3 Resource Allocation Questions to Ask for Better Returns

Here are three questions data-driven marketers and those in customer-focused functions need to ask in order to evaluate their resource allocation during uncertain times.

These are obviously times of great uncertainty and change. Smart business people know that with change comes new opportunities. Somewhere, entrepreneurial spirits are already making bets and shifting strategies. There is another powerful axiom, however, which rarely gets enough airtime during times of change: In times of uncertainty, focus on what is certain. One certainty in business is that resources can always be better relocated to achieve better returns.

Unless you are one of the lucky businesses booming in these times, there will be budget cuts. This is the perfect time to reevaluate resource allocations using an agile, data-driven picture of your business. Considering that there are few industries untouched by COVID-19, agile decisions will need to be made based on sparse but recent data.

Here are three questions data-driven marketers and those in customer-focused functions need to ask in order to evaluate their resource allocation.

1. Do I know who my best customers are and are they okay? Your best customers should be based on current sales and lifetime value. Yes, your best customers today are important. However, most businesses survive on the 20% to 30% of customers who are consistently loyal and profitable over many years. Once you have identified the most important customers, you should evaluate if their buying behaviors are changing and why? How can you reallocate resources to better serve this segment?

2. Do I know the channels where most of my business comes from and is it under threat? The first step to answer this question should involve a data-driven accounting of your marketing and sales channels. However, some of your most influential channels may be the most difficult to track. Therefore, it is important that you establish or refresh your multi-touch attribution models so that you can better allocate sales to channels. Right now, it might be very tempting to simply rely on direct attribution or easily measurable channels. After all, this approach feels more certain, but it is rarely the right answer.

3. Do I have the data I need to make quick decisions? If your data was messy and hard to work with before COVID-19, then it will be even less helpful now. This might be the right time to think about the minimal data needed to make agile decisions. The word minimal is critical here as the more data you collect, the more complex the solutions become, and agility diminishes. Do you know what measures are most important? Do you need to spend resources on agile data-driven capabilities?

What Matters Is the Perception of Value, Not So Much the Product

A lot has been written recently on how the perception of value rather than a formularized multiple of “cost” can help guide your pricing decisions. If you can honestly get the customer to perceive a higher value for your product than a simple markup on cost, it permits you a higher ROMI and a greater ACPO.

A lot has been written recently on how the perception of value rather than a formularized multiple of “cost” can help guide your pricing decisions.

In a previous blog post, I recounted the story of the “thank you” gift given to the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil by the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce. He presented Madame Ambassador with a small blue Tiffany box and said:

“Here is a small gift to show our appreciation for your support.”

Her answer should be writ large on Tiffany’s advertising.

“There is no such thing as a small gift from Tiffany.”

That says it all. Imagine that whatever was in the Tiffany blue box had actually been purchased less expensively from some other source. Would anyone question that the gift’s perceived value grew exponentially when it appeared to be from Tiffany? I remember a humorous ad in the university newspaper offering Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, and J. Crew labels to sew into your discount purchased garments to upgrade them by endowing them with the right Ivy League cachet. Somebody understood the magic of perception.

If you haven’t watched Flint McGlaughlin’s excellent presentation from MECLABS Institute you should. His insights make a very strong case for his pricing methodology, which is really worth studying.

Pricing of products or services is one of the key strategic aspects of all businesses. It is fairly easy to look at what your competitor is doing and use that as a benchmark. But “me-too” market pricing is seldom enough and certainly not the way to have a big success. If you can honestly get the customer to perceive a higher value for your product than a simple markup on cost, it permits you not only a higher ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) but it also often provides a greater allowable cost per order (ACPO) — more money with which to promote, more customers and, hopefully, greater profits.

The profusion of “subscription” offers in the marketplace is testament to the simple economic truth that if you can engage or enroll someone in a program of purchases, the likelihood of being able to transform a “product” into a “service” is greatly enhanced. And services tend to have higher margins. You may remember the story of the 40 or so Microsoft executives in Brazil who, when asked how many had subscriptions, very few hands went up. But when asked how many had Netflix, virtually all of the hands went up. Netflix had managed to eliminate the negative perception some people have to a “subscription” simply by not using the dreaded “S” word.

