will not click play if it shows more than 3 minutes…they might go to 5 minutes if they are really interested in the video. It is the first thing they check out to see if they are going to watch it right now. If it’s too long, they say they will “come back later” and watch it…which is another way of saying I won’t be back because I will forget or be distracted by the other thousand messages that have been put in front of me after I leave this page.

Everyone wants a piece of your time. But unless you feel there is some return to you by using up your most valuable asset, you hit DELETE and move on.

  1. RELEVANCE…My second most important criteria is whether this is something that will HELP ME in some way or IMPROVE MY LIFE. Is it relevant enough to do one of these two things? If not, I hit delete. If it is something I am interested in and believe I will be “better off for reading/watching/listening to it” then I READ ON. You can tell me all you want about it and how important it is but if I don’t feel a direct benefit to me, I’m out.

This is where a “content management” strategy is vital today…giving your specific audience the relevant content that will improve their life or business. But not just content by category…but “personalized content” so I feel like you are talking directly to me. Here’s an easy way to think about content that will always keep you on track. Pretend you are at a party and you meet a group of people who you learn some things about and understand some of their interests and needs. After you learned about these, would you then start talking about something entirely irrelevant to them? If you did, they would immediately leave the conversation and head to the food line.

But if you started offering them some insights and new thinking in the areas they just brought up to you that were of interest to them, they would skip the food altogether and stay glued to what you were saying. This is relevance. This is how you capture the attention and create value with your audience using content. This is one area most people in marketing don’t understand…it isn’t a “spray and pray” technique…it is personalized help for your selected audience.

  1. RECOMMENDATION…This has become the most powerful means by which we do filtering after I have made it past #1 an #2 above…does someone I TRUST recommend this or not. If not, there is a high likelihood I will hit DELETE. But if one of my friends, connections, or colleagues recommends this to me, I most likely will READ ON.

This is one of the most valuable reasons you want your trusted audience to “share your insights and content” with others…it is TRUSTED CONTENT. If someone is taking the time to share something with me, I am going to check it out…almost regardless of what it is about…because it came recommended from a trusted source.

This is one of the primary reasons why you want to specifically identify your ideal Personas as an audience so you can share relevant information with them. When they find it of value, they will gladly share it with others “just like them” who are also in the target persona audience…creating a broader audience of your ideal personas. This is also why you don’t market or communicate with anyone who will listen…you don’t want more of an audience you aren’t specifically focusing on because they will bring others who you don’t focus on and they will be disappointed.

If you focus on these three areas, you can’t go wrong. Your audience will give you high percentages of both reading and sharing…they will READ ON. When you have a plan to address these areas, you are well on your way to creating massive WORD-OF-MOUTH and ADVOCACY from the right audience. Not only will they not hit delete, they will take the time to read, comment, and share. You have “earned their permission” and they are going to reward you by connecting you to others you want to reach. This is one great step towards “getting your customers/audience to do your marketing for you.”

Social Media doesn’t work in the Industrial Revolution

Social Media Squares - 3000 x 700It’s a given today that Social Media doesn’t work for many companies. Upon further analysis, it rarely has nothing to do with Social Media…it has to do with marketing and using it as if you were still living in the Industrial Revolution.

Around the turn of the Century we left the Industrial Revolution behind us…some are sad and many are happy. We welcomed in the Internet Revolution with open arms and were anxious to see how the Internet could change our lives for the better. It has in many ways…but it has also brought its own set of issues with it.

The Industrial Revolution was awesome for what it stood for…mass production, innovation in technology relating to computing, new companies entering markets to give us more choices and a whole host of other really great aspects. It also, unfortunately, gave us marketing agencies and firms that adopted the concept of “broadcast messaging, campaigns, mass media, radio advertising, TV advertising, and lots of printed materials.”

These agencies were firmly in control of marketing and tight control over what we were “allowed” to hear/see and what we weren’t. We also had news sources that told us what they felt was important for us to know and we had to go along with it since there wasn’t any other means to validate it unless you were physically there. We, the consumer, were at the mercy of these giants and the messages they wanted us to receive.

