Brands and the power of joy

By Mark Di Somma

Brands and the power of joyFrom a marketer’s point of view, numbers don’t drive recessions. They may start them. They may justify them. But they don’t actually make them happen. What drives recession in a consumer economy is very much the same thing that drives boom: emotion. When enough people believe in it, it will happen – and that’s because there will be enough people acting in a recessive way for the mindset to become embedded, and for the behaviours to seem logical, sensible, responsible, unavoidable.

Commoditisation works in much the same way. As something becomes more commonplace, as the standards rise and the costs of production fall, the expectations that all the products are the same also increases and people become more motivated to look for the cheapest option. It makes sense. It’s the obvious thing to do.

As consumers, the less we enjoy something, the less it surprises us or motivates us, the less that it elates us, the less we are happy to pay. The more people who feel less, the greater the loss of value (because then the effect shifts from being individually-sensed to being collectively endorsed)

We can monitor that fall-off in value now to a high degree of granularity. Data and algorithms drive so much of how brands do business today. Businesses take comfort in that because it delivers patterns and predictability. But it also brings with it a shift in emphasis. More and more brands find themselves focusing on what the numbers are doing. And that’s a dangerous reference point for a marketer – because the focus moves away from the human drivers of why people buy (and what generates value) towards the non-human drivers of what is being bought (and what most companies value themselves). In time, customers become an expression of the numbers, not the other way round.

That atmosphere can soon foster critical assumptions. One is that the emphasis must be on driving down cost in order to bolster the balance sheet and feed the numbers. That’s not a bad thing. But then, in response to calls for even greater returns and greater efficiencies, the numbers people can look to drive every ounce of delight out of the brand experience (because it can’t be quantified). They justify doing so as cutting costs, acting responsibly, doing the right thing, sweating the assets. At the same time, they’ll often look to drop prices in an effort to appear more attractive, be more “competitive”, boost the top line and the volume data. From a brand standpoint, such decisions go to a bad place: more companies peddling more vigorously in greater misery for lower returns and less loyal customers.

Marketers need to be able to advocate and quantify the effect of joy. And I suspect that the way to be doing that is to keep asking “What do we need to be introducing into our product range for our prices to stay stable or even increase?” The resurgence of Lego is a classic example of what can happen when a company focuses on the ‘emotional profit’ of its customers.

Ironically, cost cutting wasn’t the problem at Lego – in fact, quite the opposite – but the effect had been equally telling. Lego had basically let the designers run wild, according to this article in Businessweek, and the brand had stopped resonating with its constituency – in a market where buyers are beseiged with options.

Designers had indulged their creative streaks with increasingly complex models that required more and more new components. By 2004 the number of components had exploded, climbing from about 7,000 to 12,400, and supply costs had done the same. And while adults and the designers themselves loved what was being created, kids hated it. Their Lego wasn’t a joy to play with anymore. It was frustrating and complex.

Lego fought its way back, not by cutting costs directly but by holding its designers to account. By making its customers its priority and focusing on what worked for them, the company was able to slash the number of components to those that were most used, most loved – and to scrap the rest. It then brought creative and noncreative people together and used their combined insights to produce products that the market loves, that were practical to make and that were realistically costed. By celebrating creativity, but focusing it within agreed parameters, the company was able to restore profitability and retake hearts.

The key learning for marketers from Lego’s success is to focus on the buyer’s delight and make the money work, don’t compromise the joy to get the equations to work. And the second learning is equally salient – don’t expect that equation to be figured out by one group. Instead, bring people with different mindsets and emphases together, put the customer at the centre of the problem, and start talking.

If your products are struggling right now, slashing the delight to make the numbers work may temporarily alleviate the economic pain but it won’t address the key brand need. Find a way to inject joy into what you offer. Make your customers smile … and the money will follow.

Photo of “joy flights” taken by Mark Roy, sourced from Flickr

Brand response: how does your brand respond to parody?

By Mark Di Somma

Responding to parody

Talk by Starbucks this week of “next steps” following a Comedy Central prank that parodied their name raises the question of what should brands do when the borax is poked?

