Trust Capital Is the New Marketing Gold Standard

Now, more than ever, trust capital may become the new marketing gold standard, joining brand equity as a key metric for valuing a company’s relationship with its customers and prospects.

My father used to caution not to believe everything one heard or read. He was not a cynic but an optimistic realist. Nonetheless, like the majority of his generation, his basic intuition urged him to trust existing institutions and assume (that most dangerous word), that what they were saying or doing was for the common good. “Fake news” had not morphed from the lingua franca to become the lingua twitter.

That’s not always the case anymore. MediaPost shared the following on Mar. 19:

“The news business is battling public distrust. Nearly half of respondents to a new Axios/Ipsos poll said they do not trust traditional media ‘very much or at all” to accurately deliver information about the COVID-19 virus.’”

That distrust should inform how marketers must rethink their approach to customers and prospects as we plunge into a new and uncertain era.

On Jan. 19, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer published this worrisome finding:

“… despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures — government, business, NGOs and media — is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behavior.”

If “disbelief” is the new normal gut reaction to our foundation institutions, it goes without saying that our commercial messages, however well wrapped in engaging narratives are likely to need the “suspension of disbelief” to be effective. That almost certainly means stepping back a little (or a lot) from our “act now” knee-jerk impulses and asking ourselves what we need to do to achieve that “suspension,” to establish the critical trust that my father suggested might be missing.

Building Trust With Customers and Prospects

If we look at the Amazon ethos, building credibility item by item, on-time delivery by on-time delivery, rapid refund by rapid refund, trust impacts each transaction more than efficiency. Not surprisingly, that same Edelman study found “ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability, and purpose drive 76% of the trust capital of business, while competence accounts for only 24%.”

Trust capital may become the new marketing gold standard, joining brand equity as a key metric for valuing a company’s relationship with its customers and prospects.

But how can we measure integrity, dependability and purpose? It may be easier said than done. Perhaps a good starting point is looking backwards.

How much feedback have you had from your customers, especially negative feedback? (We all love compliments but we seldom learn from them.)

One of my first jobs was to read complaint letters, research what had (or had not) gone wrong, and then write for the signature of the CEO, a truly personal answer. The number of “thank you” notes we received was the best lesson you could have in the value of real personalization.

If you don’t have a strong culture of responding to every complaint, not with a form letter or email but with a thoughtful and helpful personal communication, you should put one in place, now. If I can’t talk to a knowledgeable and helpful human being instead of an algorithm, like many others, I’m gone and your trust capital has tanked, or at best, taken a hit.

A recent blog post from Yes Marketing put it this way:

“In a world driven by access to options, an emotional connection with a brand can be the tipping point for consumers when deciding where to spend their dollars.”

You certainly want it to tip your way, and that means doing whatever is necessary to establish and retain that emotional connection and trust.

Whatever we do to build trust capital during these uncertain times, even if not immediately measurable, is certain to pay big dividends when the crisis is past.

 

Is Your Direct Mail Trustworthy? 6 Ways to Make Sure It Is

Direct mail is a very popular and effective marketing channel. According to MarketingSherpa, 76% of people trust ads they receive in the mail. But do they trust yours? If you are not getting the expected response rate on your mail pieces, you could have a trust problem.

Direct mail is a very popular and effective marketing channel. According to MarketingSherpa, 76% of people trust ads they receive in the mail. But do they trust yours? If you are not getting the expected response rate on your mail pieces, you could have a trust problem.

There could be many reasons why your direct mail piece is not trustworthy. In order to get the best ROI, here are some key things to focus on as you design and write copy for your direct mail campaigns.

