My new column for Colloquy has just been published.
You can check it out here.
It’s one thing to expect special treatment, to have all sorts of extras heaped upon us by virtue of some earned status.
Good marketers take care to sort out who their best customers are and then focus on treating them differently in the quest for greater retention and brand advocacy. When we’re not recognized–and then somehow rewarded–for our loyalty, we feel slighted. However, unless the trust was egregiously broken, because of a strong relationship, we’re likely to give the brand another chance.
Bad marketers rely too heavily on one-size-fits-all strategies. They favor the easy over the good. They never make it along the “know me, show me you know me, show me you value me” continuum, because they fail at the very first step.
Yesterday I got an email from Pottery Barn Kids offering me a 15% discount for an online purchase. Now I haven’t bought anything from the Pottery Barn brands in a very long time. But, given my recent divorce and move, I have bought a fair amount from their sister brands (Williams-Sonoma, WS Home and West Elm).
Ignoring that it’s fairly easy to enhance my customer profile with externally purchased data, they should already know quite a bit about me, my shopping behavior and propensities. And I can assure you that absolutely nothing suggests that I would be a good prospect for this offer. In fact, my kids are 17 and 21.
If the marketers at Williams-Sonoma aren’t sharing data across the brands, they need to. If the folks at Pottery Barn used any kind of model, it’s deeply flawed. Either way, they just blew it.
Like most of us, I don’t need my mailbox filled up with irrelevant offers. For brands without any real degree of loyalty it’s far too easy to become victims of the “unsubscribe” button.
In the growing battle for share of attention, when you don’t show me that you know who I am, any little bit of permission you might have had is likely to evaporate. And chances are that permission lost, is permission never to be re-gained.
It’s only when our experience is terrible that we’d settle for average treatment. But what customer truly wants to be average?
Most of the time, we hope brands know us, show us they know us and show us they value us.
And to do that, companies need to break out of a one-size-fits-all paradigm.
It’s not easy. Which is why so many stores are still filled with average products for average people and our mailboxes–virtual and otherwise–are chock-a-bloc with largely irrelevant pitches and promotions.
It also feels safe, even though it’s anything but. Relying on newspaper circulars and big TV ad campaigns and “Super Saturdays” and the same promotional calendar we ran last year, may bathe us in the warm water of familiarity, but more and more mass marketing strategies are delivering less and less.
Getting closer to the customer–making the choice to treat different customers differently–needs to be more than a slogan. It means busting the silos that get in the way of a unified and seamless experience. It means investing in deeper customer insight and the tools and techniques to deliver progressively more personalized interactions. It means embracing a test and learn mentality.
Mostly, it means radical acceptance of the reality that, for most brands, the only way to grow faster than average is to eschew the average.
More and more, the customer is in charge. More and more, your best hope for superior growth–much less staying in business–requires stealing share from the other guys.
Unless you compete primarily on price–and your cost position allows you to win the inevitable race to the bottom–I suggest focusing on three guiding principles if you want to win in an ever noisier, omni-channel world.
The lines between shopping (and media) channels grow more blurry by the day. The growth in mobile is making the demarcation between e-commerce and brick & mortar a distinction without a difference. Increasingly, the blended channel is the only channel.
For companies that hope to thrive, this means taking a sledgehammer to silos. Customer data silos. Inventory silos. Organizational silos. This requires eliminating the friction that exists throughout the consumer’s decision and purchasing journey. It necessitates an intense focus on integrating the way the customer interacts with your brand and connecting all the dots on the back-end.
Ultimately, you may tell yourself you have many channels, but from the customer’s perspective there needs to be one brand and a completely unified experience.
One-size-fits-all marketing strategies are becoming less and less effective. An explosion of choices means the battle for share of attention grows ever more intense. For many brands, it’s the end of mass and the beginning of us.
Understanding us–and consistently delivering remarkably relevant experiences and offers to us–puts a premium on deep customer insight. It requires developing ways to address us uniquely and in context. It requires a commitment to experimentation.
The notion of 1to1 marketing has been with us for some time now. At last, the tools to deliver on the promise are becoming readily available at scale. More importantly, the customer expects us to know them, show them we know them and show them we value them as individuals. Ultimately, he who gets closest to the customer wins.
In many industries there is a pervasive sea of sameness. Similar products and services. Nearly indistinguishable (and relentless) sales and promotions. Undifferentiated branding campaigns. Look-alike designs.
It’s always been a solid strategy to have a unique selling proposition. For a long time we’ve known that word-of-mouth is a brand’s most effective advertising. But in today’s world it’s harder and harder to separate the signal from the noise. Without the remarkable–without your purple cow–at best you’ll tread water. At worst, you are out of business.
Without something meaningful and relevant to amplify about your business it’s hard to imagine why anyone will pay attention for very long. And without a remarkable story to share, it’s hard to imagine how your customers will help amplify your message.
