What We Value And Reward Defines Us

Brian has a tough gig. He works at a call centre for an Internet service provider. You can probably imagine what his day looks like. When we spoke I could hear background noise that sounded like hundreds of other people in a tiny space doing exactly what Brian was trying to do—close the sale.

Brian spoke really fast, was trained to interrupt when he had enough information to progress the call and to offer the contract that locked people in for two years, unless they asked about the ‘no lock in’ offer. His every action and reaction was a means to a single end. He became anxious when it looked like the sale might slip away when said I didn’t have enough information to make a decision there and then.

“Please don’t call back, or speak to anyone else at [company name]!!
I’d appreciate it if you could respect my situation and the hard work I have done here today.
Let me call you back later today.” he said.

In the eight hours between calls I did a quick Google search for reviews of the company’s service (yes, this is exactly where I should have started—lesson learned). 907 one star reviews don’t lie. Brian tried to explain them away when he called back to close the sale before his long shifted ended. Even though he knew it was hopeless he didn’t stop trying until the bitter end.

None of this is Brian’s fault of course. His way of operating on every sales call is directly related to the type result and reward culture that has been created by the company. Here is a company that celebrates and rewards employees for closing the sale. It’s clear that this is what they prioritise, measure and value. The value of every caller is heightened in the ten minutes before they become a customer. Brian is doing what his boss wants him to do because that’s how he has been trained to survive. Growing the number of sales closed at any cost is how his boss survives too.

Our beliefs and behaviours define our cultures. What we value becomes more valued. What is reinforced drives everything we do, how we show up and who becomes our customer. Above all else this is what shapes our story and no marketing whitewash can stop that being reflected to the outside world.

You get to choose the culture you want to create. You create it by demonstrating that above all else—THIS is what we care about. What do you care about and does it show?

Image by twowest.

The Myth Of The Captive Audience

Maybe you read the recent article on Entrepreneur.com about digital advertising trends that included the following passage?

“Mobile video viewers are what you might call a “captive” audience. When TV commercials begin, people look down at their phones. On the bus or subway, people focus on their digital screens instead of the ads passing by in the cityscape. When radio ads begin, people change the station. However, when people are already looking at their smartphone, nothing is going to distract them. Use mobile video ads to take advantage of this undivided attention.”

Two phrases jump out ‘captive audience’ and ‘take advantage’.

Isn’t it time we stopped using language that alludes to deceit and domination when we think and talk about how to engage with our audiences and our customers?

These are the people who buy the things we make. They are the people who give us a reason to get up in the morning. They keep the lights on at our offices and shoes on our kids’ feet. They have needs and hopes and dreams beyond our sales goals and quarterly projections. Their attention, support and loyalty are on loan to us.
And they do have choices—more now than ever.

Our job should never be to take advantage of people who have no choice. Where’s the fulfilment in that? Our job is to understand and give to the people we want to matter to. This is the way to patiently build a sustainable business and a legacy. It truly is possible and it’s worth it.

Nothing worthwhile, lasting, impactful or loved was built by taking advantage of people who had no choice but to stand there and take it. Nothing.

Image by Chris Guillebeau.

If We Build It Will They Come?

This is precisely the wrong question to start any project with.
A better way to begin is by asking:
Who wants us to build it and why will they come?

*This photo of Walt Disney showing the Disneyland plans to Orange County officials was taken in Dec 1954.*
Walt knew where to start.

Image from the Orange County Archives.

The Difference Between A Pitch And A Brand Story

A pitch is what you tell the world about you. It’s presented as the polished version of your story. The one you hope people will grasp and believe within a few short minutes as they reach for their wallets.

Your pitch and your story are two very different things.
So how is a brand storytelling different from pitching?

A brand story is not told it is lived. Your brand story evolves over time, but is grounded in a purpose that doesn’t change. It’s not just the lines of carefully crafted copy on your about page. Your brand story is communicated in the values your company stands for, how your staff greet customers, that hurried email you sent, in your website design and product packaging. Anything that the customer touches or that touches the customer is your brand story.