What has been surprising is that Netflix competition’s pricing appears to have been forced down to undercut Netflix. Looking at all of the streamers, there appears to be much too little effort to segment customers, to determine their individual perceptions of the value of the services (other than to see how many people subscribe and at what cost) and to reengineer the offerings to cater to perceived values. As Rafi Mohammed, the founder of “Culture of Profit,” wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

A one-price-fits-all strategy fails to acknowledge the simple fact that for any product or service, customers have unique needs and a different willingness to pay. With few rivals, mandating all-you-can-watch pricing was once tolerable. But to win in today’s competitive market, streaming companies need to step up their pricing strategies by offering choices to better accommodate the needs of their customers.

He hits the jackpot when he observes, “ … customers have unique needs and a different willingness to pay” and these needs and this willingness are driven, to a significant degree, by how much each customer perceives the services to be worth. That perception reflects the subscriber’s assessment of the channel’s content. For certain affluent customers, the more content that is unique and the subscriber “believes” will meet his/her tastes, the more likely to purchase a premium package, especially if it has “exclusive” content. The couch potato who is less choosy and has a tighter budget will probably go for the cheapest option.

As we can see in this example, the pricing has little to do with the product and service “costs,” which are probably similar for both the premium and economy versions. What matters is the perception of value.

If you don’t embrace the reality that perception may matter more than some other criterion for pricing and how your prospect looks at your offering, you may never have given anyone a little blue box from Tiffany.

The Danger of a Single Story for Marketers in the Age of Storytelling

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

Facebook stories drive SEO and build our network, so we can troll for new business. Instagram tells our stories visually and helps our brands come alive. Linkedin allows us to tell our business stories to peers and prospects in a “news” orientation.

Our websites, white papers, and content marketing are written just like classic novelettes. A teaser to create intrigue, a climax that builds with all of the reasons a customer needs us and needs us now, and a conclusion for how customers can get what they need from us. For a price.

Brands that win the most likes, posts, shares, retweets and resulting web traffic, live traffic and ultimately sales  are those same brands that know how to tell the best stories. Stories about our founders, our values, our products, our mission, and how customers can be part of our tribe. Patagonia is a master storyteller. Its catalogues read like diaries in the life of a customer who is living the life we’d like to live: canoes over white water to school, rock climbs at 80 years old, treks in Asia with sherpas, and more. In fact, its stories have been so well-received Patagonia’s published several books with content from its catalogues which you can buy on Amazon. True story!

Most reading this post likely have mastered the art and science of crafting solid brand stories and sharing them across all of the diverse communications channels we use today. So let’s shift perspective for a moment and look at storytelling another way.

What Are the Stories of Your Customers?

We invest enormous energy into CRM programs and systems that tell us about customer transactions, anniversary dates, revenue spend, demographics, and so on. This information helps us form “mass personalization,” as we lump them into categories of like customers and try to make them feel singularly special. They’ve caught on. Personalization at this level does little for sales and loyalty these days. Largely because we are telling a Single Story and trying to make it fit many diverse people.

My amazing daughters introduced me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author famous for her TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story.”

She points out just how much people within all societies look at others, issues, the world from the lense of a single story, instead of multiple stories that, when combined, present a more accurate story of a person, a population, an issue, culture, a brand, and a customer. She discusses what it was like to go from Nigeria to school in the U.S. and how she was put into a story that others believed, as it was the only one they knew

You are from Africa. You must be poor, hungry, uneducated, and so much more.

Marketers are so often guilty of listening to and acting upon a single story when it comes to our customers. Women in a given demographic all shop alike, want the same products, have the same values. Men from coastal cities like purses, men from middle America do not. We craft our customer profiles around these stories and build messaging, content workflows, and experiences, accordingly. And it works, to a limited degree.

But what if we went a little deeper in researching our customers, so we could really tell amazing stories about them or to them that really struck at their heart and soul?

What if we asked them for their stories? Not testimonials about how wonderful we are; but instead, stories about them? How they feel about the world in which we live? Their communities? What inspires and moves them in life? How they like to spend their free time? Their favorite jobs, hobbies, and so on?

