Marketing Myopia Redux-Time to Recognize What Your Customers Really Need

It amazes and disappoints me all at the same time how many businesses have no clue what their customers really need from them.

This problem is epidemic in the technology world (consumer electronics and business technology) in particular, where feature, function and price wars continue to dominate the landscape in spite of the reality that we buy for many other reasons beyond feature, function or price.

While the old adage of the person seeking to buy a drill may be a bit trite, it’s true. Hint: you don’t need a drill…what you need are holes!

WE’RE BUYING TO SOLVE PROBLEMS!

Cases in Point-Webinar Service Providers:

I’m in the process of launching a Webinar Series as a means of better supporting my customers and yes, of marketing to those who have a problem that needs solving, and the search for a Webinar Service Provider is truly an odyssey.

These firms are at war with each other over feature, function and price, which is OK, except for the fact that the small business owners and solopreneurs they are seeking as customers are mostly worried about how to how to produce, promote and leverage these events to support their own business needs.

We don’t need a damned drill…we need some holes.

The providers are long on feature comparisons and most of them offer wonderful knowledge browsers to help you identify solutions to the most arcane technical problems. When I run into an arcane technical problem, I know right where to look. Right now, my problem in search of a solution is how to do this professionally and effectively. I respect my customers and prospects too much to do anything less.

Be Careful What You Ask For:

The theme of cluelessness on the part of one firm was underscored when I reached out to the support group  and the Rep’s sole emphasis was on ensuring that I didn’t call back again. He actually used the words, “we hope you don’t keep calling us,” as he attempted to push me to the knowledge browser which I had already tried before initiating the call.

Be careful what you measure and what you ask for, because you might actually achieve it. I won’t be calling or providing my credit card to this service provider.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

This issue transcends my own rather insignificant service provider search. It’s common for me to work with clients on strategy projects, and have to spend a good deal of up-front time getting them to quit defending how great their features and functions and products are versus their competitors. 

We seem to fall in love with our products and capabilities and lose sight of the real reasons we’ve invested all this time and money in growing our capabilities….the customers. The client’s problem is always the issue.

Take off your blinders and consider management surgery for your myopic view of the world. It doesn’t revolve around you.

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Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.  Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at http://artpetty.com

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at art.petty@artpetty.com

 

 

 

Systems Thinking Meets Platform Strategy and Social Media via Nike+

While I admit to being one of those people who views the idea of running as much more attractive than the actual running part (thus far, I’ve been satisfied to pass runners on my Specialized Road Bike, thank you), I’m blown away by Nike’s strategy with their Digital Plus business and specifically, their Nike+ program for runners.

It’s low tech (the shoe) meets media (Apple devices) meets social networking (the Nike+ community) meets platform strategy for Nike and potentially, marketing nirvana, based on the data and insights gained about their most passionate customers.  (Check out the Nike+ site to tune into the scale and scope of this initiative.)

There are strategy and marketing lessons here for all of us.

In the recent Fortune article, Nike’s New Marketing Mojo, the firm’s CEO, Mark Parker, describes a visual he had created awhile ago, depicting a dozen video game “Pac Men” consuming the Nike swoosh, as an indicator of how easily the company could be overtaken by competitors. A good many purveyors of commodity-like products are struggling to find differentiation in this world. Nike’s example offers an approach with massive dividends.

Digital Sport (the business unit) and its biggest hit, Nike+ is described in Fortune as, “not just about creating must-have sports gadgets. Getting so close to its consumers’ data holds exceptional promise for one of the world’s greatest marketers: It means it can follow them, build an online community for them, and forge a tighter relationship with them than ever before.”

The stats filled website offering indications of total miles run, calories consumed, steps taken and something called Nike Fuel earned, is a fascinating testament to how much engagement they’ve created. Fortune reports that 5 million runners now log onto Nike+ to check their status, set new goals, compete with friends and engage….all in the Nike ecosystem.

Watch for a rapid expansion in new offerings (complements) to support this platform strategy.

Questions and Thought Prompters for the Rest of Us:

  • Systems and platform thinking can have a profound impact on a commodity business. What’s your potential play?
  • The integration solves an interesting problem that few probably could have articulated. It connects like minded enthusiasts with each other and gives them tools that are useful and fun.  And it afforded Nike massive differentiation in a crowded market without resorting to the potentially most destructive of all tools, price-cutting.
  • The shoes and the ipod integration is interesting, the social media, data gathering power and the dialogue created in the Nike ecosystem is priceless. What is it about your customers and ecosystem that might lend itself to a rich dialogue and connectivity?
  • How might this strategy change your marketing approaches? If you are anything like Nike, it has meant a wholesale shift in marketing tactics. (Note: that doesn’t mean a reduction in marketing expenditures…just a shift in where they are spending.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m  a big fan of analogic reasoning and using one example to stimulate creativity in completely different environments. How might Nike’s example be adapted or extended to serve your purposes?