Fortunately, the Industrial Revolution has died and this kind of “spray and pray” media that made ad agency executives incredibly rich has died (or is rapidly dying) with it. Social Media, a key component of the Internet Revolution, has essentially taken control away from these dominant groups and given it back to you and me…the customer.

The customer is now firmly in control today and there is no sign we are ever going to give it back. This is a good thing…and a bad thing for companies today.

The good part is we now have “vocal and engaged” customers who have the microphone in their hand and can tell anyone they want what they think. They can share insights to help others learn about your product/service and their experience working with you. This is information we were never exposed to when the agency behemoths had control. We have been “information liberated” with the birth of the Internet Revolution.

The other good part is now we can find anything we ever wanted to know about with just a few clicks on our computers or mobile phones. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than we could ever possibly use in 10 lifetimes. And if we want to purchase something, we can find 50 places (or more) that sell whatever it is we are looking for and even deliver it to us with the same few clicks…no more need to get in the car and drive all over town looking for something. We, as consumers, are empowered and we love it.

The bad part is the noise. Unfortunately, now that we are now in control, have access to all kinds of information and products, and can make choices from hundreds of options, companies are still behaving like they are still living in the Industrial Revolution. Now, more than ever, they continue to blast us with their information (pushing to us). We don’t just see the advertisement in the Sunday paper, we get 50 e-mails telling us to buy it from them because we happened to search on the item and now everyone wants to sell it to us. “Spray and Pray” is still alive and a key strategy for far too many companies today. For them, it didn’t die with the death of the Industrial Revolution.

Companies who still behave (including marketing) as if we are still in the Industrial Revolution are getting no benefit from Social Media. By using the same old techniques the agencies used decades ago…blasting us with enough ads and propaganda in hopes that you will remember them and buy their product or service…they are actually doing the opposite of turning off their audience. They must not have gotten the memo that the Industrial Revolution is over…the customer is in control and can tell us what they want and don’t want. We don’t want to be told what to buy…we can figure this out nicely for ourselves in the Internet Revolution.

The really sad part of this story is that companies use Social Media as simply another “delivery vehicle” for their Industrial Revolution approach. They believe that blasting us with their messages far more frequently and on more channels than they could have ever afforded to do when they paid their agency geeks millions of dollars is still working…it’s NOT. Social Media is FREE…all channels and frequency of messaging is without cost…just the personnel needed to send the blasts. The same “broadcasting, campaigns, advertisements, and propaganda” are still being sent out…only through Social Media channels instead of the radio, TV, newspaper, direct mail, and other traditional sources. It’s not working…

Companies that choose to still live in the Industrial Revolution are finding FAILURE in their use of Social Media. It’s failing because Social Media doesn’t work for companies who are acting the way they did when they were in the Industrial Revolution. It is a tool designed for the Internet Revolution.

When companies use Social Media to HELP THEIR CUSTOMERS improve their lives or business, the content is valued. When they share stories that benefit their customers and customers offer additional comments to add further insight, this is of value…and how Social Media can be a powerful tool for a company. Finding ways to help your customers save more time by interacting with your Social Media and digital channels is of great value. These are the OPPORTUNITIES for companies that live in the Internet Revolution and have left the Industrial Revolution behind.

Which Revolution is your company participating in today? When you analyze your marketing activities, are you communicating like you still live in the Industrial Revolution by “spraying and praying” or are you “helping” your customers improve their lives? Do the analysis…see which Revolution you are actually living in today and you might have just solved the mystery as to why Social Media isn’t working as well as you were hoping. It works when you help…not when you sell.

TIME and MONEY always follow WHAT YOU VALUE most

Time and Money are the two things that demonstrate what you value mostI am constantly reminded of this throughout many of my conversations with leaders, business owners, and CEOs of companies. When we talk about “where they allocate their funds” and “where they have employees spend their time” it becomes very clear what they value most in their company. And it works just as well from a personal perspective as it does a professional one. I’m not qualified to provide therapy to individuals in these areas (that’s what my wife and daughter are trained to do) so I will stick to the business side of this discussion.