If we could create customer profiles that go deeper than transactions captured in our CRM systems, we would see our customers from many different perspectives. We would know what moves them to do what they do, choose what they do, and how we might be able to be part of a more meaningful story than just what they value enough to buy. In other words, a story about their life.

Takeaways

Slow down for a moment and listen to your customers speak about anything BUT your product. Discover those fascinating stories that make customers more than statistics. Move away from the “Danger of a Single Story” about customer groups you manage and sell to. As you do, you could just compete with Patagonia someday for the top-selling book on loyal customers!

The Silent Killers for Brands Aren’t What Marketers Expect

What marketers expect is that we marketers must address human emotion when building out a customer experience. How we address these emotions can make the difference between brands that survive chaotic times and those that do not.

As much as we like hitting the snooze button when those wake-up calls come in “the morning after,” the results can often turn the best dreams into nightmares.

Recall the day after the 2016 presidential election, when thousands took to the streets, protesting and chanting “Not My President”? One of the many insights that came out of those protests was the fact that many of those protesting had not even voted. They, like countless other voter-age American citizens, had taken it for granted that their candidate was so far ahead in the polls that they didn’t have to make the effort to stand in line and fill out the bubbles on their ballot. One vote won’t change the outcome, right?

Complacency not only elected a president who has very likely been the most controversial and least respected of any U.S. president in decades, but it contributed to a change in the American psyche. People seem to be more outspoken about their opinions on politics and politicians than in the past, and don’t seem to hold back their corresponding emotions much, either. Many select their tribe, based upon posts and likes that support their now very vocal positions on issues and the people behind them. The lines seem to be drawn and few seem to be willing to change, or even smudge the boundaries.

The display of emotions around Trump’s election are examples of the human emotions we marketers must address when building out a customer experience. How we address these emotions can make the difference between brands that survive chaotic times and those that do not. As marketers, we are constantly developing programs to keep customers positively charged about our brands — enthusiastic, excited, engaged, and delighted.

What we don’t take time to do much is assess our own emotions about our customers.

  • Are we as excited about them as we want them to be about us?
  • Are we delighted when we engage with them?
  • Or are we, like many voters in 2016, apathetic and complacent?

These are important questions to ask ourselves. Consumers have learned to not sit quietly, to not take situations for granted, and they have learned to build consensus and communities to support their views and opinions and help others do the same.

This week while visiting Boston, my daughters witnessed voter registration taking place outside the Statehouse — where people were being sworn in as citizens. Voter registration groups did not take for granted that these new citizens would go register on their own and go vote now that they could. They made it easy, simple, and fast to register and join their “tribe” of voters ready for Election Day 2020.

Reverse marketing tactics are key for brands to really engage in mutually beneficial relationships. Consider doing to your own teams what you do with your customers:

  1. Survey Your Marketing, Sales, Customer Care, and All Employees who interact with your customers. Ask them how they feel about customers. Do they enjoy interacting with customers? Do they find it fulfilling to fill a need? Close a deal? Exceed expectations? Why and Why not? Are customers appreciative, grateful, or just going through the actions? These answers will tell you a lot about your customers’ attitudes toward your brand.
  2. Create Branding Campaigns for Your Staff. Communicate the emotional value you offer customers to your staff, so they can strive to create similar emotional outcomes in each interaction. And then create experiences that create those same experiences for employees. Delight your employees. Trigger those feelings of dopamine and oxytocin that create a sense of belonging. When you love your tribe, you love to get others to join to validate your place in that world. If this weren’t so, religions wouldn’t have missionaries who succeed in bringing others to the fold.
  3. Offer Loyalty: What are you doing to keep your employees loyal? It goes beyond just delighting them with ping pong tables, draft beer, on-site laundry, and other perks. What are you doing to create communities that make them feel secure and appreciated, like the communities you create online to make your customers feel like they belong to something really cool that other brands do not offer? Fun, collaborative, and rewarding communities matter and they make us want to stay with that community, despite attractive offers.

While we are building relationships with our staff and customers, keeping the staff our customers learn to love is critical! That seriously needs to take priority over customers’ loyalty, as losing one staff member who 10 customers depend on and love to work with could lose us 10 loyal customers. Not a small loss.