  • Testimonials  Real reviews from real people make a big difference. Be sure to use reviews that are clear and specific, as they are more believable. Make sure to include their names and, if possible, pictures. Of course only include ones that are relevant to what you are selling on your mail piece.
  • Cluttered — When you provide too much information on your mail piece, it can be confusing. People like skimming, so make it easy for them to understand what you are saying. You don’t want them to feel like you are hiding something in all of that extra copy. Bullet points and bolding will help highlight the most important information.
  • Content — Be direct and specific with your headlines, calls to action, and copy. Be realistic with your statements and promises. Authentic and direct messaging is the best way to build trust. Do what you say and say what you do. Under-promise and over-deliver to build customer loyalty.
  • Dated  Are you writing new copy for each campaign or are you picking up old copy? Check your copy for out-of-date wording. These days, information is changing very quickly. Your copy needs to change, too.
  • Fonts — Your choice of fonts matter. Fonts that are hard to read or super small sizes elicit suspicion. Use easy-to-read fonts. This does not mean you have to stick with Arial or Helvetica; you can still be creative with easy-to-read fonts. Do not use all caps. While it is OK to use smaller font sizes for less important information, there is no reason to use a 6pt font size on your direct mail.
  • Images — Are you using images with just your product in them, or are you using images where people are using your products? People relate to other people; make sure that you use images that include people.

Clear and compelling messaging is necessary to make the right impression. You only have a few seconds before you end up in the trash.. Your message is your brand promise; it cannot be vague and open to interpretation. This also includes over-promising or using bait-and-switch tactics. These things leave a very bad impression about you and your products or services.

People buy from people and companies they trust. Are you one of them? It’s not just what you say on your mail pieces, it’s how you say it that matters most. Honesty is the best policy, so stick to the golden rule. The colors you choose affect your prospects’ and customers’ moods, so make sure you are using the correct colors to go with your message. Not sure what the colors mean? Check out the colors post. Now you are set to create the most effective direct mail campaigns.

Discovering ‘FOTU’ in 2020 Marketing and Beyond

While its not hard “see” the above issues as they dominate news channels, it is sometimes hard to see how each may impact the success of our 2020 marketing efforts. At the end of the day, no clever campaign, no amount of social likes and shares, and no volume of media purchases can compensate for FOTU.

Making this post about “seeing clearly in 2020” is nothing short of trite and cliché. However, being  able to see all of the influences, attitudes, concerns, myths, and facts that inform and drive consumer behavior will be the difference between success and failure as we enter the new “roaring” ’20s.

And no surprise or argument here, but we are off to a roaring start. We’ve got an impeachment trial, a threatening war, an economy that is certainly uncertain, a pending election, and growing domestic issues like homelessness that are impacting communities and economies, nationwide.

While its not hard “see” the above issues as they dominate all news channels all day every day, it is sometimes hard to see how each may impact the success of our 2020 marketing efforts. And we need to take a long, deep look: Because at the end of the day, no clever campaign, no amount of social likes and shares, and no volume of media purchases can compensate for the FOTU (fear of the unknown), which is a close cousin to FOMO (fear of missing out).

Just some of the things we need to see, under a microscope, as we move toward perfect vision in 2020 include:

How Political Turmoil Affects Confidence in the Economy and, Thus, Spending

Think about it for a minute. No matter where you stand on current events, a supporter or not, all the negative energy we hear daily gets in your head. You can’t help but feel disgust with one side of the story for what you have learned to believe is “propaganda, contrived, politically motivated, or just plain deceit.” Whether it is or not, it affects you. Your brain gets muddled with harsh words, angry vocal tones, contradictions, and consciously and unconsciously your vessel gets full of chaos.

And when chaos strikes, we slow down, often giving into the fear of the unknown and hold onto what we have. We stop thinking of what we “want” and start focusing on what we need. We spend more on what we want vs. what we need and so when that mindset changes, so does our spending behavior.

Regardless of where you and your customers sit on the political fence, you need to present a brand that can calm the chaos, provide order or realism in a world that seems to have gone too deep into the fake side and chaotic uncertainty. And most importantly, you cannot take sides or you, too, become part of the chaos.

