How Are You Creating Value?

Think about your favourite airline or a product you use every day and the supermarket you feel most comfortable shopping at. Now think about why you keep going back. What is it that this business delivers? The airline most likely sells similar seats, with average legroom, at around the same price as their competitors. The product you love probably doesn’t have more features than another leading brand’s. The supermarket stocks many of the same things as the one at the other end of the street.

And yet somehow this business or brand gave you reasons to choose them.

Try this.…pick one brand, cafe, app or store that you wouldn’t want to live without and make a list of the reasons why. Now stand in your customer’s shoes and make that same list for whatever you sell, design, develop or serve.

How are you creating value beyond components, ingredients, features and benefits that your competitors could copy tomorrow? Your competitive advantage may not be as limited as you think.

Image by Unsplash.

Who Is Responsible For Seeing Your Customers?

When I worked in the stock control department at Tesco thirty years ago, I was partly responsible for making sure there were enough tins of soup available to be bought by the customers who would walk up and down those supermarket aisles the following week. There were people in charge of making sure that shelves were full and others to process customers efficiently through checkouts. There was a girl who manned the customer service counter. Her job it seemed was to offer practiced and polite responses to disgruntled customers along with their refunds.

Later, when I managed a cafe the boss told me that I was responsible for opening the door at 7am, for making sure that we had enough staff on duty and that the till wasn’t short at the end of the day. There was a girl in charge of buttering bread and cutting up lemon meringue pies into exactly twelve slices and someone to take pound notes from customers for the afternoon tea and cake special during that dead period after 3pm.

Customers came, were served, spent and went. In both businesses there were metrics for efficiency—boxes to be ticked that had implications on balance sheets. If the store didn’t run out of tins of Campbell’s tomato soup, the register balanced and sales trended up, apparently you won.

But there were no metrics around the most important job of all—that of seeing the customer.

Nobody at Tesco was obliged to care about the old lady who couldn’t reach the tins on the high shelf. We were not supposed to notice how she did a mental calculation of the contents of her basket before she got to the checkout to save being embarrassed if she was short by a few pence.

And as long as the twelve pieces of pie at the cafe were sold by closing time it didn’t matter who had bought and paid for them. Never mind that each piece represented a student at the university across the road eking out his grant on the afternoon special, or a young mother sheltering from a downpour with her crying baby.

When we offer service, by definition the minimum requirement is that we are useful to people. But how can we truly serve people if we don’t know who they are? How can we give them what they want if we don’t make the effort to see them?

The businesses that have been runaway successes over the past three decades (since I gave up counting tins for Tesco), are the ones that have taken the time to really see their customers and then to design metrics around serving them based on what they see. The Zappos, Apples (from Geniuses to engineers) and Patagonias of this world make someone responsible for seeing, not just serving their customers. Who is responsible for seeing yours?

Image by John Haslam.

Lessons In Non-Profit Storytelling From The Best In The World

If you think times are tough in a marketing world where you’re actually providing goods or services in exchange for money, spare a thought for the marketers of charities who need to convince us to part with money without wrapping up something for us to take home.

One of the biggest challenges non-profits face is justifying their operating costs. Supporters of charities have long questioned the amount of money spent on admin vs. how much actually creates impact for the worthy cause they donated to.

The Internet has made it easier for charities to reach people and to tell their story, but that access has also created a new breed of supporter who is both savvy and discerning. Access shouldn’t be confused with impact though. There are no shortcuts to mattering to people, but there are ways you can tell a better brand story.

7 Lessons In Non-Profit Marketing From charity: water

1. Declare a single enemy.
charity: water’s is dirty water. They explain how lack of access to clean drinking water impacts everything from health to time, poverty to education and the effect on the lives of women and children in particular.

2. The 100% giving model.
Build trust with transparency. charity: water stripped away all doubt about how much of the donated funds actually impacted good causes. They have two funding streams, donations to water projects from supporters and private donors and sponsors who fund operating costs. Donations are tracked to results in the field using photos and GPS so that supporters can see their impact.

3. Provide context
The size of the problem is still big (a billion people don’t have access to clean water), but charity: water breaks it down. They make the real impact of the donation more tangible.
My $20 buys access to clean water for one person.