Your story begins with culture—your brand’s intention and unique way of being and operating in the world. Just as you’d recongnise the silhouette of a friend in the distance or a close relative’s voice over the phone, your brand has a presence that is greater than the sum of its parts.

We know a Dr Marten shoe when we see it, the tone of an Apple advert and the shape of the Chobani yogurt cup even without the logo. We can sense the culture of an organisation in the posture of the people who work there and the care taken by a manufacturer when we hold a well-made garment in our hands.

The story is what we show as well as tell. It is what customers sense and say (and sometimes what they don’t). It is also things we don’t do or control directly, but sometimes enable. Conversations and exchanges, tiny moments of truth and expressions of self.

We invest a great deal of time and resources in perfecting and telling our stories and polishing our pitches. It’s worth remembering to commit just as much to understanding how and showing why those stories should matter to the very people we hope will believe us.

Image by Sasha Cresdee.

A Lesson In Unlocking Value

When you book a room at the Hilton or the Hyatt you either have a pleasant conversation with someone in a call centre who you will never hear from again, or you get a polite, well-crafted email in your inbox. Your expectation about the experience is based on the photos from the website and the reviews on Trip Advisor. No value is created at the time of booking. It’s a transaction. Nothing very meaningful is exchanged.

When you enquire about a room on Airbnb you’re encouraged to reach out to the host by telling him your story.

“Tell John a little about yourself.
What brings you to Melbourne? Who’s joining you?
What do you love about this listing? Mention it!”

You are already investing in the connection with John (not just his apartment) right out of the gate. Contrary to what some believe, the Airbnb platform is not just about access, it’s about fostering connectedness from the first interaction. A ton of value is intentionally created because of the interactions guest and hosts have before the booking is made and the guest arrives. Trust and empathy are exchanged and felt along with check in instructions—which it turns out are secondary.

Business analysts comment that Airbnb unlocked the latent value in unused spaces. True—but the greater value they deliver is a sense of belonging for travellers. They are helping to redefine what hospitality should be, beyond room service and a quiet place to sleep for the night.

The reason a 5 star hotel can’t compete is because it’s tough to create meaning at scale.
The business that does will always be out front.

There are a dozen opportunities for you to unlock value before your customer walks through your door? Start with one—see where it leads you.

Image by Calitexican.

What’s Your Customer’s Why?

It’s true that people buy from companies they like. We feel an affinity with some brands and not others and our purchasing decisions reinforce our values. The Internet has given rise to a new kind of savvy, connected customer. She seeks out purpose driven brands whose ideals resonate with hers.

While it’s important to spend time working out why your business exists beyond profit making and how you create difference for your customers, it’s equally important to do the work of understanding your customer’s motivations, frustrations, values, hopes, dreams and desires.

How can you hope to sell something to someone if you don’t know who she is and how your purpose intersects with hers?

Image by Patrik Nygren.

A Category Of One

The sign was in the perfect spot—right next to the traffic lights at a notoriously slow moving T-junction, to maximise the number of people who would see it. The message was clear:

NEED A WEBSITE? 04040404040″

What’s also clear is that the people who call are not likely to be the customers that the web designer is hoping for. It’s hard to do meaningful work when you try to appeal to everyone, because you end up competing on price instead of quality, hours clocked instead of value delivered.

Anyone can build ‘a’ website. It takes guts and talent and commitment to become known as the go-to person for ‘the’ website.

Your work is defined by the story you are asking your customers to believe about you every day.
You are in control of the story you tell.
How you tell that story gives you the opportunity to choose what you do and who you do it for.
Why not aim to be in a category of one?

What’s Your Email Marketing Strategy?

Digital is fast and cheap. Now we can save a dollar or two on stamps that are no longer needed, plus the time and energy spent licking them and stuffing envelopes. We don’t even need to walk to the post box to mail our messages. Because it’s easy to reach anyone with an email address we sometimes take less care to craft those messages than we should.

Mr X has spent three years working on his project. More than a thousand days of planning, innovation and development have gone into shipping it and yet he’s probably spent ten minutes crafting the first and only email the reader who forwarded this has ever received from him.

[Actual email with names and details changed. Please DO NOT USE this template.]