Where this becomes critical in my conversations, as you can imagine, is relating to their BUSINESS STRATEGY and their CUSTOMERS. Knowing where their most valuable resources of time and money are being allocated is a great indicator of where the focus is of the business (or non-profit). It simply provides a ROADMAP for what is important and future direction.

For example, if a business owner tells me he is putting a bunch of money into some new machinery to make an even better product, he is telling me he values his products above all else. If she tells me they are going to be investing some funds and putting together some key events to recognize and reward their employees, she is valuing her employees. It’s actually a pretty simple analysis to perform on a company. The key is to get the CEO to be honest and open about where they are spending their time and money…this is often times more difficult than you might think.

Here is a GUIDE that can help you think about this issue as a leader in your company and give you some insights into what is happening vs. what you want to happen…

  • How is current income used…this is straightforward look at the allocation of income in your company. It can be as simple as a level breakdown of where income is being spent inside the organization. How much goes to product maintenance and creation? How much is allocated to employees (salaries and non-salary expenditures)? How much is allocated to the experience you deliver to your customers? How much is allocated to further expansion (geographically or current space)? You get the idea…this is simply an analysis of where income is being allocated.
  • How are current profits used…this analyzes how much and where investment and “opportunity funds” are allocated. How are they allocated in the areas listed above for income allocation? How much of the profits are put into these areas…investment dollars…R&D and innovation allocations? This is an important analysis since it asks where are we investing our “extra” money where we think we can make even more money?
  • How are outside Investment dollars used…this is similar to the profit analysis since it focuses on what you do with “additional opportunity funds” in the business. Use the same analysis as you did for the profit analysis since they are similar, only coming from external sources.
  • How does the Leadership team use their time…this provides a high level analysis of where the leaders in your company allocate and invest their time. Do they focus on products/services, customers, innovation, solving issues, etc.
  • How do your Employees allocate their time…where do your employees spend most of their time? This is similar to the leadership question only it focuses on what employees are doing and where leadership directs them to spend their time. This is usually best answered by asking the employees, not their managers.

After analyzing the results of these questions, you will have a much better idea of what the company values the most…not what people might say they value the most but what is actually valued the most by the organization.

Here’s the FIRST PROBLEM with the results of the analysis. When I ask leaders how IMPORTANT ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS to the organization the answer is always a resounding and emphatic, “They mean the world to us and without them we would be nothing.” However, in reviewing the analysis, their CUSTOMERS AREN’T AT THE TOP OF THEIR TIME AND MONEY ALLOCATIONS. We have a DISCONNECT with what they are saying is important and what appears to be important based on how they are allocating their money and their time.

Here’s the SECOND PROBLEM with this issue of being disconnected…CUSTOMERS KNOW YOUR ALLOCATIONS BETTER THAN ANYONE. Customers are not idiots or stupid…they know what is going on by how they are treated by your employees. Telling the customer you have lots of new products coming down the line they will love is nice but it doesn’t show them the company is INVESTING IN THEM. It shows the company is investing in cranking out more products/services to make more money off of them so they can crank out some more products/services. Customers figure this out.

Customers know it isn’t being invested in them. And they reward you by treating you like a COMMODITY. When you don’t crank out the best and latest products/services, they will find another company that does. They won’t be LOYAL TO YOU…they will be LOYAL TO THE PRODUCT/SERVICE. This doesn’t offer differentiation or uniqueness today, it just means you are either the “top commodity” to the customer or you aren’t and they spend their dollars accordingly.

CUSTOMERS CAN AND WANT TO BE LOYAL TO YOU!

They want to engage with you, provide you with valuable feedback, give you insights others can’t get, and spread massive word-of-mouth about you. But you have to SHOW YOUR CUSTOMERS you are willing to INVEST YOUR TIME AND MONEY into them. When they see your leadership and employee time and money being invested back into them, giving them a TRULY REMARKABLE AND MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE, they will reward you by being your LOYAL ADVOCATE and telling others about you…WORD-OF-MOUTH.

It can really be this simple. We all reward those that invest in us. It happens in both our professional and personal lives. And while I’m not the personal expert, I do know one thing…if you invest your time and money into personal relationships with your spouse, friends, significant others, and family, they reward you with loyalty and love…and they aren’t shy about telling others about you and their experiences they have with you. It works as well (or even better) in your personal life as it does in your business life.