How a New Era of ‘Truth’ Impacts Consumer’s Trust in Society and, Ultimately, Brands

Lies, alternative facts, partial truths, misleading statements, altered statistics, and other little demons of communications strategies have gone from prevalent to accepted. As shocking as it is to see authorities and leaders and consumers and friends in our society defend what once was considered wrong, or still is considered wrong for non-politicians, it is more so, at least to me, shocking to see how many people are fine with it. This leads to a new standard of double standards and right vs wrong vs partially right or partially wrong. These attitudes create a new standard of trust that transcends community and political leadership, and brands. As we accept non-truths or misleading behavior in any aspect of our society, we learn to expect it. So if we accept it on a political and governing level, we tend to believe that everyone is guilty of the same behavior. So we learn to safely believe no one and nothing, including all of those claims of service and product quality, added values, and rewards of membership. We simply don’t believe as much as we used to and have learned to filter what we choose to believe, which is many cases, is very little.

Do a self check. Be honest. Are you more skeptical now than you were in three years ago? Five years ago?

What Consumers Want to Hear, Believe, and Who They Listen to

Even though you are not going to change your truth to fit the emotional needs of your customers, you have to pay attention, and close attention, to what your target audiences want to hear. As I’ve mentioned in my many other columns, we throw out truths, facts, and evidence if it doesn’t fit our construct of the world as we want to see it. What do you customers want to see? Again, don’t change your truth and put your integrity on the line for sales and profits. But do know what those issues are, as it gives you a glimpse of your customers’ values and what messages are likely to resonate with those values. Are they conservative? Liberal? Stay focused on messages that reflect the traditions that guide them.

Regardless of where you see your brand going in 2020,  take time to look deeply at what is happening around your customers, and how those happenings or “reported” happenings affect the mindset of your constituents. Does it add to FOTU, FOMO? Or spark heated debates on Facebook or across the fences? Survey your customers and learn what moves them, what scares them, what inspires them.

Ask much more than the typical NPS question and customer satisfaction questions. When you do, you will not only gain that 2020 vision, you set your brand up to roar in the best of the ‘20s yet to come.

Marketers’ New Year’s Resolution: ‘I Will Give Customers More T-R-A’

The turning of the calendar may mean a new fiscal year for many marketing organizations, but there is one constant that remains paramount for customer-centric enterprises:  TLC (tender loving care) and how we demonstrate such sentiments to our prospects, customers, and donors — whomever applies.

The turning of the calendar may mean a new fiscal year for many marketing organizations, but there is one constant that remains paramount for customer-centric enterprises: TLC (tender loving care) and how we demonstrate such sentiments to our prospects, customers, and donors — whomever applies.

According to its most recent survey of more than 13,400 C-suite leaders, IBM is recommending data users to pursue another approach in their efforts to build consumer trust: T-R-A, as in transparency, reciprocity, and accountability. See the IBM report, “Build Your Trust Advantage: Leadership in the Age of Data and AI Everywhere” (Opens as a PDF)

The report states:

“To satisfy the modern requirement for trust, leading organizations are adopting three basic principles as their guide: transparency, reciprocity, and accountability. Each provides assurance to customers, but is more than good marketing. These principles are the scaffolding that supports the modern enterprise, remade to propagate trust.”

In a time when trust is increasingly harder to earn — and where consumers question the data-for-value exchange — one may think to shun the data quest. But that is not the correct course of action, nor a viable option, at all. Instead, the answer is to triple up efforts — to seek out and ensure higher quality data sources, to ensure chain-of-trust on permissions and consumer controls, and to hold ourselves and data partners accountable for results.

According to IBM, enterprise leaders — “torchbearers” — have fused their data and business strategies as one. “The torchbearers defy data fears, enhancing the trust of customers.”  Eighty-two percent say they use data to strengthen customer trust, compared with 43% of “aspirational” enterprise data users.

So what does T-R-A entail?

Transparency

“Customers demand transparency of data associated with the products and services, and, in the case of personal data, assurances that it’s used in a fair manner and kept safe,” the report states.

Three Keys to Consumer Love: Transparency, Reciprocity and Accountability. | Credit: Pexels.com

And it’s not just about data used in marketing — it’s also about data regarding how products are developed and manufactured, for example, and user reviews and recommendations. Any data that informs the customer journey, and enables the brand promise, really.

Reciprocity

“C-suite executives understand that to get access to data, they have to give something meaningful in return,” the report states. “The challenge? Organizations often don’t know what their customers would consider a fair exchange.”