Complacency not only elects unlikely candidates, it kills brands. Just these three simple steps can create the kind of engagement between employees and your customers that take price and competitors out of the equation at the same time!

When Brands Apologize, Customers Often Listen and Forgive

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”? Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances.

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”?

Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances. I see it constantly on Twitter, and have admittedly participated myself, when air travel goes terribly wrong or quality falls short of expectations.

The good news is that it’s recoverable.

Brands that react swiftly, thoughtfully, and transparently are the ones who win. And by win, I mean they don’t necessarily lose customers as a result of their actions, inaction or missteps.

This week alone, two retailers were seemingly insensitive to their female customers and perceived as body-shaming the very people they want to empower.

Macy’s

Macy’s was called out in one tweet that received 48,000 likes and 6,000 comments for plates by a company called Pourtions that were highly controversial for their message. Intended to bring humor to the concept of portion control, the dinner plates feature a large ring that read “Mom Jeans,” a smaller ring that read “Favorite Jeans,” and an even smaller ring that read “Skinny Jeans.”

Macy’s responded by apologizing and vowing to remove the plates from their stores. Of course, not everyone in the Twittersphere agreed with this decision. But it does show a sense of responsibility for its products and consideration for its customers.

Forever 21

Forever 21 also came under fire this week for sending Atkins bars in online orders with plus size merchandise. They’re not just good at fast fashion, but they also showed they can deliver a fast reaction.

In response to press coverage of the “snafu,” Forever 21 said:

“From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders. The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time, and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way.”

In this case, I think the word “test” is a critical one. If Forever 21 had done some market research and testing, perhaps it would have learned that a partnership with a brand like Atkins, that is depicted as a diet company, could be detrimental to its brand perception.

Conclusion

The merchandise you sell, the partners you align with, the sites where your ads run, the people you hire, the way you respond to criticism — all of these decisions impact your customers and shape your brand identity.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Here’s the Customer Psychology You’ve Shown You Care About, Marketers

Customer psychology helps marketers design campaigns. Emotion drives many purchases, even in B2B circles. And considering all I write about is customer psychology, let’s look at what aspects of it interested you the most during these past six months.

Customer psychology helps marketers design campaigns. Emotion drives many purchases, even in B2B circles. And considering all I write about is customer psychology, let’s look at what aspects of it interested you the most during these past six months.

The science behind this analysis is based on posts you’ve clicked on and read, according to Target Marketing’s site analytics. These appear to be persistent favorites, as I only published one of them during the past six months. So you’ve been interested in and reading these posts for awhile — one since 2016. Parse.ly says these are the top posts you’ve read, marketers:

‘Persuasive Copy That Sells: It’s Not About the Words’

This opinion piece from Jan. 15 is your clear favorite, with almost four times as many hits as No. 4, “3 Customer Experience Tips for Marketers to Reduce Churn.”

So the psychology behind how you communicate with your customers is top-of-mind for marketers.

The column says:

“Smart consumers don’t believe marketing any more. We’ve used those lines way too long and not delivered on promises we’ve made. Conscious choices are built upon values, personality and giving natures of brands.”

Among the post’s 17 comments, many of which disagreed with me, is this from “Tony, the Pitiful Copywriter”:

“I find it easier to test and measure the results of an offer than a touchy-feely campaign. Don’t get me wrong, those campaigns are cool and moving the needle forward for someone. At the end of the day (hate that phrase), I gotta sell stuff to customers.”

He has a point. But that point may be missing the big picture. My response was:

“Hi Tony, thanks for reading and commenting. Traditional marketing will never go away. At the same time, the ROI and response will never be what it was years ago; and I don’t believe it will match the results we get now from highly relevant, psychologically based marketing [campaigns]. I see it in my own work. My copy that engages what matters deep in a person’s psyche has produced 20-year champions for brands across B2B and B2C. Price engages, of course; but not as much as it used to … Just read Cone Communications’ reports on how it matters less than CSR to about 90% of consumers today.”

‘What’s Your Brand Schema?’ 

This post from Nov. 1, 2016, is No. 2.