Aaron Perlut’s piece from a couple of years back on how GE chose to respond to The Yes Men laid out two simple strategies. The first one was pretty much what you’d expect: Acknowledge the spoof, clarify, and then ask everyone to move on. This, as he says, is a standard corporate response. It’s not particularly inspiring but it’s functional.

His second suggestion was more ambitious: Take on the mockers with a parody of your own. In fact, Perlut says, such a move may even give rise to an opportunity – “if executed well — tastefully reversing the parody can serve as a means to connect with new audiences that may have previously looked negatively at the brand or company.”

The third option of course is just to ignore the whole thing.

It’s curious to me that brands are very much instilled in our culture yet often retain a stiff and business-like approach to interacting with that wider culture. Having spent huge sums to be perceived as friendly and customer facing, their responses when the spotlight is thrust upon them in situations that they don’t control can be awkward, strait-laced and lacking in the very humanity they seek to cultivate. They seem to struggle with being approachable when they are not the ones doing the approaching. They want interaction, but only on their terms. As Rohit Bhargava put it so well, they reveal themselves as entities with Personality Not Included.

Behind their corporate windows, brands worry that slights on their trademarks and IP have reputational repercussions. The words “dangerous” and “precedent” get an extended airing by those who went to law school. But executive concerns should perhaps be tempered in today’s high-share media environment by the thought that consumers are looking for something to talk about and that parody is often little more than momentary fun. Unless the barb addresses a specific corporate action that will generate, or has already generated, deep ill-will, media scrutiny or consumer boycotts, it is very unlikely to jeopardise their overall brand equity and their response should reflect this.

Jest is really just another interaction. Often, it warrants no more than a reply.

So depending on the nature of the jibe, in most cases I’d plumb for strategies two or three. And if I was looking to strategy two, I’d absolutely be using social media to do it. Just like these brands did.

Act fast.

Act smart.

Act human.

Mitigate, don’t litigate.

Photo of “Smile, Day 153 of 365” taken by DieselDemon, sourced from Flickr

Define your terms of brand, then your terms of business

By Mark Di Somma

Define your terms of brand

So many companies build their brand around their business. They establish the tangible assets and processes and look to extrapolate the intangible value of that as brands for their buyers. They transit in other words from the physical to the emotive.

What would happen I wonder if, like Richard Branson does so often, you reversed the order; if the question being asked was “What would we need to co-ordinate (how, when and where) in order for customers to feel this way?” Start with your terms of brand in other words – and use those to define your terms of business. It sounds radical. But really it stems from the questions that everyone asks now, just in reverse order.

Ask first what most ask second:

  • Who do you want to be your customers?
  • How will you change the industry for them?
  • How will you behave to make that happen?
  • How will you help them feel that they will love?
  • What will they see by way of proof that you are committed to this?

Then, based on the answers above -

  • What will you offer them in terms of products/services (that they don’t get now)?
  • Where will you be for them? (on the ground, in the cloud, online, domestic, international)
  • Who will you work with to make that happen?
  • How will you look after them that they’ll enjoy?
  • How, where and when will you grow in order to be that company?
  • What will you return by way of fair compensation for your efforts?
  • What and how will you charge for what you offer that makes that happen and feels fair?

Photo of “Fly like a who’s who. Pay like a who’s that” taken by George Kelly, sourced from Flickr

How to shine as a B2B brand

By Mark Di Somma

How to shine as a B2B brandWe tend to put the onus for likeability on B2C brands, but while B2B brands may work to different dynamics and different decision trees, people still want to do business with people they like spending time with. Here are 7 ways your B2B brand can increase other businesses’ inclination to work with you.