That’s a fair assessment — as most consumers say they are skeptical about data-sharing benefits; particularly where privacy is concerned. So it is incumbent upon us to discover — probably using data — what truly motivates consumers’ sense of trust and value. I don’t think we do as good a job as we could as brands, and perhaps as an industry, in explaining data’s value to the consumer. Thus, we must do better.

Accountability

“Accountability is synonymous with brand integrity,” the report opined. “To succeed in retaining trust while growing business or expanding into new marketers, marketers need to establish governance and policies to combat cyber risk and protect consumer trust and brand.”

To me, accountability extends beyond data security — and the lawsuits and brand erosion that may follow data breaches. Data governance is closer to the accountability mark: making sure our data supply chains are “clean,” and that they adhere to industry ethics and best practices.

Here’s Wishing You T-R-A in 2020

So I’m hoping my New Year and yours has a lot more T-R-A in the offing. If the consumers equates sharing of data with a loss of privacy, then no one wins — especially the consumer.

 

 

 

Brand Trust in the US May Hit Rock Bottom, So Be Authentic

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse. We may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse.

First, America’s air safety has been put into serious doubt due to delayed action regarding the Boeing 737 MAX ­and its potentially fatal programming. Then, we have reports that the rich and powerful have been bribing the pathway into America’s elite schools for their presumably unqualified kids.

While these news events seem unrelated, I believe they are pivotal events that will drive brand trust to near death levels in the U.S. Granted, brand trust has been on the decline for years, but we may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

How regulators and the airline industry dealt with 737 MAX safety issues is unfolding into a major fiasco. Most countries quickly recognized a pattern after a second 737 MAX plane crashed this month, and they quickly banned the plane from flying in their airspace. The FAA (the U.S.’s air safety regulator) provided Boeing the benefit of the doubt and continued to permit 737 MAX use for several days. Now, the FAA will be fighting the perception (or reality) that it was more interested in protecting Boeing and airlines than it was in protecting the public. On top of that, while the FAA dithered, some airlines made it difficult to cancel or change flights for passengers who, rightfully, no longer wished to fly on the 737 MAX.

If you think the brand trust deficit has been fueled by companies playing lose with customer data, playing loose with customer lives (or the perception of doing so) will be rocket fuel for said deficit.

While consumers ponder how much their lives are worth to regulators and the airline industry, for the vast majority, we found that elite university brands don’t believe we are worth enough to get into their colleges. News that the notoriously difficult and stressful college admissions process can be bypassed by those with the means to provide hefty bribes is retrospectively unsurprising and yet still shocking. Despite the pretentious branding, most everyone trusted that admission to an elite school meant that you were smart and worked hard. That brand trust has been diminished, and more stories of corruption in higher education are likely forthcoming.

What All of This Means for Other Brands

The sad reality is even if your company has not faced negative news, it is impacted — because the default level of brand trust is perhaps the lowest it’s ever been. The “2018 Edelman Trust Barometer” report (opens as a PDF) shows that the decline in U.S. of brand trust has been dramatic from 2017 to 2018 and can only be described as a “crash.” For 2018, among informed consumers, the U.S. ranks dead last in brand trust among 28 major economies (it was sixth place in 2017). Add recent news events and you can image where brand trust might be today. What makes these news events pivotal isn’t their transparent disregard for public trust, but that they involve historically trusted institutions. The FAA has been the reason we are willing to fly new airlines with no safety histories. As for colleges, we trust them with our still-developing young adults and pay ridiculously large sums to them to educate them. If we can no longer trust these institutions, then trust is in crisis.

The Brand Trust Solution

To address the growing trust deficit, it is unlikely more advertising or better content will be sufficient. Companies must learn to be authentic. Authenticity, however, can be very difficult to achieve and only comes together when the whole organization rallies around the brand purpose and the value propositions made to its customers.

Authenticity means saying what you will do, doing what you say and showing that you mean it. And American consumers desperately need it.

Improve Customer Experience by Putting Customers First

We live in the age of transparency. As such, it’s critical to earn your customers’ trust and keep it by improving the customer experience.

We live in the age of transparency. As such, it’s critical to earn your customers’ trust and keep it by improving the customer experience.