I would challenge every leader to honestly evaluate where you are allocating your TIME and MONEY…this will give you some great insights into what you and your company VALUES the most. It might not be what you want…or what your customers or employees want…but that’s where the opportunity lies for leadership to change the direction of the ship. Rethink the business strategy with your customers being at the center of your time and money…the difference will shock and amaze you. And your competitors won’t know what to do when they see your customers becoming LOYAL ADVOCATES and bringing their friends with them. Give it a shot…what you won’t lose are your best customers!

Think 180…your Business will STAND OUT…like Hotel Drisco

Hotel Drisco delivers an awesome customer experienceEveryone wants to be a little better (and different) than their competitors…maybe a lot better…and the battle is getting more and more fierce every day. The Business Owners and CEOs I talk with tell me this is one of the top “initiatives” they constantly have going on…how they can be better than their competition. Unfortunately, I believe they are thinking about this the wrong way…

Most leaders and companies focus on three primary areas to beat out their competition…PRICE, FEATURES, and SELECTION. To effectively compete and win (some of the time), they feel the need to lower prices or offer some additional features on their products/services the others don’t or add some new products/services to the list they already have. These all can work…for a short period of time. Then a competitor comes in and “one-ups” you in these areas and you are back to square one…only to repeat the cycle and try to do it again.

This is exhausting, discouraging, and expensive…and usually doesn’t lead to where you wanted to go in the first place…being different. This is playing the COMMODITY game, which is very difficult (if not impossible) to win in the long term. Competitors keep changing places and the only ones that benefit are the customers purchasing these products/services. They win because prices drop and deals get sweeter…but unfortunately THEY AREN’T LOYAL to you or any of your competitors…they are “loyal to the deal.”

In today’s fast moving, “low barrier to entry” world, this trend continues until some new company comes in with something completely different and hits all the companies in the industry hard. They have a completely new model for the product or service and they can pull a big chunk of your customers away…immediately. This collapses many companies in today’s world…they have gotten so “lean and competitive” that they can’t sustain a major blow like this…so they close their doors.

BUT THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY THIS GAME…AND WIN!

Starting today, think 180…180 degrees. Think completely opposite of what your competitors are doing. Think of what your competitors do that your customers don’t like…and do that. Think about what causes your customers to be upset, what costs them time, what frustrates them…and do the opposite. Think about blowing up your model to do something that you know the CUSTOMER WILL LOVE instead of just trading customers back and forth because of the latest “deal of the day.” This is what THINKING 180 gives you…a competitive advantage your competitors can’t match…because it’s opposite of what they do.

Here’s a great example and story to illustrate the point. It was told by Jason Fried, Founder & CEO at Basecamp about his experience with a hotel, Hotel Drisco, in San Francisco. I would encourage you to read the entire post he made about his experience…he does and awesome job talking about his experience and how the Hotel Drisco figured out the “180 way of thinking” about their business. How they took a basic commodity…a hotel experience…and turned it into a memorable experience for their guests.

In case you don’t have time to read the entire post, here are some highlights…

“When I walked in the place felt historic and cozy. Wood paneled walls, classic human scale lobby, some comfortable creaks in the floor, and a wonderfully polite but never in your face staff. They understood the art of service.

I get to the room. First thing I notice is that the windows are cracked open a bit. It’s a lovely warm spring day — I’m sure it was intentional. A gentle cross-breeze whispering welcome. It’s the kind of thing I’d do at home if the weather was nice outside.

There are some booklets on the table. I pop one open and turn to this page: 6 bottles of complimentary water. Now… When you’re a paying few hundred bucks for a room you might expect free water, but as anyone who’s stayed in a hotel lately knows, there’s plenty of bottled water around but it usually wears a $5 or $7 price tag. So a hotel that doesn’t play games and try to nickel and dime you on water feels like a very special place indeed. And not just a bottle or two, but six, and they’re placed conveniently in a few different areas so one is always near by. Thoughtful.

