smith+co on
customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Apr 28 2011

It’s time for a radical and remarkable approach to marketing…

Marketers face enormous challenges today. Targeting, locating, communicating and maintaining any form of reliable relationship with customers or consumers has never been more difficult.

Digital, mobile and web technology has transformed the media landscape into a bewildering array of possible channels and means of communication, many of which are beyond the control of anyone but the consumer. Social media is being used to punish brands or force them to change everything from supply chain policies to marketing tactics; even – as in the case of Gap – an expensive logo change.

Increasingly marketing-savvy and empowered consumers demand authenticity and consistency from their brands. And the ability for competition to nimbly and rapidly copy, outsmart or outmanouevre each other means that consumers have plenty of choices as to where to move their hard-earned spend. Customer churn rates in many industries are too high, net promoter scores in some markets are a miserably low 3%, and the fact that marketing budgets remain under threat during straitened times is evidence that it still struggles to prove its worth in many organisations.

And the speed at which everything is happening is deeply unsettling for marketers.

The BOLD approach to marketing

So what’s so different and remarkable about the BOLD companies? What lessons can we learn from the way they approach marketing?

In two very important aspects, our BOLD companies are old-fashioned: they stay extraordinarily close to their customers and they ensure that they brand everything they do so that customers give them the credit. However, in many more ways they take a dramatically different approach.

For them, marketing is primarily a way of engaging and entertaining customers or consumers, not a way of persuading them to buy a product. They see marketing as an integral part of the customer experience – the marketing of the product and the product itself are one. They intentionally and relentlessly do the following:

  • Clearly and honestly communicate the brand promise and values to customers. A key task of marketing is to get your proposition over to the market as powerfully as possible. These brands are both bold and authentic in the way they do this. They don’t use weak or watered-down promises of quality, or bizarre and incomprehensible slogans. They use dramatic language that fixes clear expectations in customers’ minds. Whether it is Burberry ‘democratising luxury’, Zappos’ ‘Powered by service’ or the Geek Squad’s slightly pithier ‘We’ll save your ass’, these brands are honest in their communication and engaging in their tone.
  • Actively involve customers in helping to create/improve/protect the brand. BOLD brands do not believe their products are so perfect that customers can’t improve them. Nor are they so frightened by competitors stealing their ideas that they won’t release anything until it’s foolproof. They see the involvement of their customers in the development of their products as a key part of marketing them. Virgin Galactic redesigned its space craft following feedback from its early customers. innocent invites its customers into its offices to suggest ideas and improvements as well as allowing them to recommend and create new recipes. The Chairman of JCB changes the smallest details of his diggers - like the way the petrol cap rotates - because customers tell him that it matters.
  • Use innovative viral marketing techniques to reach target customers. They use social media and their websites to create customer communities. innocent does this through the simple words they use on their packaging that has encouraged people to ‘spread the word’ about the brand; Burberry uses 3D high-tech broadcasting of their runway shows; and Chilli Beans uses music and events to involve customers in the ‘Chilli Beans world’.
  • Foster active customer communities that support the brand. Communities of ‘fans’ validate these brands; they help to reinforce them, inform them and sometimes even to forgive them when they get things wrong. The passion of Apple fans giving feedback enabled the brand to overcome teething troubles with its 4th Generation iPhone that could have sunk lesser brands.
  • Achieve high levels of customer advocacy or ‘fandom’ to drive referral business. O2 specifically measures fandom, it is how they judge whether they are genuinely delighting their customers. It’s a bold call as most companies would be happy with satisfied customers, some might even want them to be happy. But the BOLD brands focus on creating fans.

Perhaps most significantly, they recognize that their people are the most important element of the marketing mix. Therefore, they are obsessed with the story they want to tell their people. They want their people to go to work to put on a performance, not to perform a task.

And they do all this at speed, whether it is Chilli Beans launching 10 new products a week, or JCB’s obsession with the ‘urgency of now’, they all live by Nigel Bogle’s mantra: “Be quicker to embrace change.”

“It only works when it all works” - Ronan Dunne, O2

There has long been a belief in business that, put at its simplest, growing your reputation and revenue (usually through sales and marketing) could be separated from protecting your assets and profit (usually through operations and finance). However, BOLD organisations believe that, not only is there a clear causal link between what you communicate, how you operate and how you protect your earnings, they are in fact interdependent and you can’t get any one right unless you get them all right.

The point that Robert Stephens is making when he calls marketing a tax ‘for being unremarkable’ is that, if you focus your entire business on entertaining and engaging your customers and brand the experience they have, you don’t then need to waste additional marketing dollars on fancy or phoney campaigns trying desperately to persuade people that you are different or better. You will already have a growing legion of advocates telling everyone how remarkable you are – and accelerating that ‘word of mouth’ effect is the great opportunity that digital, mobile and social media offers.