Eighty-four percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Treating customers well is more important than ever, yet companies continue to take advantage of customers by focusing on short-term revenue vs. long-term profitability.

Eighty-four percent of Millennials are influenced by user-generated content on your website. (Opens as a PDF). As such, you need customers to share their positive experiences with your brand’s product or service.

You do this by providing a great customer experience, as well as a product that solves the customer’s problem as well or better than expected.

How to Get Customer Experience Right

Amazon will ask if you want to buy the same book you bought six months ago. The company is giving up short-term revenue to ensure you’re not buying something you don’t need. It’s reinforcing the trust you’ve already placed in the brand.

When is the last time your bank warned you before you incurred an overdraft fee?

When has your phone/TV/Internet provider proactively suggested a different, more cost-efficient, package of services based on your usage?

And, we still have pharmaceutical companies making inconsequential changes to medications to keep your doctor prescribing the ethical (oxymoron?) product vs. the generic, which is 10 times cheaper.

Most frustrating for me is the SaaS (software-as-a-service) to which I paid the one-year subscription, did not find value in, and then stopped using. Out of sight, out of mind, until the one-year anniversary rolls around and my credit card gets hit. Come on guys, you know I’m not using your product, let me know you’re about to auto-renew so I can opt-out rather than having to call the credit card company to challenge the charge and then call you out for a legitimate, but non-customer-focused, business process.

Moving forward, successful companies will be those that put their customers first rather than taking advantage of them. As David Ogilvy said, “Your customer isn’t a moron.”

Customer Control Creates New Phase of Apologetic Marketing

In a customer-centric marketing ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. Brands must accept that customers control their reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

In a customer-is-in-control ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. They need to open up honest, meaningful conversations with their customers — and understand that we no longer push advertisements to customers through media, but rather engage and communicate with them. Brands must accept that the customer controls a brand’s reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

For years now, customers have controlled the way brands are perceived in the marketplace. Today, that leverage is only growing. Companies can no longer hide behind big brand campaigns, just as marketing can no longer put a good spin on a problematic or dated company. If they try, consumers will either ignore it altogether (because they recognize the idealized corporate-speak) or, worse, they’ll attack in social media. Then, what started as a small problem can get out of control quickly.

Marketing executives need to work with the entire c-suite to make sure brand promises and customer experiences are consistent throughout the entire journey. They need to ensure the brand pillars are not only communicated, but also embraced across every component of the organization. And they have to make sure every team in the company can live up to the vision presented in the marketing.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the disconnect play out on a grand scale for companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, Facebook and unfortunately many more. By not aligning the brand platform with their internal values and customer experience, these companies have had to publicly recognize their faults and apologize for missteps. They each faced distrust among their customer base and, even though that trust was lost in a second, it often takes years to gain back.

So How Can Companies Learn From These Brands?

In today’s marketplace, companies need to do three key things:

  • Be transparent. Customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. But today, customers aren’t just immune to, but are also appalled by corporate-speak and over-hyped, insincere brand promises. Customers want brands to be real, to mean something and to associate with their beliefs and values. Companies today need to be humanized so customers can connect with them.
  • Align departments across the organization. Customers perceive companies as one entity and they expect that, whether they’re in a store, on the site or calling customer service, they’ll have the same experience across the board. Companies, however, are made up of different departments, with different bosses (who have different beliefs), and are often measured against different (sometimes opposing) KPIs. Today, corporate structure needs to embrace customer expectations. Politics and personalities have to take the back seat to the unified brand vision.
  • Companies need to embrace their customers. They can no longer lay out their corporate vision and marketing plans without fully understanding what the marketplace needs — both today and tomorrow. They need to understand what customers are looking for and shape their products and their company accordingly. Most companies hate hearing this, but they also need to narrow their audience and focus their company. Very few brands can and should appeal to all consumers. Too many brands try to satisfy everyone, remaining conservative so they don’t alienate any prospective customers. In doing so, however, they don’t resonate with anyone. Brands that take a stand, know who their audience is and what they want, and mold their company around that always win. Even if they outrage a part of their base, they inspire and resonate with their core, turning them into passionate advocates who reinforce the brand and allow more organic growth.