  1. Build your authority – the fastest way to de-risk the decision to go with you is to show that you are a wise choice. Do that through story and demonstration not hype and hope. Shape what you say about yourselves so that you make sense as the choice to everyone who will make the decision about whether to use you. Much of the perceived value of powerful B2B brands like GE is predicated on the market’s understanding of the worth of their vast knowledge across all the markets they choose to do business in.
  2. Be uplifting – genuine energy is hugely infectious. People want to do business with brands that are passionate about what they do and the difference they can make. Present problems internally in ways that inspire people to solve them, and present your findings and answers with gusto but humility. There’s huge power in suggestion. In areas like consulting, for example, the most powerful B2B brands are those that people want to be in the room with because they’re excited about what they’ll hear.
  3. Problem solve – it’s not about what you offer, it’s all about what they need. Yes, everyone says they know that, but precious few act on it. Instead, they focus on displaying their own expertise rather than discussing how that expertise could be applied. Market yourselves as a brand that understands and is working to positively address the issues that come between your clients and their objectives. Put what you know in the context of what your client or prospect needs to address. Ideo is a great example of this approach in action.
  4. Have real personality – so many B2B brands are afraid of being anything other than beige. They worry that it compromises their “professionalism”, whatever that is. Not true. Stand apart by presenting yourselves in a colourful and savvy way – in your actions and in your marketing. Mailchimp are a prime example of an email marketer with a strong and instantly recognisable voice. Remember, brands put a face to the resources you have available. They bring experience and knowledge alive. They telegraph powerful messages quickly and decisively. Work with that. In today’s aesthetically aware world, beauty inspires confidence because it signals attention to detail.
  5. Listen carefully – monitor the market, provide input, shape debate, engage with others and take onboard what you get back. Then share the insights you’ve gathered generously. A brand that listens and reports is a brand that others also come to look to for cues. Take up a cause. Speaking for the industry to consumers or on behalf of consumers to the industry bestows authority and authenticity and makes you a critical pivot in the journey to resolution. IBM with its Global CEO Study and Edelman PR with its Trust Barometer are great examples of B2B brands that have put themselves at the centre of valuable and dynamic conversations this way.
  6. Start relationships early – expressing an interest in doing business with another brand and then exhibiting the patience to wait till a slot becomes available shows planning and discipline. Look for ways to involve your execs as an unofficial sounding board for difficult decisions that the target company is facing. Show them you want to see them prosper before you ask them to help your bottom line. Pitch doctor Neil Flett has said that a high stakes pitch is often won or lost long before the presentation takes place.
  7. Open doors – making introductions that display no self interest reinforces trust and helps businesses perceive your brand as connected and enabling. You are part of the solution, despite the fact that you didn’t actually contribute directly in addressing the issue. Those introductions don’t have to be to other people or fims – they can be to thinkers, books, presentations or alternative viewpoints. LinkedIn has of course literally built a business out of being that global introducer.

Photo of “Fête des Lumières of Lyon – Parc Tête de la d’Or” taken by Henri van Kalkeren, sourced from Flickr




What’s your brand advocacy strategy?

By Mark Di Somma

Brand fans

Every brand wants advocates. Little wonder. According to Janessa Mangone, people who actively promote your brand can be 50% more influential than the average customer in helping you secure new sales. So perhaps attracting them is something best not left to chance. As we head into the busy Christmas season, here’s some simple but timely reminders on how to put some wow! in your WOM.

Give them something to talk about – advocates love to share. Release news, ideas, tips, FAQs, case studies, video and reviews that the people who love your brand can enthusiastically share with others. Use email marketing to give them ‘scoops’ that are not released in the general media, and watch your traffic. It’s a simple way to monitor the amplifying effect of your advocates. While companies are increasingly looking at content marketing to bring new people to their brand, it’s easy to overlook the need to keep your current community involved and excited. A comprehensive piece here by Joe Pulizzi on how to attract and retain customers this way.

Recognise your most loyal customers – obvious,yes but often missed. Recognition might be through discounts, invitations to events, special previews or exclusive content. Above all, continue to thank these people for their support. And make sure that they never feel taken for granted. See how it’s worked for Starbucks.

Work the industry influencers – tell them things that they can tell others. This group is different than your advocacy network because they may or may not be passionate proponents. But in a world where everyone wants content to share, giving those who have clout the information they need to spread the word adds valuable third party endorsement that will bring new people to your brand and confirm the loyalty of those who are already followers.

Build a hall of fame – if you have celebrities or people in the spotlight amongst your fan base, look for reasons and occasions to put them, an occasion and your brand together. If the famous or infamous are not amongst your customer base, then look at developing a brand ambassador programme. Here’s how Lululemon did just that.

Act for others – draw attention to your brand’s good works in the community or for social change and encourage your advocates to join in. Again, this broadens your appeal to new customers and reinforces the pride that advocates already feel.