4. Understand the donor’s worldview.
charity: water knows that we were buying the feeling that giving brings.
They worked out what supporters needed to know and how they wanted to feel and used great storytelling to make that happen.

5. Make it personal
The my charity: water platform gives people the opportunity to create their own campaign and a way to reach out to and connect with their supporters. This platform also makes it easy to both fundraisers and supporters to donate, keep track of progress and feel involved.
There are regular campaigns encouraging people to ‘donate’ their celebrations, like birthdays to the cause.

6. Leverage design.
Take a look at the charity: water website and you’ll see what I mean. Many charity websites feel clunky, they often have the feel of a dated corporate bureaucracy. This one feels like it’s alive, that it’s powered by community and intention, that work being done. The charity also has a recognisable symbol— the yellow jerry can.

7. Create community
charity: water makes it easy to share their story and your campaign via social media. They leverage all of the modern brand storytelling tools to both share the joy and create a sense of community.

Here is the charity: water Difference Map (created by me for the book Difference, not in consultation with charity: water). It might give you some clues about how to tell your own story.

How Great Products Are Born, Not Made

When you’re designing a product or service it’s easy to believe that making it the best in the world is what gives you a competitive advantage. But the thing about ‘best’ is that it’s subjective. ‘Best’ isn’t determined by you, it’s your customers and users who decide. The truth is that people don’t fall in love with the best product. They fall in love with the product that delivers the experience and the feeling that they want.

What makes the apps we use daily, the restaurants we keep going back to and the brands we wouldn’t dream of switching from a success? It turns out that great products and services are born from obsessing about the user’s feelings and frustrations, from understanding the problem to solve, for whom and knowing why it matters to them. Great innovations and experiences are not made by focusing on form and functionality without caring about the context in which people with an actual problem will use and benefit from them.

People don’t want a better knife, they want the butter on their bread.

Image by Tito Perez.

How To Be Different

When Apple and Microsoft went head-to-head Apple didn’t ask, “How can we be different from Microsoft?” No, the question they asked was, “How can we be more of ourselves and how do we amplify that in the work we do?”

The reason it’s not easy to copy a truly great brand is because they have put so much of themselves into the work— that there is no substitute. There is only one Banksy, one Dyson and one Disney.
They each show up uniquely as brands in the world by being more of who they are.

No great brand (and that includes soloists) became great by trying to emulate.

People don’t want another cheap imitation. They want to connect with and experience you and the meaning you bring to your work.

There’s no more effective way to be different than to be exactly who you are.

Image by Dave MN.

The Myth Of The Digital Shortcut

What Donald Draper wouldn’t have given to be an ‘ad man’ in 2014. No more sitting around in bars scribbling on napkins while watching people going about their business. No more trying to work out what they’re thinking and how they want to feel in order to sell that feeling back to them, for a company that’s expecting a miracle.

Today all Don would have to do is look at the data.

Our data trail is everywhere. Tiny nuggets of gold created and left behind after almost every action, collected in every tweet and by every store card, Google search and Amazon purchase.

Information about our customers that we could never have known ten, let alone twenty or thirty years ago is ours for the mining.

My supermarket knows what days I shop and how much I spend, so they create targeted offers just for me. A $50 voucher if I keep spending the same amount four weeks running. They serve up discounts for things I buy, without really knowing why I buy them and why in that store.
They mine the data. They know what I do, but they don’t really see me.

Marketing and advertising are shifting from being in the service and persuasion business to becoming data driven behavioural economics industries. Today marketers don’t have to take a best guess—if they get it wrong they can always point to the data.

The data seems like a shortcut to understanding our customers. But the data in isolation is worthless without the intention to make people’s lives better. We can use it to game people into buying two extra packs of toilet paper this week, or we can choose to do something significant that will probably keep them coming back for a lifetime.

Image by RTP.

Fridge Magnet Marketing

Your plumber has probably earned his place on your fridge alongside the chimpanzee magnet your kids brought back from a school trip. His magnet is there because he’s the guy who came out within a couple of hours when that pipe in the laundry burst, causing chaos. You want this guy in your life and so you keep him there.

The real estate agent’s fridge magnet, the one that was posted in your mailbox offering an all caps ‘FREE MARKET APPRAISAL’, followed by three phone numbers, has no place on your fridge.
It’s an unwelcome interruption, not a handy reminder.