This is still true:

“Chances are, you don’t know what I’m talking about and creating your brand schema has never been a line item on your marketing to-do list. Yet in today’s cluttered word of information overload, understanding schema is more critical than polishing your content, engagement and customer service strategies. True, because if you don’t understand the schema that drives the attitudes, beliefs and interest in your brand, your other programs simply won’t work.

“So what is schema? Simply put, psychologists define our collective preconceived ideas about just about anything as schema or our mental framework of thoughts, attitudes, beliefs that drive our values and behavior. Our schemas produce automatic thoughts on which our opinions and beliefs are built, and no amount of evidence can change our minds. Just like Facebook posts, political speeches and debates don’t change our voting choices, brands’ promises, messages and claims don’t change our attitudes or propensity to engage if they don’t meet our ‘reality,’ which is based upon what we choose to believe vs. what brands want us to believe. As mentioned in last month’s post on marketing messages falling on deaf ears, we even choose which scientific evidence to believe and what not to believe.

“For marketing purposes, schema is your customers’ ‘reality’ vs. your own. And when the two don’t twine, you spend a lot of time effort and money on marketing that just doesn’t produce results that will reach your company’s goals and advance your individual career. Not good, either way.”

‘The Psychology of Rewards’

Marketers have evolved loyalty programs a lot since my post from Aug. 15, 2017. But customers’ motivations for joining the programs haven’t changed.

Extrinsic motivation, or our behavior which is driven by the anticipation of being rewarded by others for engaging in specific behaviors, drives much of the choices we make in life — how we perform our jobs and what products we chose to buy.

“And down deep, that motivation is linked to what I’ve said before is our greatest psychological driver: our survival DNA. Unconsciously, rewards help us feel like we are getting closer to that place in life where we have what we need to survive the daily battle to fulfill needs and wants that propel us ahead of the pack.”

‘3 Customer Experience Tips for Marketers to Reduce Churn’

Even though customers are telling brands that customer experience is more and more important to them, they’re becoming less and less satisfied with how well marketers are providing these experiences.

The post from May 7 cites research from Qualtrics-owned Temkin Group and my interview with David Morris, CMO of Proformex, marketing advisor to Resilience Capital, and respected authority on SaaS marketing.

He says:

“We spend thousands of dollars and huge amounts of time marketing to customers, and in some cases, a year or more to convert a lead to a customer. And then we lose a customer in a matter of months. When this happens, you spend a lot more money getting customers than you get back in revenue, and that is not a sustainable way to operate a business.”

Conclusion

Based on all of this, it seems as though marketers are serious about understanding their customers. This is good news for everyone. Because I love talking with you about customer psychology. Is there anything I haven’t covered that you’d like to talk about? I’ll read your suggestions in the comments section below.

Questions to Ask When Planning Direct Mail Campaigns

In order to create direct mail campaigns that ignite more response, you need to ask the right questions at the planning stage. Your ROI is dependent on the choices you make in your mail strategy. The wrong questions can lead to poor direct mail response. The right questions help us empower our team to think outside of the box and create better mail pieces.

In order to create direct mail campaigns that ignite more response, you need to ask the right questions at the planning stage. Your ROI is dependent on the choices you make in your mail strategy. The wrong questions can lead to poor direct mail response. The right questions help us empower our team to think outside of the box and create better mail pieces.

What questions should be asked when planning a direct mailing campaign?

  1. What are our goals? Make a list of each goal so that everyone on the team knows them and why they are important.
  2. What are the advantages from our last mailing? List any of the good things from the last mailing. This could be results, mailing list, images, etc. Make sure to be specific.
  3. What are the disadvantages from our last mailing? List anything bad about the last mailing, and be specific.
  4. What ideas do we have to improve? List out improvement suggestions. Do not filter any out at this time, just write them all down.
  5. What do customers expect from us? Make a list of your customer’s expectations of you and your product/service. If you don’t know, you need to ask them.
  6. What is our customer’s greatest pain? In order to solve problems for your customers, you need to know what they are. List them in order of biggest to smallest.
  7. How can our product or service fix that pain? Use the list you just created to solve the problem for each one.
  8. What are the most powerful benefits our product or service creates for customers? List all your benefits in order of most significance.
  9. How certain are we about whom our customers are? Are you just making assumptions? Find out how you know information about your customers and make sure that it is true.
  10. What are the design possibilities? Now is the time to get creative, list all the fun ideas you can. During brainstorming do not scratch any off the list, just compile all the ideas to whittle down later.
  11. What are we missing? There is always something lurking that we forgot. Make sure to take the time to try and find out what that is.
  12. What are our competitors doing? It is a good idea to sign up for the mailing and email lists of your competitors. You can do that under a different family name if you wish, but keeping tabs on what they are doing can help you shape your mail strategy. You can exploit their weaknesses.
  13. What resources do we need? Many times you will not have everything you need, having a list of all resources will help to ensure you stay on top of everything in a timely manner.
  14. Do we need help from outside the organization? Most companies are not able to execute a mailing campaign without outside help. Make sure you have trusted resources that can complete items for you when you need them.