What Can You Do When It’s Too Late and You’ve Lost Consumer Trust?

While it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, companies need to be honest, fall on their sword and open up to the gaps they have. Just like Facebook’s WSJ ad and Wells Fargo’s TV campaign, they need to promise to do better. But again, it needs to be more than a marketing promotion; it needs to be a genuine re-set, one that all departments and the entire c-suite embrace. If it’s not, it’s only a matter of time until you’re back in the hot seat.

The Future of Email Marketing in a Creepy Data World

For years, the future of email marketing has been seen as tied to increasing data integration and personalization. But in a consumer data world that appears increasingly creepy to its subject, not to mention increasingly regulated, what does the future of email look like? At Emma’s Marketing United, marketers working for GasBuddy, Taco Bell and more talked about where this channel is headed.

For years, the future of email marketing has been seen as tied to increasing data integration and personalization. But in a consumer data world that appears increasingly creepy to its subjects, not to mention increasingly regulated, what does the future of email look like?

At Emma’s Marketing United, marketers working for GasBuddy, Taco Bell and more talked about where this channel is headed during the session “The Future of Email.”

Data, Trust and Your Email Program

“If 2017 was about what you could do with email,” said Logan Baird, design services lead at Emma, “2018 is really talking about why we make these choices about our email marketing programs.”

Email Marketing has always been a value exchange. Subscribers exchange their opt-in and personal data for the perceived value of what you’re going to send them. But as the channel has evolved, the nature of that exchange, the data you collect and the value you are able to offer for and with that data has shifted.

“Email at its best uses that one-to-one relationship with the person,” said Baird. “But to do that, you need data.” And using data for marketing today is a conversation that’s gotten to be a little creepy for your subscribers.

“It’s really important that when we are collecting data, we’re really transparent about why we’re collecting it and how it’s going to be a benefit to the user,” said Cher Fuller, senior strategist or eROI, who handles Taco Bell’s marketing.

She emphasized that it’s really a combination of transparency about data collection, and delivering solid benefits in return for sharing it, that mark the boundary between what’s OK and what’s creepy .

Melanie Kinney is the email marketing manager for GasBuddy, which tracks gas station prices and other driving-related data via input from app users. Those app users contribute a lot of data to gas buddy’s efforts, but also see significant benefits.

“This is a difficult topic in general,” said Kinney. “Of course, we’re asking you to share a lot of your data, but when you opt-in, we’re able to tell you important things about your driving.” And of course, the main benefit is the information and the app help users save money on gas.

But Kinney has to be careful in how GasBuddy uses the information it has in email communication. Email is better for ongoing communication, but she said mobile push alerts are better for immediate notifications. For example, if GasBuddy is using geo-location to reach out to a person about gas stations near where they are, that’s a job for push notifications, not really email. Via push, it’s helpful. Via email, it’s feels kind of like stalking — creepy.

‘People Marketing’ vs. ‘Brand Marketing’

“Email is one of the most personal channels that exists,” said Fuller. “Email’s really interesting because we can actually personalize it for the people who we’re sending it to.”

However, Fuller pointed out that the personal touch is exactly why you need to be careful in how you use email.

“I’m a really big advocate for people marketing and not brand marketing,” she said. “Give them content that’s worth engaging with, that they look forward to, so your open rates stay good and your engagement rates stay good.” That’s people marketing.

On the other hand, “brand marketing,” in Fuller’s analogy, is when brand’s use email to force people to consumer the brand’s message, not a message that’s tailored to them.

“When brands try to use their email to say ‘Hey, buy this! But this! Buy this!,’ it’s a little annoying.” Fuller compares it to the friend who asks you to help them move again and again, and you stop answering the phone. “If I know the only email I’m going to get from you is asking me to buy something from you, I’m going to get annoyed.”

Providing Value for the Data

There’s a school of email thinking that has always said send more, make more offers, and you’ll make more sales. And in many tests, the raw numbers hold up. Even when over-saturation drives up opt-outs, the bottom line can look like a win.