I paid roughly the same room rate at a Marriott recently, and there wasn’t any fruit unless I wanted to order the $15 fruit plate from room service. And they were also happy to sell me bottled water at $5/pop, too.

The Drisco didn’t slip a bill. Instead they left a little bag on the door handle. We know you’re leaving, so here’s a few things that might help. A TSA-approved bag, a microfiber cloth to clean glasses or electronics, and some mints. Probably cost the hotel a buck or two max. Absolutely worth it.

I was left with this impression: The Drisco was on my side. I recommend this place whole-heartedly.”

And not only did he have an awesome experience, he TALKED ABOUT IT to thousands! He was so impressed that he took the time to write about it on Medium and tell everyone about it in person and on social media channels. This was marketing for the Hotel Drisco that cost nothing…zero dollars…no ads, no flyers, no e-mail campaigns…just WORD-OF-MOUTH from an incredibly trusted and respected customer.

Hotel Drisco gets 180 thinking…do you? Could this work for your business? I think it can work for every business on the planet. You just have to get your head around it and change the way you have been thinking. Believe me, it isn’t easy…leaders struggle with this every day and it is one of my missions to help them see the other side of this mountain…how to get to 180 THINKING. If you have gotten excited about this at all…we should talk…you have taken the first step to doing 180 thinking…CONGRATULATIONS!

Why INVESTING in Your Customers WINS today…and tomorrow

Customer Experiene as part of Customer Obsession is the next big ideaIt doesn’t matter whether you are an investment advisor or product manager or the owner of your business, there is one thing everyone wants…a Return on their Investment. If you think about any aspect in business, there is always this looming question, “What’s going to be the return if we invest in this product or service or customer or employee or _________ (fill in the blank).

It’s how business works and it may be more important today than ever before. With our low “barrier to entry” of businesses popping up at any time to offer something better, faster, cheaper or anything else that can hurt us, it’s very important to make the right decisions in this area. I spent my early professional days in sales for IBM and if we couldn’t demonstrate an ROI, we were toast. Thank heavens I went to MBA school and put some primary emphasis in the finance area or I would have really struggled with understanding how important this was to companies…it’s vital.

Some ROIs are simple to measure…we spent this and we saw this in return…easy calculation. Others are much more difficult because their components are hard to track. It isn’t that we can’t find the ways to measure things, it’s that we can’t track the components that go into the measurement. Marketing is always a target in this area…lots of things going on but in many ways it can be difficult to track specifically what is going on in these areas.

“Customer Investments” are another area that is difficult for most executives to get their arms around when it comes to ROI. That might sound a bit silly since they are the ones that pay you the money for the “return” on everything you do, but it’s often an issue. For example, if someone in your organization comes up and says they want to invest in a customer event, the first question is what is going to be the return on that event. What if it was a “customer appreciation” event…how do you measure the ROI of giving back to a group that has already given you their money? Difficult discussion inside the organization.

The problem with investing in your customer it that it seems to be difficult to track…there are lots of moving parts to a customer lifecycle. So we try to track their activities through our “Customer Journey” or “Customer Lifecycle.” This helps…but it’s not exact in most cases. So as a business leader, how do you know if and where you should be investing in your customer? This can be a very difficult question for business leaders to answer.

Your customer also wants to know the answer….where are you investing in ME? What are you doing to make my experience and life easier and better when I deal with you? Why are you investing in these other areas instead of investing in me, your customer, and the one that pays you money so you can do all these other things? What about ME?

Let’s say you held a customer meeting with all your customers in the room with one purpose…showing them where you invested your money in the company last year. You create a pie chart and colored in all the areas showing how you allocated $1 of investment into your business. Would they be happy with the pie chart or ask the questions in the paragraph above? You might try to convince them that everything you invested in was to help them, the customer. The reason you put more money into products and services and building improvements and marketing and_____ was to help them, the customer. This might work for some, but most don’t see the direct connection to them.

The one area customers tell us they want you to invest in is THEIR EXPERIENCE. They want you to invest in the way they are being treated by your company…everyone in your company. Investing in products and services is great…but it’s something they use, not directly into them. The way the customer sees it, they can go get these products and services from one of your hundred other competitors. If all they wanted was the best product, they can find it. Most businesses really don’t compete and lead because they have the best product or service…it’s because of a variety of other factors involved in their purchase.

The CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE is the biggest reason customers will rank you above your other hundred competitors that sell the same, or close to the same, product or service. Amazon is a great example in my area of the world…you can get anything Amazon sells somewhere else…maybe even cheaper…but not with “One-click” and the promise they will make it right for you. There are lots of places that offer better and more thrilling rides than Disneyland…but they are the only ones that offer the entire experience of fun and happiness in everything they do for every member of your family. We go to Amazon and Disneyland not because of the products and service but because of the experience.

Here’s a simple way to illustrate this point I think will resonate with everyone reading this today…

If it was only about us wanting the very best product and service, why would we need more than one company in every category…we would all just buy from the one company because they sell the very best product or offer the very best services. We don’t…we want choices and we want to be treated incredibly well by the company we are buying from…we want the very best experience.

Online shopping has complicated this for everyone. The reason many still go to the corner mom and pop drugstore isn’t because of selection or the very best products…it’s the experience. The reason we still go to the corner bakery isn’t because of their selection, it’s because we know the owner and we get treated like a human being with an awesome experience.

Here’s a great strategy if you are a small to mid-sized company that isn’t public…hold an annual meeting with your customers. You don’t have to hold an annual meeting by law…so hold one anyway and invite all your customers. The purpose is to share with them how you are going to invest your dollars tomorrow. Explain to them how you have been relentlessly focused on investing finding/creating the very best products and services you can possibly find. See how they react…they will like it, but it won’t be spectacular.

But then tell them you are going to invest your money in THEM this year. While you will will continue to have great products and services, the bulk of your investment dollars are going back into them, the customer. You are going to invest the money you used to spend on trying to be the best product company into being the best “customer company” and giving them an experience that is better than anything they have ever seen in your industry. You are going to be relentlessly focused on them this year and giving them an experience they can’t wait to talk about and tell others…the meeting will completely change in attitude…it will rock!

After the standing ovation dies down…and there will be one…you now know where you should be investing your money. Some might leave because they only want the best product for the cheapest price…let them go. The majority will stay and thank you for INVESTING IN THEM…the ones that pay you the money in the first place…the ones that will be loyal…the ones that will spread word-of-mouth about you to others, just like them.

Your ROI will certainly start to look very different…it will show you how increasing loyalty, retention, and advocacy leads to both an increase in share of wallet per customer and lower costs in serving these customers…because they are now part of your sales and marketing team helping you spread the word and get more customers at a much lower cost. Higher returns and lowered costs gives you a much better ROI. Invest DIRECTLY into your CUSTOMER and see what a difference this can make to your ROI and the differentiation of your business.

To Be CUSTOMER OBSESSED…“Burn the Ships”

Customer Obsession needs a strategy around customer experienceDescribing this is pretty simple…executing it seems to be incredibly difficult. The concept of “Burn the Ships” is well-known, understood, but often not embraced or followed. It’s one of those great statements to get people fired up. But when it comes to actually making it happen, it comes up short.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, allow me to give you an easy definition. “Burn the Ships” means you are all-in, 100% engaged, committing everything to the activity or journey you are on…it simply means there is no going back. It was coined a long time ago to explain that when explorers got to an island, they were not leaving. Without burning the ships, the crew keeps thinking, “If things go bad we can run back to our ships and sail back to where we came from where it is known and safe.” But if the captain burned the ships, there was no going back…they had to figure out how to survive and settle on the island.

It is a great analogy in business. Having worked with leaders in many different companies over the past 30 years has shown me how incredible this can be for a company…and their employees know whether they have burned the ships or if they still have a way to go back to the way things were. Without burning the ships you get phrases such as…

  • The “flavor of the month” – things are always changing…something new happens all the time
  • Shiny Objects” – there is always something new and exciting to catch your eye and pursue but don’t worry, there is always a new shiny object out there
  • Don’t get wedded to the change” – if you’re married you are stuck so don’t get married to the new changes since we want to go back to the old way of doing things
  • The latest brainstorm” – when leadership has a new idea and wants to implement it but the employees know they can delay it until the next brainstorm

These are the kinds of things that kill innovation, momentum, and change inside an organization. Do any of these sound familiar in your organization? If so, might be time to think about “burning the ships” and communicating to your employees, “We aren’t going back to the old way of doing things so let’s all work together to make this be a phenomenal successful.”