And, I confess that I might give the road bike a rest this Spring and join the Nike+ community. I’ll be slow moving dot on the Nike map!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here.

Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.  Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at http://artpetty.com

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at art.petty@artpetty.com

 

Modern Pricing Traps and General Customer Disservice-A Rant

A bit tongue-in-cheek laced with a great deal of hyperbole, fueled by a strong sense of outrage and hopefully, blended with a dash of cynical humor.

I spend approximately 94% of my productive time doing battle with some firm or another over their pricing and promotion programs. While decorum precludes me (for now) from sharing names, you know them as cable providers, internet providers, cellular carriers, satellite radio firms (oops, only one of those out there), publishing firms and every other firm who is staffed by evil pricing practitioners bent on creating ever more nefarious and diabolical schemes to ensnare, entrap and consume all discretionary income and most life savings.

In some unscientific polling, 105% of the people I know (math is not my strong suit) have at one time or another in the last three days been ensnared in some form of pricing program that promised the moon and the stars for a song and ended up delivering Jersey Girls or dropped calls or 146,000 radio channels all playing three Rolling Stones songs.

The websites and systems are brilliantly designed to simplify sign-up, contracting and installation. However, as D-Day approaches with the end of the promotion period, and the $89 monthly fee is scheduled to elevate to something that looks the U.S. monthly interest payment on the national debt, should you want to cancel, you are required to go on a search rivaling the hunt for the fabled Lost City of Z deep in the Amazon. In case you don’t know the story, no one has ever found it and no one has ever come back.

The statistic the U.S. Department of Labor does not share with us (according to my unnamed source) is that 50% of all unemployed Americans remain that way because they have been on the phone for 7 months or more to (insert foreign country name) either trying to cancel their contract or collect on that big inheritance promised by their new best friend via e-mail in (insert next favorite e-mail country of origin name).

The upside of all of this is that I’ve developed deep relationships with people named Ralph and Ann and Bob who strangely all speak with thick accents and don’t sound at all like a Ralph, Ann or Bob. We now exchange birthday cards

And while I suspect I’m exaggerating just a bit, this modern world seems to be characterized by firms and marketers who missed the memo on building trust with their customers, and who instead insist on treating us both like lemmings and then making us miserable when trying to unwind our obligations according to our legal and contracted rights.

This situation is extended indefinitely in what can only be the second worst pricing idea (after the low-low start up), and that is the infamous customer retention program. “Stay with us and we’ll reduce your payment from the size of the interest on the U.S. debt to $89 for 6 months.”  OK, and then what? “You’ll have to do this all over again, of course.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The tactics are insulting. The retention programs are insane. And the hard to access, poor quality, unintelligible and truly maddening overseas customer support is just revolting. Great way to treat your customers. Now, I’ve got to take a time-out…I just received a pop-up ad promoting a new pop-up blocker that I can use for free for 3 months if I commit to a year at the normal rate. Sounds good…wonder who I’ll meet on the support line this time!

Guest Marketing Post-Succeeding with Video

Helping Clients with VideoNote from Art: Whether you work inside the walls of a corporation or you make your office wherever you can grab a good connection and a great cup of coffee, chances are that you will come face-to-face with the need to appear on camera at some point in time. For many of us, the thought isn’t exactly a welcome one.

I had my first video encounter to promote the launch of my essay collection, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development, and while painful, in the end after the self-induced stress wore off and the almost-expletives cleared the air and I had regained my ability to say, “action-packed” versus the now classic line captured as “action-paction,” it was fun and I believe beneficial. So much so, that I’ve agreed to start a monthly videocast.

I’m not alone in my video-phobia, and in comparing notes with many of my colleagues, it seems we all struggle with the same issues. We also agree that the benefits of building a video presence strongly outweigh any of the personal reasons for avoiding this. To support our efforts, I encouraged Amber Wallor and Edgar Mourans, the two pros behind Left Hand Marketing and the drive to help small business owners and even hapless actors like me build a video presence, to offer us some guidance.

Like everything else these two great people do, they went above and beyond the call of duty, offering a free e-book filled with tips and brief video clip to show that they are willing to face the camera as well! Use their advice wisely, and of course don’t be bashful in reaching out to them for help. Did I mention they are entrepreneurs! Enjoy the resources and good luck in your small screen careers!

What causes you to freeze up, mispronounce words, suffer from memory loss, and blabber senselessly about ideas that are normally second nature to you while watching your every move? A video camera!

We are passionate about the effectiveness of video marketing. Video is a powerful tool for businesses and individuals looking to gain an edge against competitors.