But if you’re not delivering personal value for permissions, data and trust those subscribers have given to you, you’re damaging your brand.

1 Ingredient for a Happy New (Marketing) Year

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Yes. And no. Many studies on human happiness find that “Happiness” from materialistic, external things is fleeting and does not always result in repeat business. In fact, it rarely does. We may be happy with a buying experience. And we may tell people about it as it occurs — and intend to go back for more. But then once the novelty of the product purchased wears off, we move on to new things and find new sources of “happiness.”

This kind of happiness, the kind that comes and goes — and is assigned to new products, places or people — is often no more than a dopamine or oxytocin rush. They’re hormonal experiences that make us feel exuberant, ecstatic, on top of the world, loved and appreciated. At least for a moment.  Creating these feelings among our customers can bring them back for more product when they need that happy rush again. But it is not sustainable for the long-term in a market where they can get similar rushes of “happy” feelings from competitors who can imitate, duplicate and replicate anything you do faster than ever before. Or in a market with customers who are well-conditioned for instant gratification, and so the demands and expectations to keep them happy change instantly, too!

So what’s a product marketer to do? Ugh.

Do we buy more technology? Clean more databases? Create more content and social dialog and push it out more often?

While all of the above may work for generating sales and happy customers for the short-term, what is it that we can do to generate a lasting commitment, long after the novelty of our product or initial experience wears off? It’s kind of like asking what keeps couples together after the hormonal rushes and honeymoon become past tense.

You might be thinking, “build a better experience,” “create more emotional relevance and value through better relationships,” and many of the things discussed in my posts over the years. And yes, these matter, but there’s another element that is critical and not often thought of building customer bonds— culture.

There’s a lot of sociologists, bloggers and reporters out there trying to discover the “happiest place on earth” and many of those on this mission end up at the same place.

Denmark

Denmark was just named the “Happiest Country on Earth,” per the United Nations’ “World Happiness Report,” according to an article recently published by CBS News.

It may seem odd that the happiest place is not some tropical island where its always warm, sunny, and pina coladas run free for locals and tourists. Instead, it’s Denmark, where it can be cold, dark and a bit on the dreary side in terms of climate — with rain 50 percent of the time.

So why Denmark? It’s the perfect example of how a culture has more lasting impact than purchase alone.

Here are some insights:

While Denmark’s culture has many elements to it, there are three that stand out to me as elements we marketers can bring home to our brands. These are:

Equality

Loyalty programs have morphed into elitism for VIP customers. And while these programs may be profitable, they can also be limiting in terms of acquiring new customers and keeping a base of steady but lower transaction value customers who provide the long-term stability all brands need. In Denmark, equality reaches a different level. People view each other as equals, despite occupation and income, and thrive on socializing often with people who have like hobbies and interests, building bonds on common values — not common bank accounts. I loved the example shared on a site promoting tourism to Denmark, quoting a garbage man about how he feels comfortable with lawyers and doctors because wealth does not matter as much as time with friends and family, as well as what you do to bring light and warmth to your circle and to others around.

How Does This Apply to Marketing?

Quite simply. Instead of finding ways to elevate the elite in your customer base, find ways to make all customers feel equally important. One of the things that just baffles me is how airlines treat you so blatantly differently for boarding. Remember how airlines used to roll out a red carpet for first class and extremely high mileage customers? What a blatant statement of inequality to all of those whose collective value for economy fare far outweighed the value of the six to 10 first class tickets who were made to feel like superior human beings. Yes, give perks to high-transaction and high-value customers, but not in ways that make others feel worthless. Present experiences and interactions that make people feel like your most important customers. It’s not hard to do.

Social Values

Hygge (pronounced hug) refers to the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures and embracing friends, family and graciousness over wealth, status privileges and materialism. This translates into a culture where all feel welcome, appreciated and secure. These feelings translate into staying power and loyalty for consumers to brands. When people come together to celebrate bonds, relationships and kindness, they create a welcoming atmosphere of acceptance and safety that outweighs the fleeting joy of a new toy, digital widget or out-of-the-normal experience. People go back to social circles like chess clubs, book clubs, cooking groups and so on, where they can mingle with like minds and feel equal, despite their social status or wealth contribution to the hosting organization.