After you answer all these questions and document your strategy, it is a good idea to reach out to your mail service provider to get their input. You may need to make some changes before you print and mail. They can guide you on postal regulations, as well as what has worked well for others. The better planning you do before you mail, the better your results are going to be. Are you ready to get started?

Why Brands Like Shiny New Objects

While hanging onto shiny new objects may be the death trap for racoons, it’s just the opposite for brands. Brands like shiny new objects because customers do, too.

While hanging onto shiny new objects may be the death trap for racoons, it’s just the opposite for brands. Brands like shiny new objects because customers do, too.

Price, convenience, quality, variety and even good customer service is not enough to keep customers hanging on anymore. When a brand meets basic expectations, customers easily let go and move on in search of the shiny new object that sparks their interest, enthusiasm and fulfills their passion. However, when a brand offers the unexpected, customers often latch on and won’t let go; no matter how great competitors’ offers or incentives become.

But in a market where customer expectations run high, just what makes for a shiny object that keeps customers connected until the very end?

We know its not the clever ads, free content and rotating digital banners that chase consumers around the web. And we know its not reputation or how many likes your last Facebook post got over your competitors’ posts. One thing that does shine and shines bright is value. Extra value you can’t get anywhere else, even if it does not have a great monetary value, often gets consumers to latch on hard and long.

Just like the racoons, we consumers go for the shiniest value for most of what we choose and buy, luxury products excluded. We do silly things like drive in circles until we find the store that gives us more than we expected. Something as small as a free coffee with a gas tank refill, or the tenth carwash for free, or a free cookie with a deli sandwich purchase can do it. Value works for consumer purchases and business purchases, alike.

In the often cut-throat B2B market, the pressure is on to do more with less, and so purchasers seek greater value than the products they buy.

Negotiations for business contracts, whether it be for SaaS, ERP systems, paper supplies, printers or medical devices, are no longer just about price. They are about “what else can you give me” more often than not. And when asked, most suppliers negotiate and add in a few perks to close the deal. The key, however, is to offer that shiny new object, or maybe two or three, before they ask.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Rewards for Quantity: It’s nothing new to offer something for free in exchange for volume of purchases. So if you’re not doing this right now, find a way to do it. And soon. You can do this in any industry and it works. Consider your own purchases. You’re still with a specific airline or hotel brand, as you know you’ll get rewarded for volume with free stays or flights.
  2. Consulting or Tech Support at No Extra Cost: While tech support and training is a good revenue stream for many industries, it’s also something you can afford to offer for free, at some level, to those customers who impact your bottom line the most. Find ways to chunk out your training or support offerings into modules you can give away as added value for VIP customers without ruining your revenue streams.
  3. Offer Your Experts: Every brand has experts who are industry-leading in one way or another. Who are yours? And how can you offer their expertise to customers as part of an added value program?

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of promoting the dull objects that have lost their appeal. And likely won’t be appealing again.

Essentially, there are many forms of shiny objects that attract customers and/or keep customers. It’s really all about understanding your customers, what matters most to them and what you have to offer that shines far brighter than offerings from others in your space.

For Sustainable Sales, Follow the Herd

One cannot spend even a day in Yellowstone National Park and not be moved by the many lessons learned from nature that apply to so many aspects of our lives, including sustainable sales — as the title implies. For me, two days at this spectacular park just this week did not disappoint or leave me not pondering the amazing wisdom animals of nature share with us. It was the American Buffalo that moved me the most.