Bring people together. Encourage a sense of community online by setting up a supporters’ site – it’s a simple and highly effective way to bring people together to talk about the brand they love and to problem solve for others who are still coming to grips with what you offer. Given the widespread use of review sites to confirm purchase decisions, and Mangone’s stat that 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase, it makes sense to put the people who haven’t connected with you in touch with others who have. It also makes sense to give your advocacy community, including of course your own employees, a place to share and tell stories. Some great examples of that here.

Not sure who advocates for you, or how? Mark Fidelman breaks down 7 advocacy types here in this handy infographic.

A new index released by Boston Consulting Group last month shows why more brands should be putting more effort into driving loyalty and sales this way. Among their findings:

  • Positive advocacy tends to be higher in industries whose products or services evoke greater emotional involvement, in “aspirational” categories and and for very visible purchases that involve significant money and research time.
  • Spontaneous advocacy has much greater impact on positive word-of-mouth than recommendations that are prompted.
  • Companies often overlook the inputs of non-customers but these people can be particularly influential in industries or segments in which only a small number of consumers purchase, or in which consumers purchase relatively infrequently.

An interesting footnote. Another finding from that BCG research is a sobering reminder to always keep an eye on your reputation – criticism damages a brand much more than praise helps it.

Image of “Fans cheers the opening kickoff” taken by Ben Stanfield, sourced from Flickr

Rebalancing the brand experience

By Mark Di Somma

Rebalancing the brand experience

A couple of months ago, Adrienne Bateup-Carlson sent me this op-ed by Roger Cohen. In it, Cohen laments the plasticisation of experience. “The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind,” he writes. “Germans have a good word for something authentic: “echt.” We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost … We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience.”

Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a fast-food “service experience” can sympathise. The greetings are anonymous, the requests generic, the answers pat, the actions either physically or mentally automated. This is life on rote, experience in a box. It feels as sincere as the latest apology for downtown traffic delays, the “Thanks for waiting” message from the telco customer service team and the reassurances from an insurer that they will “gladly” pay up in the event of a claim.

It often happens because experience is acknowledged but unowned by the people most responsible for brands. In an article earlier this year, Nigel Hollis was astonished to discover that, according to Forrester Research and Heidrick & Struggles, most CMOs are not responsible for customer service and support or in-store/branch training. “That seems crazy to me,” he observes. “ … If the CMO is charged with developing positive brand perceptions and value, then they should at least have control over the most important elements of the brand experience.”

Completely agree.

The case for experiences, and more particularly, designed experiences makes sense. As Thomson Dawson has argued, “Design and the process of “design thinking” has added billions of dollars worth of market capitalization to those enterprises that understand its significant power and higher purpose to engage and delight customers in ways never before possible. In every leading company, design has become the soul of enterprise strategy … You don’t have to look very far to see brands that apply this principle with phenomenal results – Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Google, Patagonia, BMW, Herman Miller, Target, Gillette, Virgin – every one of these enterprises are absolute fanatics about design and its importance to their business strategy.”

So, on the one hand, we have experiences that are so patterned and explicit that they are meaningless. On the other, design has a huge role to play in adding value for customers. What’s the optimal mix? It’s something I have been talking a lot about lately: the need to actively resolve the tension between process and personalisation; to chart a reasonable and human course between the need for brands to lock down deliverables so that they can identify and measure them, at the same time as they avoid doing what Cohen is so incensed by – formulating encounters to the point where all the humanity and authenticity has been sucked out of them.

My thinking is this. The vast majority of any customer experience still needs to be pre-designed (and therefore generic). That’s because any experience at any customer touchpoint must align with a plethora of systems and procedures – health and safety, ops, security, booking systems etc. Customer themselves also require a high level of consistency. They want to know that a lot of things will happen the way they expect them to happen: that the booking system will work; that their key will be ready; that they will have the seat they were assigned; that there won’t be someone else or someone else’s anything for that matter in their room … Those are not situations in which spontaneity will be expected, or welcomed. The difference though won’t be decided there. All of that hard work will get brands to a point of parity.

The experience formula

The difference will come in the 10 – 20% that distinguishes the highly served from the also-served. It will focus almost exclusively on the human-to-human aspects of the experience:

1. Personality – how service is delivered and processes are executed, whether it’s with cheekiness, care, fun, familiarity or indulgence, adds humanity to interactions.

