Who Will This Matter To?

Conventional innovation and marketing wisdom reminds us not to come up with good ideas for products or services to sell, but to solve problems instead. People need to eat, but don’t have time to cook, so open a cafe or design a new food processor with an extra chopping function. The result is six ‘me too’ cafes clustered in the same area, and a dozen food processors that don’t help people to do anything more than the last one did—all competing to solve what the business owner believes is the problem.

Behind every problem is the story of the person with that problem, which is more nuanced than the problem itself. Great solutions address specific parts of a problem that a particular person has. And so meaningful products and services not only work, they make customers feel understood.

Opening the doors or making the motor work is the easy part.
The hard part is understanding who is going to care that you did it.

Image by Stacy Anderson.

Wanted And Welcomed

We still have a landline phone at home to make it easy and more economical for elderly relatives overseas to get in touch. It rings at lunchtime and at around 6pm every day. We don’t pick up, because we know these particular calls are not ones we want or welcome. I often wonder what the telemarketers will do when the last landline disappears. What’s their strategy for the day when literally nobody picks up the phone?

For as long as any of us can remember, and long before that, sales and marketing has partly been opportunistic and not in the positive sense. In medicine and opportunistic infection only occurs when a person’s resistance is lowered. The day is coming when our resistance will never be lowered. A lifetime of interruption has conditioned us to be wary—always on our guard for the moment when someone might try to steal our attention, or worse still our time.

Imagine a world where as marketers we stopped working so hard to interrupt people and devoted all of our resources to creating the thing they sought out instead.
How we reach out to people is a choice and it’s ours to make.

Image by JohnJoh.

Sorry: Easy To Say, Not So Easy To Do

The assistant serving at the counter apologised for the long wait, then for not having received the order and finally for having no change. The cycle continued with every customer she served. There was a sorry for the wrong order given and one for the fact that the croissants hadn’t arrived that morning. And with each one her shoulders drooped a little more, along with the smile she tried to wear. Her job was to be the face of a million dollar small business and it was obviously no fun.

It’s become easier than ever to say sorry now that we can do it in public.
An email fired off in seconds. A 140 character public contrition on Twitter and you’re done.
“We’re sorry. We try, we don’t always get it right.”

Businesses have teams of people who can respond to complaints and fewer who are held accountable for fixing things. Sorry in isolation does not constitute an apology. Every apology has two parts. The admission that something went wrong, followed by the action taken that will mean it doesn’t happen again.

So when the Telco apologises for interrupting customers at the weekend. The apology must be more than an admission. Part two involves changing something so that it doesn’t happen again.

When the airline cancels flights, says sorry, then tells passengers to rebook themselves on the next available, the refund shouldn’t take fifteen uncertain business days to process.

When you or your staff start and end the day by apologising to every single customer it’s time to look at what isn’t working and to fix it. We need to understand why people were unhappy, where we went wrong and then to follow through, showing them that we’re sorry by doing better next time.

A sorry doesn’t help or excuse your business unless you back it up. Being sorry means doing something to make things better. Saying sorry should mean that you care enough to do that.
Your brand story is always less about what you say and more about what you do.

Image by Marc Thiele.

Satisfaction Vs. Sentiment

Have you ever filled in one of those, ‘we value your feedback’ customer satisfaction surveys at the end of a meal or a service call? Perhaps you have used them to ask customers to rate your service? The theory being that satisfied customers are the end game. Deliver on expectations and people will surely come back.

In a world of infinite choices customer satisfaction is no longer the gold standard—it’s the minimum requirement, the ticket of entry, something we have come to expect. And most businesses deliver on that expectation.

Satisfaction is the metric of business mechanics, the systems and processes, the operations and moving parts. Sentiment is the pulse of your brand—its heart and soul. Satisfaction can be measured with tick boxes, while sentiment is perceived and felt. The distinction is the difference between a product that works and one that we feel we can’t live without.

As customers we demand to be satisfied and if dissatisfied we know we can vote with our feet. But what we long for deep down is something that we can’t and don’t articulate. The unexpected. Surprise and delight, the feeling of experiencing something more than was anticipated.
Something that can’t easily be measured.

Beloved brands don’t simply leave customers satisfied. They don’t deal in expectations, they deliver the unexpected and strive to change hearts, not minds.
The same opportunity is open to you.

Thanks to Stuart Hall of AppBot for the inspiration. Image by Joe Penniston.

Two Important Characteristics Of Successful Innovations, Products And Services

Successful innovations always start with the customer’s story.
The products and services people use AND keep coming back to, create a change in that story.
There is life before the product or service existed and a different life after.