One cannot spend even a day in Yellowstone National Park and not be moved by the many lessons learned from nature that apply to so many aspects of our lives, including sustainable sales — as the title implies. For me, two days at this spectacular park just this week did not disappoint or leave me not pondering the amazing wisdom animals of nature share with us. It was the American Buffalo that moved me the most.

Just a few miles into the wilderness toward Lamar Valley, we encountered a Buffalo — AKA, Bison Jam. A herd of about 200 head decided to cross the highway, and take their sweet time standing in the road staring at us humans as they ate sagebrush and rounded up their families. It was hard not to notice “couples” together, grunting as they nudged the same young ones and then crossed together as a group and stayed together on the other side of the road.

And it was not hard to see how the herd was all very much aware of all of the others and what they were doing and where they were going — once they decided to get off of the road. And then we heard stories of how a few months earlier, a herd circled a young calf that was not able to walk well, and fought off a pack of wolves trying to get to it.

And beyond the Buffalo, the herds of elk all running together toward safety, and then learning how they communicate with each other about where to move and when to assure their “community’ is safe. Even trees that share a root system know when one of them is in need and when it’s time to share their nutrients to keep others in their woods or “tribe” alive.

Nature is wired to be part of a community, to help others, and to stay together; in order to thrive as one, or as a tribe. Like the buffalo, elk and all species of life that share this world with us, we need others. We need to be with others who are like us. It is what makes us safe, secure, and makes us confident to try something new, different and be bold.

Studying human psychology, not just animals in nature, we discover just how inherent “community” is in our psyche, and our survival DNA. We need to be with others — whether being with others gives us power, resources, security, socialization or love; we cannot thrive when alone.

We saw lone buffalo that left the herd, and these were those that were injured and just didn’t appear to be thriving. These buffalo were those that were left vulnerable to the threats of wolves and lions that share their same landscape.

And Yes, There Is a Marketing Lesson About Sustainable Sales in All of This

Brands traditionally treat customers as individuals. And that is what we have spent millions learning how to master with our data modeling and segmentation strategies and technology. We personalized for personas and down to individual transactions and preferences. And we marketers are excited and proud of just how 1:1 we can get.

But wait a minute. Instead of stopping and being proud of how “individual” we make our customers feel, what if we put just as much effort into making them feel a part of “tribe,” a “herd” or a “flock”? The same formations that we observe in nature that help animals not just survive in the wild, but thrive? What if we found a way to bring customers together in communities based on what we know about them individually and enabled them to the power, confidence, excitement and joy of belonging?

I remain amazed at how many brands do not build “community” into their marketing programs and instead focus only on “individualization” which, trite as it is to say, is so “last decade.”

We marketers need to build programs beyond our products that bring customers together and make them feel safe, secure, valued, recognized, and part of something bigger and more rewarding than their ability to make a purchase — whether it be $100,000 luxury car that puts them in the VIP “clubs” for Jaguar, Lexus and more, or a smartphone that makes them seem more “cool” and artistic than perhaps they really are.

Automobile companies have done this for years, and it has always paid off, even when the quality of their machines was poor. Saturn, now in the dead brand graveyard, rallied 30,000 or more customers to events to celebrate the Saturn and meet others in their “tribe.” Harley Davidson’s HOGS — Harley Owners Group — has around 1 million members who get together with friends and strangers, for a ride organized by Harley, and ride some of nature’s best highways and byways, reveling in the joy of riding their beautiful bikes and building friendships that have only one thing in common: They love their bikes, and love talking about the experiences they have with these bikes with others who have the same bikes and similar stories. They bond with each other and they bond even more strongly with the brand that brought them together. That’s even when the joke about Harley’s quality was that you had to have two bikes: One to ride and one for spare parts.

Regardless of your business — whether it’s selling B2B SaaS software to marketing companies, healthcare products or pharmaceuticals, children’s clothing, commodity goods from a corner store, or apps to keep us more addicted to our smartphones — you, too, can build a community.