2. Recognition – how successfully and individually customers are identified and their needs anticipated decides the extent to which each experience feels tailored, specific and to some extent unrepeatable. This is about much more than just loyalty schemes or knowing someone’s name. It springs from an (appropriate!) interest in their beliefs, priorities and situation, and a working knowledge of their history with the brand. Done right, this feels helpful and respectful, not invasive.

3. Speed – no surprises here. Rapid delivery makes customers feel prioritised and that a brand has ‘dropped everything’ to attend to them. Not something to do all the time, but on occasions, the ability to act decisively and precisely to avert a problem or answer a need can generate ongoing loyalty.

4. Delight/surprise – everyone wants to feel special.

5. Exclusivity – recognition taken as far as it goes. When delight/surprise is blended with singularity, the experience can be both flattering at the time and share-able with many others later.

And where should we take our prompts from for that vital personalisation? Since it was Adrienne who first alerted me to Cohen’s article, I thought I’d leave the last word on rebalancing the customer experience to her. “As we look to create customer experiences that are pre-designed yet authentic, consistent yet individuated, relevant and resonant – consider how we re-think our fundamental assumptions in the way we approach the consumer.

“To quote in Wired UK August 2013: : “forget the consumer! Consumer is a bad thing to call people. Tomorrow the word will be more like ‘champion’. People have to champion your brand, not just consumer. They add value making you relevant.’ Now there’s a thought. While the customer experience must indeed be intentional and therefore designed, perhaps we should be doing it with others. The brand champions of our future.”

Photo of “Experience Music Project – IMG_1483”, taken by Nicola, sourced from Flickr
The Experience Formula diagram designed by Di Fuller, 2Di4Design

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How do people want to spend time with brands (and what are brands doing about it)?

By Mark Di Somma

brands that people want to spend time with

We’ve just had Guy Fawkes here in New Zealand. In Wellington, there was a big fireworks display in the harbour as there is every year. It got me thinking about what brands consumers go crackers over, why and is that changing?

Recently, the research firm APCO Insight released its list of the top 100 most loved companies. Their study measured consumer attachment to brands based on eight emotions: understanding, approachability, relevance, admiration, curiosity, identification, empowerment and pride. There are some interesting results. Yahoo beat Google. Disney beat everyone (OK, maybe that’s not so much of a surprise) and Apple came in at ninth (which certainly would surprise many).

Most loved brands - top 25

According to the study:

  • The tech sector outperforms across all emotions, and rates especially well on relevance, meaning people see these brands as fitting with them and playing a meaningful role in their lives. But they could inspire more curiosity.
  • Retail brands are seen as highly approachable but people are less enthusiastic about wanting to be associated with them.
  • Restaurants are also approachable for the most part, but they don’t appear to help consumers feel as confident or self-assured as they could.

So what does this tell us about how we react to brands? Why is one brand more loved than another and are the criteria for loving a brand changing? (We could debate the use of the word “love” – a concern that Hilton raised with me last week. But, for the sake of keeping with the spirit of the research, let’s assume it means the brands that people feel intensely loyal to.)

My thoughts:

  • We favour the brands that help us love ourselves: the brands that we feel “get” us, welcome us and empower us. The rise of tech in APCO Insight’s research shows just how much devices have mainstreamed their way into our psyche. Machines telegraph our own currency (and therefore relevance) to others in addition to being relevant to us. More broadly, brands help us resolve things – personally and for those around us. There’s a lovely thought that explains this in this article by Joan Khoury – a good brand, she says, “is an exterior way out of an interior crisis”;
  • We look for brands that show leadership: the brands that we admire, that we identify with and that we are proud to call our own. So there is both a sense for consumers of wanting to be in control of the brands they buy but also wanting to be part of a wider community. Step inside an Apple store and there is both the celebration of the individual and a palpable sense of community;
  • We differentiate between brands that we feel welcomed by and brands that we welcome being associated with. My reading of this research finding is that we like how a great shopping experience feels but we don’t necessarily want to broadcast who and where we go. That suggests retail brands still have work to do to lift their desirability as brands as distinct from merchants;
  • We want to be guided at some level, but in ways that lift our confidence rather than telling us directly what to do. Compelling brands navigate rather than direct. They light a path and invite … and increasingly they need to do that over a multi-channelled, multi-stage buying pattern that David Armano has christened the “purchase spiral” using, I surmise, a combination of in-store, content, reviews, word of mouth recommendations and paid marketing. There’s a great article on this here. That further suggests that conversion cycles are increasingly individualised and therefore that calls to action that help consumers get to a point of comfort at each point of their personal conversion cycle, especially for considered purchases, are critical. Brands need to pay a lot of attention to who stays in and who opts out, where, when and why right along that buying process if they are to make sense of what works and what doesn’t. Each experience in that elongated pattern has a pass/fail. Each “converts” in the sense of impelling consumers forward, or it doesn’t.