And so if follows then, that we succeed by thinking less about what we’re creating, and more about what change we are creating. Starting with their problem and not our solution isn’t something that comes naturally to us, which is why commodities exist.

Meaningful innovations and brands that we come to love, make us feel different because that’s what they were designed to do from the outset. The magic happens when we put the customer’s story front and centre.

Image by Nest.

How To Find Tomorrow’s Customers

Most businesses, whatever their size are focused on growth. We want more leads, more fans, readers or subscribers, who will become more customers, resulting in more sales and more profits.

We usually have a plan to get them, which involves cultivating the people we hope will be tomorrow’s customers. And all the while we are doing that we often forget to serve the people who have already showed up—the ones who have said, “we’re here, take us to where we want to go”.

So we move on to the next thing. We innovate and build and create for people who may never arrive, instead of understanding the problems to solve for the people we know.

It turns out that we find tomorrow’s customers by relentlessly focusing on the needs of the customers we have today.

Image by Jerry Wong.

Value Creation And Stories To Believe In

Just 574 To’ak chocolate bars were produced in 2014 using hand sorted, heirloom cacao beans harvested from rare Ecuadorian trees. Each bar is engraved with an individual number, packaged in a Spanish elm wooden box and comes with a specially designed tasting tool (touching the chocolate with your fingers can alter the flavour). A single 50gram bar will set you back $260.

Who decides what a chocolate bar is worth and on what evidence do they base that decision?
How do we know when to pay more or less?

Value is in the heart of the beholder. More often than not value is perceived, not calculated. It’s irrational, intangible, unpredictable and messy. The customer is not paying for the rare beans or even the tasting experience— she’s paying for the joy that believing the story brings her.

Value creation is the responsibility of the marketer. It’s our job to give people stories to believe in, not just advantages to measure.

Image by USAID.

The Most Important Marketing We Do

Do you remember that time when the popular kid pushed you back into line and told you to and wait to be picked, or the day when your teacher told you not to speak up? Will you ever forget the moment your boss told you that you should suck it up, or the night when your peers turned away and urged you to wait, be patient, to settle?

These interactions are part of your story, you carry them with you—they are hard to shake off.
They are part of my story too and those of your partner, family, friends, colleagues and the people you admire and want to emulate.

Even in this age of abundance many of us have fooled ourselves into thinking that we don’t have everything we need to do work that matters. Our self-talk (the seeds of which began with those moments) makes us get in our own way.

Mostly what we need to start anything, to become something and to do our best work is permission—new defining moments.

Seth Godin’s latest book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn is here and if you’re ready to give yourself permission you should buy it. I first read it as a galley proof—uncut and unbound while travelling for work and away from home. I spread the pages across the bed in the hotel room late one evening, began reading and couldn’t stop.

Seth’s work is a gift. He doesn’t write to write, or because he has to—he writes to change people.
This book gives you the jump start you need. No pixel is wasted, there is something to inspire, encourage and provoke you on every page.

The most important marketing we do is in the stories we tell ourselves about what’s possible and why it matters. If we don’t get that part right what chance have we got of connecting with, changing or serving a single soul?

It’s your turn, it always was. Now you know.

Image by Bill Harrison.

Persuasion, Proof And The Place You Want To Be

As marketers we have historically relied on material advantages to differentiate our products and services, then used them to persuade customers to buy them. If your product is lighter or more energy efficient, the thinking goes, then you’re giving customers a logical reason to choose your brand over your competitor’s.

In an age of product parity quality is a given and we rely on facts to persuade much more than we should. Data helps people to affirm their irrational choices but it does not drive their decisions.

Your goal isn’t to prove that you’re better—it’s to be so good that people are not even considering another option.

Image by Len Radin.

What’s The Best Way?

When I was a new mum thinking about ‘the best way’ to raise my son to do the things that babies of his age were supposed to do, occupied a fair amount of my time. I worried about the best way to settle him to sleep and the best way to wean him. I graduated to caring about the best way to potty train him and the best way to teach him how to hold a pencil. There was no shortage of opinions about the best way to do all of these things then and now.

And so it goes for the work that we do. We try hard to mitigate against making a mistake. We want to find the best way to generate ideas, market our products and connect with our customers, because we care about getting it right. But if you waited until you were sure you had the best way—the obvious solution, you’d never make a start. The best way to do anything is to begin, then to adjust your course based on what happens next.

The worst way is do nothing.

Image by Josh Kesner.

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