Here are just a few things to think about:

  • Online: Use your website to create forums for discussion so customers can exchange “fish” stories or battle stories that make them proud to be part of your brand.
  • Offline: Bring customers together for good time and important times. Throw block parties, like Samsung did at Times Square to introduce its latest phone (smaller scale parties work for smaller budgets), or invite customers to join you for neighborhood clean ups, or game hour at the senior center.
  • Referral Networks: Encourage customers to bring others to your herd by offering discounts for friends and discounts or other rewards for those they being to your brand.

These are just a few things you can do to bring people together to share their passions about your brand, and gain the strength and power of numbers, while bonding with each other in ways that keep each other close to your brand.

Marketing to individuals is of course the right path for today’s high-maintenance customers who expect everything to “be all about me.”

Yet when you fail to build communities among your customers, you fail to safeguard your revenue from the threats of competitors. Like tribes in nature, consumers and customers feel secure and powerful when among others just like us, whether we realize it or not.

When you keep customers together through communities that share stories or do good together, you minimize the risk of customers wandering off like lone buffalo, becoming at-risk customers, out of network, where competitors can prey on them and forever take them away. And besides building communities, you’re building sustainable sales.

Improved Marketing ROI Shouldn’t Be Your Metric, This Should

My team often engages in client projects designed to improve marketing outcomes. Many times, clients describe their primary objective as an increased return on marketing dollars or return on investment (ROI). However, this is often the wrong object and their real goal should be improved marketing effectiveness.

My team often engages in client projects designed to improve marketing outcomes. Many times, clients describe their primary objective as an increased return on marketing dollars or return on investment (ROI). However, this is often the wrong object and their real goal should be improved marketing effectiveness.

“That sounds like semantics,” you say? Yes, this is an argument over semantics, and in this case, semantics matter.

When stating the primary objective as improved marketing ROI, the aperture is usually focused on an optimization exercise, which pits financial resources on one side of the equation and levers — such as channel spend, targeting algorithms and A/B testing — on the other side.

A couple of decades ago, marketing analytics recognized that specific activities were easier to link, with outcomes based on data that was readily available. Over time, this became the marketing ROI playbook and was popularized by consultants, academics and practitioners. This led to improved targeting, ad buys and ad content. These improvements are very important, and I would argue that they are still a must-do for most marketing departments today. However, resources are optimally allocated across channels, winning ads identified and targeting algorithms improved, marketing is still not as effective as it can be. Now is when the hard part of building a more effective marketing function actually begins.

For a moment, let’s imagine a typical marketing ROI project from the customer’s perspective. Imagine you are actively shopping for a refrigerator. A retailer uses data to appropriately target you at the right time, across multiple channels, with the right banner ad and a purchase naturally follows, right? Of course not.

  • What about helping you understand the variety of features, prices and brands available?
  • What about helping you understand the value of selecting them over other retailers?
  • What about the brand affinity and trust this process is developing in the consumer’s mind?

Because this purchase journey can play out over weeks or months, these marketing activities are more difficult (but not impossible) to measure and are often left out of the standard ROI project. However, these activities are as impactful as the finely tuned targeting algorithm that brought you to the retailer’s website in the first place.

Back to why semantics over ROI and marketing effectiveness matter. Today, the term “marketing ROI” is calcified within a relatively narrow set of analytical exercises. I have found that using marketing effectiveness as the alternative objective gives license to a broader conversation about how to improve marketing and customer interaction. It also lessens the imperative to link all activities directly to sales. Campaigns designed to inform, develop relationships or assist in eventual purchase decisions are then able to be measured against more appropriate intermediate metrics, such as online activity, repeat visits, downloads, sign-ups, etc.

What makes this work more challenging is that it requires marketers to develop a purposeful and measurable purchase journey. In addition, it requires a clear analytics plan, which drives and captures specific customer behavior, identifies an immediate need and provides a solution so the customer can move further down the purchase journey.

Finally, it requires developing an understanding of how these intermediate interactions and metrics eventually build up to a holistic view of marketing effectiveness. Until marketers can develop an analytical framework which provides a comprehensive perspective of all marketing activity, marketing ROI is merely a game of finding more customers, at the right time and place who will overlook a poorly measured (and, by extension, poorly managed) purchase journey.