That, in turn, would suggest:

  • Experience design is critical, content is now part of experience, and responsibility for experiences is becoming shared. The brands that consumers love keep giving them more and stimulating them to want more. Sounds obvious. But it reinforces the point that experiences are not isolated, that there is no one big-bang experience and that content alone doesn’t make you loveable – the full (wider) experience needs to aim to evoke the eight emotions that APCO Insight refer to: understanding; approachability; relevance; admiration; curiosity; identification; empowerment; and pride.
  • To make that happen, the experiences that brands provide to customers will need to be sourced from across the business, not just created and championed by the marketing department. This excellent PSFK article on Designing Customer Experiences clearly articulates the evolution ahead: “The new customer experience is actually a journey and it’s driven by the shared experiences of other consumers. It’s perpetual. It’s emotional. With big data, social media listening, research, customer information is more than readily available. More importantly, experiences and the emotions that people feel and share must be met with more than a listening or research team. This understanding and awareness requires a handheld escort throughout all avenues of the organization that in some way, shape or form contributes to the customer experience.”

Photo of “Fireworks” taken by Julie Stiles, sourced from Flickr
Chart of Top 25 Most Loved Brands, sourced from APCO Insight

Brands Beyond Functionality: 7 great lessons

By Mark Di Somma

Great lessons from Swiss Army Knives

Everyone talks about the need for brands to keep up with consumer demand, yet, curiously, some brands have lived on beyond their purely functional need, largely because they carry with them associations in the form of eternal ideas that continue to burn strong.

Watches – for example. Who needs a Rolex today to tell the time (did they ever?) and yet the marque is unchallenged because prestige is an idea that never goes out of style. Zippo is another brand that has outlasted the heyday of cigarettes. As this article in Ad Week explains, “Harnessing its long-standing popularity with men and its indelible associations with fire, Zippo now sells an Outdoor Line that includes everything from emergency fire starters to hand warmers.” True diversification.

In a world where so many brands lose relevance and fall by the wayside, what lessons should we take from iconic brands that have successfully passed their necessity date and continue to prosper? The issues faced by Victorinox seem to me to symbolise the dilemmas and the opportunities. Their Swiss Army knives not only remain a cultural byword for versatility, but the brand itself has continued to successfully extend its franchise and its story. There are lessons to be learnt from this by all brands.

As the current CEO, Carl Elsener explains on the brand’s website, the story of Victorinox begins in 1884 when his great-grandfather Karl Elsener made a knife for the Swiss army that offered many functions combined in a single tool. But that, he says, is not what turned the Original Swiss Army Knife into a legend. “It’s about the stories our customers experienced in which our products played a vital role: stories about memorable moments of adventure and expeditions on earth, in the sky, and in space. Dramatic stories in which our products contributed to solutions and saved lives.” Like other ‘outdoor’ brands, Victorinox has successfully relayed the stories of its customers and parlayed them into legend. Those stories, and the circumstances that surround them, have kept the brand alive in the minds of people across the world. Today, owning a Victorinox is as much about the love of what it could do, and has done, as opposed to direct requirement. First lesson: it’s not about how relevant you are to the consumer, it’s about relevant you feel for them.

Through the years, the Swiss Army knife has been threatened by forces that even the most lateral analyst could easily have missed: the rivalry for pocket space from other devices; and the security issues that followed on from the September 11 attacks. In fact, I read somewhere that sales fell dramatically after airlines banned knives onboard planes. If that’s true, it just goes to prove that in the knife business, just like in every business, sometimes situations you could never have known about or foreseen can turn into your greatest market threat. Yet Victorinox came back. Second lesson: Threats really can come from the strangest places, and survival is not always about having a plan – because you can’t have a plan for everything. Sometimes, it’s about having or finding a response. Could you deal with an out-of-the-blue event?