Marketing Application

Bring customers together just because. Not to try or buy a new product or to spark sales in any way, but to do what the Danes do — share light, warmth and friendship, and create an atmosphere of coziness and happiness. We will come back to these experiences and communities and stay loyal to those who continue to make us feel enlightened and valued at the same time.

Trust

Despite being one of the most written about and overly discussed topics, it still is and will always be the structural pillar of strength and success. Trust is one of the primary cornerstones in the Danish culture, and in ways that would be scary in our U.S. culture. Danes are comfortable using the honor system in business and letting kids play alone at parks while parents shop nearby.

Elevating Trust

Consumers need to have unbridled trust that they can count on brands to:

  • Deliver on the product and service promises made directly and indirectly in all communications, promotions and experiences.
  • Stand behind all purchases and meet customer expectations for service, refunds, returns, repairs and so on.
  • Create an atmosphere of transparency on all levels. By sharing financials, corporate values, updates on product and industry issues, and other insights to keep customers informed about your brand and related issues, you build indirect trust that creates that sense of hygge mentioned above and stronger emotional bonds that transcend price and other competitive elements.

Essentially, when you build a culture, you build a community. And building communities is critical in a world where consumerism is turning to minimalism; people are turning to experiences over materialism; and trust and respect for business is waning. It’s is critical for short- and long-term success. Largely because people flock to communities more than they do to products or brands that distribute them. As we learn from religious and political “communities,” we humans tend to stay aligned with people who reflect our values, as well as build our sense of belonging to a safe, secure group that understands us and what motivates us.

Takeaway

Study what matters most to your consumers in terms of values, lifestyle and culture. Create events, experiences and communications around those values, and find ways to bring customers together around those values. State Farm is a good example of just this. If you go to the brand’s website, you can find a calendar of volunteer events you can join along with local agents in order to further good causes in your community, and of course experience “hygee” with agents and employees that can result in sales and loyalty.

This Will Scare the !@#$% Out of You, Marketers!

Sit down for this one: 80 percent of CEOs do not trust their CMOs or marketing teams to deliver results. Ninety percent of those same CEOs DO trust their IT and finance teams, or so claims a recent study by the Fournaise Group.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 10.27.11 AMSit down for this one: 80 percent of CEOs do not trust their CMOs or marketing teams to deliver results. Ninety percent of those same CEOs DO trust their IT and finance teams, or so claims a recent study by the Fournaise Group.

Its no wonder that 93 percent of marketing leads feel increasing pressure to perform along with the added frustration of feeling they do not have the resources to get the results expected from the board room. And it’s also no surprise that the average tenure for CMOs is slipping, down to 26.5 months in 2015 from 35.5 months in 2014.

Given these “scary” numbers and others and other statistics about marketing challenges today, its not far off to claim that many in our profession have become the “working scared.” Scared of the rapid pace in which technology changes, scared that IT will soon takeover their functions, scared that unrealistic expectations for ROI based on media strategies, which are tough to measure anyway, will run them out of jobs and thwart their career paths, and so on.

The fear associated with failing our CEOs, shareholders, marketing teams, ourselves and our families is resulting in a lot of knee-jerk purchasing behavior by CMOs and the like. A friend of mine who is a top sales executive for a global marketing technology company describes CMOs as reactive more than proactive, spending huge amounts on technologies they don’t understand in search of that golden and instant ROI.

While there may not be a lot of upside to working in fear, it does give us a better understanding of what drives our consumers to think and buy like they do. Just like CMOs who buy technology they don’t understand – and in many cases don’t even know what the acronym stands for – in order to avoid a painful loss, consumers seek to buy things to help them do the same, just in other areas of life. For example, consumers buy luxury labels for clothing and cars that cost so much more than functional alternatives because we fear losing social status among those we seek to impress. We buy educational products or college degrees for fear of losing a quality of life we anticipate or have now. We buy technology that will keep us connected with our jobs, our networks and our knowledge sources so we don’t have to fear being left behind. The list goes on.