Whoever gets closest to their customers wins, but it’s not possible to buy your way into people’s hearts, homes or increasingly their wallets—you have to earn the right to a place there.

Image by Chickpea.

What Will Change Once The Word Gets Out?

On the day after ‘the word gets out’ about your product or service, will you have a thousand news followers on Twitter?

Will the kingmaker call?
Will your inbox have ten new client leads?
Will your stock be flying off the shelves?
Will your business be better?
Will your bank balance be healthy enough then?
Will your staff feel more valued?
Will your customers be happier?
Will you feel more worthy, fulfilled, calm, acknowledged or ————— (fill in the blank)?

We imagine everything magically falling into place in some distant tomorrow when the world finally gets to know about us.

Tomorrow and getting the word out is not your priority. Doing great work today is.

Image by Nathan Rupert.

What Will Your Verse Be?

One of my heroes died yesterday. Maybe he was one of yours too? Robin Williams wasn’t the kind of hero you are reminded of every day. You might remember him as you’re riding the train home one night and you smile when you see the words ‘Carpe Diem’ etched into a teenager’s forearm. Or when you hear a piece of music from a movie soundtrack on the radio. Or when the TV channels inevitably play Mrs Doubtfire trailers at Christmas.

Journalist Ty Burr tells the story about the time he met Williams one morning on a New York street, as they were both setting out for a jog. For a split second Ty saw the man before his brain processed who he was. The man (not the actor) smiled back until he saw the flicker of recognition cross Ty’s face, then he put on his celebrity armour.

The irony of the human condition is that we fear being invisible and yet we fear being seen. We want to feel like what we do matters, that our time here stood for something. And yet we know that when we stick our necks out we are opening ourselves up to criticism and failure.

Despite his genius Robin Williams was no exception, he experienced the fear of not being good enough as we all do. He once acknowledged “this idea that you’d better keep working otherwise people will forget.” It was that need to keep raising the bar that made him one of those rare actors who could make us laugh and cry in equal measure.
He cared about doing that. He knew it mattered. He understood that he was here to contribute a verse and that doing it meant facing his fear of failure. I’m glad he did.
What will your verse be?

Image by Loren Javier.

Price Is Not Just A Strategy, It’s A Story

There was a palpable buzz when one of the most gifted leaders in retail, Ron Johnson—the guy who led the creation of the Apple Store experience, took on the role of CEO at the hundred-year-old company J.C. Penney. All eyes were on him. The business world wanted to know how he was going to transform the stodgy image of their department stores. Struggling retailers watched and waited to see if Johnson was the keeper of the secret that would save bricks and mortar retail. When Johnson announced his vision for the company stock prices soared. He wanted to create small store experiences within the large department stores and a square where events could happen. Johnson wanted to make the department store a place where people came to be, not just to shop.

To execute on this vision he decided to change the traditional J.C. Penney discounting pricing strategy. This change in the story that J.C. Penney’s core customers believed about price (one that the company had trained them to believe) stopped loyal customers coming and ultimately led to a 37% drop in the company’s market value. The financial results also lost Johnson his position as CEO after only 17 months.

Pricing is not logical. Neither is how we attribute value in a marketplace.

All retailers have a pricing strategy that customers come to understand and each one is different. I know that I will pay a firm, premium price for Dior. I understand that the price of a cup of coffee at my local cafe is the actual price and that I can’t get a deal on it just by asking. I know that I won’t get a discount on a new iPhone from Apple. The strategy for those businesses is to create truth on the price tag.

Sometimes the marked price is set up to create the illusion of savings. This strategy encourages loyalty from the kind of customer who wants a deal. The sticker price (which is then discounted) gives him the feeling that he has saved money. This customer gets satisfaction from telling himself a story about the deal he got.

J.C. Penney’s customers had been trained to believe ‘the deal’ pricing story. The feeling of getting the deal was part of the reason they shopped there. When the new leadership team quickly changed that story to one about firm, fair prices every day, it didn’t resonate with the people who regularly shopped there. Customers didn’t understand why things had changed—they felt like something had been taken away.

Price, like design, location or quality is part of your brand story—one you are asking customers to believe in. You get to choose the story you want to tell and who you want to tell it to.
It pays to understand what story the people you choose to serve want to believe.

Image by Matt Becker

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