Hi —————,

We’ve just launched our product! It’s an xyz.
This is what it does.

Check it out [link].
Our website is live and we need your help.
You can pre-order for $X, and if you like it, please share this as far and wide as you can.

Feel free to give us some love on social media too.
Twitter [link]
Facebook [link].

Mr X

The irony is that Mr X hasn’t reached any of the 500 connections on his email list at all.
There’s a difference between making contact and making a meaningful impact. The impact you hope to make begins one person at a time long before the day your product ships.

If we’re not prepared to spend just as much time understanding how the people we hope to serve feel, as we do developing our products and services, then we haven’t earned the right to reach out to them. The first question to ask as part of any marketing strategy is, “Is this generous or selfish?“
Generosity wins every time.

Image by Kat NLM.

We Don’t Buy Things

Once upon a time and not so long ago, almonds were a fatty, to-be-avoided snack.
Today they are a protein-rich superfood. Almond sales in the US have increased 220% since 2005.
When, and how exactly did almonds change?

Of course almonds haven’t changed at all, what has changed is what we believe about them and that changes everything. Those same beliefs drive the value of a red rose on Valentine’s Day and a bottle of water at the airport.

We don’t buy things, we buy the story those things enable us to tell ourselves about who we are and what matters to us.

The Power Of The Minimum Viable Experience

I like my insurance company, or should I say I like the people who work for my insurance company. I’ve been with them almost ten years and have no intention of switching. Their call centre team is well trained and they really go out of their way to be helpful and make the customer feel understood. This company’s people are definitely their greatest asset. The process of getting through to the people who do all the heavy lifting in the claims department is another matter.

It’s not easy to sit for 31 minutes listening to a recording that repeatedly tells you one thing while your current reality demonstrates otherwise. I finally gave up listening to how valuable my time was and then out of curiosity called back to see how long it would take to get to a salesperson, by following the phone prompts to the new policy sales department. The answer was 70 seconds from start to finish. Two rings from the final automated prompt and a cheery salesperson picked up.

On the day that I called there were 113 people in the claims queue, which equates to a 40 minute wait. The guy in sales told me that he thought there had been a recent natural disaster in another state—hence the high call volume. He had never seen that many people in the claims queue.

Of course my first instinct was to ask why they don’t just add more people to the claims line. We all know that even with excellent data and planning it’s not always possible to redirect resources at short notice. Sometimes you can’t deliver the service that meets a customer’s expectations. If you can’t do that the next best thing is to manage her expectations. Often the best solution doesn’t mean fixing the actual problem.

What’s worse than a 40 minute wait—is a 40 minute wait without information. What we detest more than the wait is the feeling of uncertainty. There was an opportunity to change the story I was replaying in my head while I was on hold and to create the minimum viable experience (MVE) by simply tweaking the recording.

In customer service the minimum viable experience (MVE) is the experience with the highest return on customer satisfaction versus resources.

There is always an opportunity to create value at the point before the product or service is delivered. Uber has built a business valued at $40 billion by doing just that. They recognised the pain of that uncertainty and took it away, thus creating intangible value and massive emotional benefits for their customers.

When a customer orders a taxi to take her to the airport she wants to get to the airport, but the service starts before the actual journey, with a step that creates certainty in the moment—knowing that she will arrive on time is priceless.

When an Apple evangelist goes to the Genius Bar with a problem he wants his device back up and running, but the step before that is believing that the ‘Genius’ can and will help him. The Genius is trained to deliver a minimum viable experience by telling the customer exactly what he’s doing every step of the way. The phrase “don’t worry I’m here to help, we’re going to sort this problem out for you,” works like magic and best of all it costs nothing.

When we think about delivering the optimum customer experience we strive to create a scenario that meets the customer’s wants, often forgetting that what the customer wants is more than a cab that takes her from A to B, a computer that works, or a human being that picks up the phone right away. There are so many opportunities to create intangible value and subtle expectations that we can fulfil by being more empathetic and without spending a cent.

There is always a way to leave the customer feeling better. It’s up to us to find it.

Image by JF Gornet.

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