Video allows you to showcase what differentiates you while giving people the feeling that they already know you before ever doing business with you. It goes with the old cliché, people like doing business with people they know, like and trust. More so, video brings increased exposure and higher search results. YouTube is owned by Google and is one of the largest search engines; so naturally, Google favors websites with video in its search results. In fact, videos are 53 times more likely than traditional websites to receive a first-page ranking on Google.

Nevertheless, being on camera is easier said than done. We haven’t had one client who hasn’t feared being recorded. For the majority of people, being in front of the camera is quite an unpleasant feeling to say the least. It’s like hating the sound of your own voice but ten times worse!e-book cover about Being Comfortable on Camera

Here’s Some Help:

To help you with overcoming that fear, we have been inspired to create a mini e-book (and we had fun creating the pictures on the cover) that will guide you in the right direction.

Watch your confidence grow with our list of helpful tips on preparing yourself when it’s time for the lights, camera, and action (or “action-paction” as Art has been known to say)!

It’s truly an amazing sight to watch our clients transform through the camera lens, some even begin to enjoy being on camera! If you find other things that work for you, we’d love to hear from you and add them to future revisions of our e-book.

P.S. We’d like to thank Art for being so great to work with and for being a good sport about action-paction!

In writing a post on the importance of video, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to release a video of our own about the e-book. Hey, we can all use the practice!

Midweek Marketing: Delta Builds Customer Experience One Detail at a Time

image of a magnifying glass hovering over the word: focus“Success is the sum of the details.” Harvey S. Firestone

I’ve been an unapologetic critic of the money losing and seemingly customer hating airline industry for many years. Anyone who has flown a million miles or more has a good view to the workings of this flying bus business (with apologies to bus companies), and the view is mostly unpleasant. (Not always, just mostly.)

Imagine my surprise when I deviated on my return trip from my normal dealings with United, and flew Delta, and I actually enjoyed the experience. I checked my calendar and it wasn’t April Fools Day or Halloween, so all of the truly good-natured, helpful and smiling Delta employees might have actually meant it.

With more than ample time on my hands in two airports, I decided to go on an anthropological expedition of Delta operations. Here’s what I saw:

7 Details that Made the Delta Experience Delightful:

1. Happy, smiling employees serving customers. From gate agents to the flight crews, I didn’t run into a single Delta employee who didn’t smile and offer help. Yes, I used the “s”  and the “h” words here. These people seemed genuinely happy to work with customers. (Related post: Smiles, Sales and Leadership.)

2. A lack of grumpy employees. Yeah I know this is redundant with my first point, but I’m still kind of shocked.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve observed the crews from other airlines (mostly United) bad-mouth their firm when they think no one is listening (sorry, I was walking behind you), or just visibly show the world that they didn’t give a damn. My favorite was the United flight attendant who wore a button that said, and I quote: “This airline sucks.”  While some people accuse me of dreaming that one up, I almost needed to go into therapy after seeing that display of callous disregard for firm, clients and self.

3. Readily available help. Traveler help was everywhere, including an abundance of small kiosks offering: “Missed Your Connection? Scan Your Ticket Here for  Alternatives.”  Getting help when things go bad is one of the more stressful elements of flying, and here was an attempt to ease this burden. Nice.  The ground-agents waiting to greet passengers and offer personal success were always there…and always smiling.

4. Easy access to the necessities of travel life. The world of business travel survives and thrives on plug-ins for power, internet access, good food and clean restrooms. A+ in the Delta terminals for these critical travel comforts.

5. Company Pride on Display! Every Delta plane sported a decal indicating that Delta had been named  one of the World’s Most Admired Corporations (tops in the airline industry) according to Fortune. OK, a little chest thumping is OK if you can back it up.

6. Employee Pride on Display! Every plane had a decal on it under the Fortune banner indicating an employee who had excelled at their job. Nice…what a badge of pride if your name hits the list. (I seem to recall that this is a long-standing practice, and if so, it’s still a good idea.)

7. Pleasant flight crews who seemed to enjoy their jobs. The banter by the pilots seemed extraordinarily friendly and the rest of the flight crew engaged with customers in way that only Southwest seems to have ever cared about.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While I’m not certain that my two terminal/two flight experience offers a valid sample set, the experience with Delta yesterday was noticeably different than the gross majority of my other airline experiences. Someone seems to be paying attention at Delta. It almost sounds like good leadership and excellent marketing… and great execution…concepts sorely lacking in much of the rest of this industry. The great experience is most definitely in the details.

I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to see if I was lucky or if they’re truly good.  And for executives and marketers everywhere, It behooves you to give your employees reasons to smile and serve. The customers are watching.