This phrase has never been more important in my world than in helping CEOs and Business Owners understand that being CUSTOMER OBSESSED and moving their company from GREAT TO REMARKABLE is a “burn the ships strategy”. It isn’t just “something we are going to try and see how it goes.” It requires the leadership team and employees to be ALL IN or it will fail. I know that sounds harsh, but it will. Customer Obsession isn’t something you can do half-way or even most of the way…it has to be all the way to make it successful…which is why most won’t change.

CUSTOMER OBSESSION IS WHO YOU ARE, NOT WHAT YOU DO.

It becomes part of the DNA of your company…it is who you are. It gives you purpose and answers the WHY question of “Why are we in business?” We are in business to obsess over our customers and treat them better than anyone else so they feel awesome and more important than they did before they met us.” This is being Customer Obsessed.

You can’t get there when everyone feels like there is a “ship” to run back to…the old way of doing things. If the employees feel like this is an “initiative” or a “project” or something that has a “start and a finish,” it will fail. You might get better as a company by focusing more on your customer, but you won’t become REMARKABLE or MEMORABLE. And you won’t get the massive WORD-OF-MOUTH that comes when you are memorable and remarkable.

Treating Customer Obsession as something less that “all-in” will also come up short on results. You won’t see the big benefits in your business. They won’t talk about you, they won’t share what you do, and they won’t set you apart from all your competition. You might be one of the best but you won’t stand alone and “head and shoulders” above everyone else.

I would also argue it probably won’t be worth it if you don’t go all in because you will still incur significant costs (time, resources, and capital) but you won’t get the commensurate rewards (lower marketing costs, higher margins, more customer retention/loyalty, and advocacy). And I always believe if you are going to spend the resources, you should benefit from the rewards.

CUSTOMER OBSESSION is awesome…it is a way of life both your customer and your employees will love…because there is a singular focus…THE CUSTOMER. It’s really easy in many ways because everyone is doing something that answers the question, “Is this going to make our customers life better than it was before they interacted with us?” If the answer is no, then you aren’t “all in” on customer obsession. This makes things really simple…everything a company does is to help answer YES to that question…everything.

And the best part is your CUSTOMER KNOWS IT. They see it, feel it, and love it! It’s what separates the great companies from the remarkable ones. It’s what gets talked about and shared.

Some companies do this RANDOMLY…not every day with every interaction. We termed this “RANDOM ACTS OF EXCELLENCE AND CHAOS” in our book, “Creating and Delivering Totally Awesome Customer Experiences.” This means that some days you deliver awesomeness and some days things are a mess. The customer gets confused about who you are and what is the norm. And when customers get confused, they defect and leave. Randomness might seem better than average…but it’s not. It causes the customer to not know what they are going to get…this creates fear…not a good thing for customers to be feeling.

If you want to be ALL ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, then BURN THE SHIPS and go ALL IN. It’s a strategic decision about the direction you want to take your company, not an initiative or project. It will become WHO YOU ARE and WHAT PEOPLE TALK ABOUT when it comes to your company. It’s an amazing place to be and there are many examples of companies who are Customer Obsessed. You know it when you visit them…from Fortune 500 down to the “mom and pop” store on the corner where you pay 20% more but love the way you are treated. They exist and they are REMARKABLE!

How to Get MORE of your #1 ASSET…Your BEST Customers

Customer Experience creates differentiation and customer obsessionWhen I talk to CEOs and Business Owners about their customers, they can always tell me who their BEST CUSTOMERS are and why they are number one. It’s easy…they know who they are and they know what they buy. But when I ask them what they are doing to get more of these types of customers, this is where the answers get a bit fuzzier.