Third lesson: country of origin can be a powerful product advantage if it is compatible with your values and the way that people perceive you. In this case, Swiss quality and perfectionism not only fits the image of the brand, it’s also helped shield it against cheaper knives and poor imitators. That’s an important point in a world where everyone is sorely tempted to outsource to save money and where products synonymous with one country are no longer made there at all. In an article celebrating his love affair with the Swiss Army Knife, Jonathan Glancey writes, “it is still made at Ibach in Switzerland; it would surely lose much of its mystique if it were made anywhere else.” What heritage can your brand call on? What does your brand’s country of origin represent that you can capitalise on?

Fourth lesson: When the visual association with your brand is as strong as the bond that people have with Victorinox, you can diversify successfully. Victorinox now sells luggage, kitchen knives, clothing, watches and even perfume. They’ve also upgraded their knife range to include gadgets for a full range of interests and vocations. How far would your identity travel beyond your current sector – and still be recognisably yours? Why? What’s your eternal idea?

Fifth lesson: your most powerful association may not be the most important part of your business. For example, Victorinox is synonymous with the Swiss Army Knife, but actually military sales make up only a tiny percentage of annual sales. There’s an insightful article by Angela Ahrendts about how important it is to centre a diversifying brand around a singular idea. “It’s not unusual for a luxury company to be born from a single product and then diversify,” she observes. “Louis Vuitton began with luggage, and Gucci with leather goods. But even as they diversified, each continued to earn the majority of its revenue from its original core products. Surveying the industry, we realized that Burberry was the only iconic luxury company that wasn’t capitalizing on its historical core. We weren’t proud of it. We weren’t innovating around it.” That realisation would put the trench-coat at the front and centre of the revival of Burberry. How does what you are known for align with how much you actually sell?

A labour-intensive production process can be a competitive advantage. It adds to the sense of quality and it actively discourages outsourcing, thus protecting the brand’s charm and integrity. Sixth lesson: In a world where everything is mass produced, something hand-made in Switzerland is a real treasure. What gives your products value? Are the processes that you use to make them smart or convenient?

Final lesson: one of the great rewards of a great combination of legacy and idiosyncrasy is that one day another generation could discover your brand and be just as intrigued as their forebears. Who will discover you next, and why? The attraction of that thought should be tempered perhaps by this finding by McKinsey: there is no real proof that age makes a company any more profitable. In fact, their study found that of the 74 or so companies that have been in the S&P 500 for more than 40 years, only a dozen or so have managed to beat average stock market performance. Perhaps, as I have suggested elsewhere, every brand, even those that have defied the odds so far, must come to an end at some point. Have you planned for that?

Photo of “Swiss Army” taken by Jim Pennucci, sourced from Flickr

Customer loyalty: 3 ways to win if you’re a retailer

By Mark Di Somma

Customers are closer than you think

These findings from research of the ways we go about our lives have confirmed people are nowhere near as random as previously thought. In point of fact, after tracking more than 100,000 mobile phone users over a period of six months, the clear conclusion from this research if you’re a brand is that people mostly visit a limited number of locations time and time again. Customer loyalty pays. Literally.

What’s interesting to note, given that we live in this much heralded era of mobility, is that most people also move around over very small distances – five to ten kilometres. No surprise then that this infographic by FlowingData shows a pizza-chain within a 10-mile radius across the United States.

Some people, of course, range much further, but even then, they stick to remarkably similar patterns, once again tending to return to the same places over and over again. So customer loyalty is also limited. For the most part, it operates within finite parameters.

But a recent study of grocery buying habits also reveals something stranger, and contradictory. Even though we generally return to the same places and those places are usually close by, we will travel much further than seems reasonable if the incentive to do so is great enough. For example, while we may like our fast food close, people in cities will travel miles to shop for food from their favourite outlet, even if they have a supermarket or corner store nearby. Watch the videos and see for yourself. Customer loyalty defies logic.