It’s a common practice for e-commerce sites to engage in so-called “A/B testing.” A typical A/B test randomly presents a brand’s current website design against an alternative which might improve results (most often conversion rates).
A variant of this approach has been employed by direct mail practitioners for years. To improve campaign response rates a “challenger” mailing is pitted against the current best performing offer (“the champion”). Database analysis is then used to help evolve the marketing strategy.
For years, structured test and control experiments have been narrowly employed and, for the most part, the province of relatively sophisticated marketing organizations.
Yet in a world where the battle for share of attention is fierce, where relevance is increasingly hard to come by and where whoever gets closest to the customer wins, every organization, big and small, needs to embrace a test and learn mentality.
Sure, it’s desirable to have beautifully designed experiments and statistically relevant sample sizes. But don’t estimate the power of continually presenting your customers with a stream of alternatives and seeing how they react. “Here’s A, here’s B, what do you think?” is sometimes all the protocol you need.
You don’t need Ph.D statisticians. You don’t need complex campaign management software. You don’t need expensive consultants.
What you do need is a willingness to try. And to fail. And to try again.
Amidst all the breathless pronouncements about the inexorable decline of brick and mortar retail emerges an interesting phenomenon: some of the fastest growing and most exciting internet-only brands are opening stores.
Recently, Bonobos raised $55MM largely to accelerate its foray into “Guideshops.” Other e-commerce innovators such as Warby Parker, Trunk Club, Nasty Gal and Bauble Bar are all expanding into physical store fronts. Expect more announcements soon, not only from earlier stage companies, but from larger direct-to-consumer brands as well. This seemingly counter-intuitive trend reflects a few realities.
First, most of these venture capital funded darlings have thrived in their first few years by exploiting a highly specific customer niche and leveraging the heck out of the advantages of a direct-to-consumer model. Alas, the number of customers who are willing to buy product sight unseen, without working directly with a sales person and lacking the instant gratification that physical stores provide, is comparatively small when it comes to product categories where fit, material quality and fabrication are important. For these brands to continue to grow–and have a chance for material profitability–physical locations aren’t a nice-to-do, they are a necessity.
Second, brick and mortar retail is different, not dead. In most product categories, for many, many years to come, the overwhelming majority of sales and profits will continue to come from, or be influenced directly by, physical locations. Regardless of whether a brand started as an actual store or as a virtual entity, the ones that will ultimately win will offer a tightly integrated experience across their various channels and touch-points. They will eschew traditional mass, one-size fits all strategies and embrace more personalized missions. There remains plenty of business to be done in brick and mortar locations–if you have something remarkable and meaningfully customer relevant.
Finally, when we think about the market or the customer we inevitably get it wrong. Global pronouncements about industry dynamics or the “typical” consumer are rarely particularly illuminating and almost never sufficiently actionable. The brands that are winning–the ones that are stealing share from you–go beyond the averages and the mega-trends. They understand how to apply technology to create frictionless commerce. They delve into data and apply customer insights that inform stronger acquisition, growth and retention tactics. They are committed to experimentation. They treat different customers differently. And on and on. None of this is fundamentally rooted in how a brand started or whether trends tend to favor its success.
Of course it’s far from certain that these previously web-only brands will successfully transition to an omni-channel world. Some will stumble mightily. A few will fail completely. Others will see their growth stall at only a handful of profitable locations.
The one thing for certain is that for quite a lot of customers, the benefits of physical shopping are here to stay. For traditional players the rush to close and down-size their store base may have some merit. But it’s equally likely the problem isn’t just the real estate portfolio.
Maybe it’s somehow coded in our genes.
Or maybe society conditions us to mindlessly think that bigger is definitely better; that more is always more.
Perhaps our fear of failure drives us to cover every imaginable base?
Yet the brutal reality is that the list of organizations that require scale to succeed AND can actually pull it off is undeniably short. And friends, I’m here to tell you, chances are neither you nor your organization is on that list.
Alas the pull of mass is undeniable. Let’s reach more people. Let’s gain more subscribers. Let’s try to sell more stuff, regardless of customer relevance or potential for profit.
As media choices explode, and the world becomes ever noisier, our default tendencies seem rooted in casting a wider net and shouting louder. That’s just stupid. It’s also expensive.
The best marketing plans are crystal clear about who the product or service is for and what it takes to become highly relevant and remarkable for that precise audience. By extension, the other thing a great marketing plan does is to declare who the brand is NOT for. As most brands are at the end of the life cycle of mass-driven strategies–or never should have been there in the first place–this is a critical distinction.
Confident brands don’t chase their tail or get sucked into a race to the bottom by reflexively pursuing volume for volume’s sake. They spend their time in search of depth and meaningfulness with their core, not trying to rope some generic somebody into engagement with gimmicks or endless discounts.
More and more, there is great power in knowing who your brand is for and who it most clearly is not.
More and more, there is great freedom in declaring simply and confidently: this is not for you.