It usually has something to do with sales and sometimes marketing…but usually it’s focused around sales. They have a sales team “dedicated” to finding some of these customers and then enticing them into the company in some way…usually through some special deal. But it’s generally focused on the company going after the customer by tracking them down, meeting with them, figuring out a way they can help them, putting some special incentives together so they will try them out, and hopefully closing the sale.

This is an expensive and time consuming process…regardless of whether it works and has been used by companies for years. There is nothing wrong with this process in general…other than the cost and the close ratios. These can sometimes be high and low, respectively…but you keep it going because they are identified as your best customers.

If you are a retailer, it’s much more difficult to invest in the above process because you don’t have the margin per customer to dedicate to this kind of effort. So you might resort to “bring a friend” in programs or other such incentives designed to attract other highly desirable customers. This process can also be expensive and may not give you the volume of results you want.

There’s another way to go about attracting top customers. Another way to attract more top customers and win their attention and their business…often times without giving up margin and with a higher close ratio than your sales team. TURN YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS INTO YOUR SALES TEAM.

Create the processes and plans to enable your best customers to do the marketing and selling for you. This has proven to be the lowest cost and highest return for getting more of your top customers. It’s called “credible” WORD-OF-MOUTH. Credible because it is being spread by your most valuable and respected customers to other prospective customers.

Now you’re probably saying something like, “Of course word-of-mouth is great, everyone knows that and we get some of this from these customers so that’s nothing new. We would love to have more of it but we ask and ask and get minimal return from our existing customers…especially without some incentive.” The problem for most companies is that they really aren’t investing in their best customers in a way that would cause them to tell others about them. And I’m not talking about just “telling others”… I’m talking about “passionately raving about you” to others. There is a huge difference.

I will be the first to admit this is NOT EASY. It takes a strategic, consistent, and process oriented approach to make it happen. But these are your TOP CUSTOMERS we’re talking about…isn’t that worth some significant investment of time and resources? If you truly want more of these, then it is worth a very specific strategy and process for getting them.

The absolute best, “long-tail” approach to creating ADVOCATES that will rave about you and tell others just like them is to CREATE AN AWESOME AND INCREDIBLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE they love and can’t wait to tell others about. It starts and ends with the customer experience…not products or services. Creating this experience doesn’t happen overnight…but it can completely differentiate your business…for a very long time and give you more of your best customers.

To help you get started thinking in the right direction, let me give you a key question you might want to start asking your leadership team and employees…

“What is the one thing we could do for our top customers that would cause them to say, ‘WOW, I love working with you because you _______ (fill in the blank)…this is so different from the way anyone else treats me and you make me feel incredibly important.’”

Start with this one question. Find out from your employees what they think would be the right phrase to fill in the blank and start collecting this information. Don’t ask them to come up with a list, just ask them for one thing. Believe me, they will give you more than one and that’s OK. But just get them to focus on the one thing they feel is the most important factor that would cause your best customer to make the statement above.

Once you have collected the information, sit down as a leadership team and go through and discuss every comment/suggestion. You will immediately see which ones jump off the page and will cause you to say, “WOW, there are some great ideas in here that we should seriously consider.”

Prioritize the list of items you feel would totally amaze your customer if you did these things. Come up with the number one item in the top list of items. Now, here’s the magic…

DO THAT ONE ITEM…DO IT BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE…DO IT WITH PASSION AND COMMITMENT!

If you make this happen, you will have started on a path to thinking and acting more CUSTOMER OBESESSED. However, this isn’t the ultimate solution…that takes a full “Customer Obsession Strategy” and plan to really change your company. But this is a good start.

When you have a strategy and plan to get your customers feeling this important and special and giving them an experience where they consistently say, “WOW you treat me so much better than any of your competitors,” you are well on your way to being differentiated and Customer Obsessed. And when your customers feel this way, they tell others…often and regularly. They become your ADVOCATES in the market to other people just like them…other TOP CUSTOMERS. Now you have your top customers doing your marketing to other potential top customers! And according to the statistics, 90% of the people believe the recommendation from someone they know or are connected with…90%.

Create a list of Advocates who are your top customers and you have created the most successful way to get more of your #1 Asset…your best customers.