If you’re a business that depends on physical traffic, here are three take-outs around customer loyalty that I think are worth noting.

Firstly, we are indeed creatures of habit. If people’s behaviours are characterised by repetition, then it makes sense to look for ways to become part of their regular rituals. Find ways to incorporate what you do into their day.

Secondly, many retailers in particular, have an appeal strategy based around destination of chance rather than destination of choice. This research would suggest that customer loyalty and the repeat business it brings is even more important than many believe. In the case of some food anyway, it is possible to defy geography through the sheer attractiveness of your offer. Time to step up the reasons to get people back. A surprising amount of your take probably comes from people who keep coming back.

Thirdly, focus on narrowcasting. Think about what you could do to increase your “share of day” amongst the people you value most and who will value you most, rather than everyone.

We may live in a world of seemingly endless choices, but these studies show that consumers find and stay with choices and brands they know and feel comfortable with. For many people, that’s a surprisingly short list. What are you doing to win and hold local customer loyalty?

Photo of “On the go phone” taken by Craig Cloutier, sourced from Flickr

Consumer motivations: the 7 reasons we buy now

By Mark Di Somma

consumer motivations - why we buy now

John B. Watson, a key figure in the development of behaviourism, famously said that effective advertising revolved around three basic emotions: love, fear and rage. (Get the backstory on this here). It’s a nice meme. But is it still accurate?

After all, at the time that Watson set forth his hypothesis, advertising was built largely on a framework of persuasion and repetition and took place on set channels in set formats and within highly structured societal expectations. But as societal rules have relaxed, and marketing has evolved new expressions, has our consideration-set broadened and if so, what does it include now?

Depending on how broadly you interpret Watson’s concepts, they all still apply.

We still buy for reasons of love – loyalty, habit, prestige and attitude are all motivations that help us form powerful bonds with brands. We buy what feels good to us, what we know, what we agree with, what we feel we deserve, what the brands we associate with say about us and when brands express through statement, belief or action things that concur with our worldviews.

We still buy for reasons of fear – risk, danger and prevention all drive us to seek out brands that we believe will help us in a world that, at times, feels threatening and uncertain. We also don’t want to miss out – on a bargain, a discount, a perceived opportunity or a trend. More and more, people actually fear being out of the loop.

We still buy for reasons of rage – outcry, rebellion, justice, a wish for change and an undercurrent of impatience all push us towards different brands in different sectors because we refuse to accept something or we want to disrupt the status quo or we wish to condone a “champion” of what we see as right.

What’s fascinating though is the extent to which online, the upgrade culture and social collectiveness have combined to introduce new, often globally based, motivations that Watson might never have imagined. Today, we don’t just act for ourselves. We act alongside, and with a very powerful awareness of, others.

We now buy for reasons of collective excitement – as consumers, we are addicted to recency. We’re tuned into an “always on” world that moves at pace, where change and upgrades are standard and where everyone wants to feel that they have the newest and the best.

We buy successes because we want to associate with success – and increasingly that success isn’t just a personal perception (love), it’s a crowdbased, hashtagged and trending idea that gives brands authority and presence and makes them exciting (further fuelling our need to buy). Buy-in and participation grows and withers on the collective judgment of millions, and it happens in ever-shorter timeframes. It’s never been possible to be successful so quickly – or to disappear from view so fast.

We buy for reasons of connection – we are presented in so many fora with new ways of thinking, new contexts for consideration and revision of ideas, conjecture and nuance. The opportunities to talk things through and find new ways forward are greater than they have ever been. We buy the brands that emerge as conversation leaders through that haze of data and debate to inspire us, and we choose them for what we hear and what we learn from them.

And we are motivated by generosity. We consider brands for the actions they take to improve the world for us all and for what they say and are prepared to do for those around them. Debate continues as to whether acting this way actually drives an upsurge on the bottom line for brands, but there are plenty of examples to show that we are turned off by companies that we view as contributors to global social crises or that we see as acting badly.

To my mind, the quest to dominate the conversation around one or more of these seven motivations in your category should lie at the heart of every marketer’s thinking. Anything less, perhaps everything else, just becomes advertising wallpaper.

Love, fear or rage against that.

Photo of “Let me buy a something for a someone” taken by Soumyadeep Paul, sourced from Flickr