February 11, 2015

Your greatest opportunity for brand reinforcement

Your greatest opportunity for brand reinforcement

Organisational crises aren’t always big cataclysmic events or total screw-ups. In fact most of us will never head organisations big enough to experience major catastrophes. What we will face, regardless of the size of our businesses, every week and sometimes every day, are micro crises.

Of course, there are obvious things like customer complaints, miscommunication or just the natural abrasion which comes with serving difficult customers, but I’m referring to even more subtle and often overlooked micro crises. Any time a call goes to message bank, that’s a micro crisis, a mini breakdown in your customer service. Forgetting to attach something to an email before you send it, not replying to an email or text within twenty-four hours, or turning up late for an appointment, are all examples of micro crises – which I like to call ‘404 moments’.

Having worked in website design for a number of years, I relate these micro crises to a 404 page. A 404 page is what you see when you click on a link, or search on a website for something that doesn’t exist. The website essentially can’t find what you’re looking for: either because it’s been removed or never existed in the first place (the link you clicked on may have a typo in it).

Renny Gleeson, Global Digital Strategies Director for Wieden+Kennedy (a cutting-edge advertising agency handling clients such as Nike, Nokia and Target) delivered a TED talk comparing landing on a 404 page to the feeling of a broken relationship.

“What a 404 page tells you is that you fell through the cracks – that’s not a good experience – it’s like a slap in the face,” says Gleeson. It’s the same when you miss a phone call or reply late to an email. Most 404 pages say things like: “The page cannot be found – the page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.” This is typically followed by more technical jargon and little or no styling or company branding to go with it. 404 pages are most often generic and grossly impersonal.

In his TED talk Gleeson refers to a focus group which started a project built around the experience of a 404 page. The group collated a bunch of 404 pages from various websites and found the ones which gave the best user experience. He says, “Little things, done right, matter” and “Well-designed moments build brands”. While most 404 pages make your site look unprofessional and only encourage visitors to leave, a 404 page that is funny and memorable can have a huge impact on keeping visitors on the site. For examples, check out this article ‘The Best 404 Pages on the Internet’. Most of these pages use wording like, “oops”, “uh oh”, “sorry”, “this is awkward”, “how embarrassing” and other more human expressions. Some sympathise with you, others will tease or blame you. Many have images, cartoons and even comic strips. Some embed YouTube videos, and a few have impressive videos produced just for the 404 page.

Apart from asking your web designers to do something more creative with your 404 pages, think about what you can do with the other micro breakdown crises (404 moments) in your business. Rather than making your 404 moments seem like big, bad ordeals, consider how you can be more Flawsome. Acknowledge them as breakdowns and turn them into friendly, positive experiences.

Microsoft has taken a step in the right direction with its new operating system, Windows 8. When users experience system failure (affectionately known as the ‘blue screen of death’), rather than inundate people with technical jargon of why their computer stopped working, the new system takes things in a more compassionate direction. It features a whimsical colon and open bracket ‘sad face’ emoticon and the words: “Your PC ran into a problem it couldn’t handle, and now needs to restart.”

Renny Gleeson finished his TED talk with a quote from one of his recent tweets: “A simple mistake can tell me what you aren’t. Or it can remind me why I love you.” Instead of ignoring the micro breakdown crises in your business and hoping people won’t notice, see them as opportunities to reinforce your brand, show people you care, and give a memorable service.

No Comments Ryan

January 28, 2015

Facebook and Twitter: Your virtual suggestion box

Facebook and Twitter Your virtual suggestion box

I see too many businesses abuse their fandom by only sharing information about products and services via social media. The problem is that promotional tweets and Facebook posts don’t typically generate useful conversations with fans and that’s definitely NOT Flawsome. Social media gives businesses an unprecedented opportunity to gain feedback from customers and ideas for how they can improve.

Companies need more than positive feedback to help drive progress. Try to pose questions which encourage feedback rather than testimonials. Ask things like: “What clothing designs do you want to see next?” rather than, “What are your favourite designs?”

Customers love having the opportunity to influence the direction of companies, but they’re unlikely to provide valuable ideas without being prompted first. Think about proactively posting or tweeting questions that ask for customers’ thoughts on specific product ideas, marketing strategies, or anything else that is relevant. But don’t just accept the feedback and be on your merry way. When people answer, dig deeper and get into a conversation, try to create some real dialogue.

And then, do something with the feedback you’re given.

Often, the people taking care of social media for larger organisations are completely removed from decision making within the company. It’s easy to understand why valuable ideas don’t get put in place when they never get to the right people. If you’re serious about embracing social media as a feedback mechanism, think about putting systems in place to make sure the feedback from customers is passed along and considered seriously. Once the customers realise that their ideas are being turned into reality, it will only strengthen your dialogue and relationship with them.

No Comments Ryan

December 31, 2014

Weeding out bad customers out before they start business with you

Weeding out bad customers out before they start business with you

Subjecting yourself to customers’ opinions when you don’t control the outcomes requires a lot of faith in your product – but if you don’t have faith in it, how can you expect anyone else to?

Chevrolet, the American car manufacturing company, began a Flawsome marketing campaign back in 2010. It created a show called ‘Car Hunters’ for online TV channel HGTV and commissioned independent research company GfK to test drive Chevrolets and compare them to similar Honda and Toyota models. Chevrolet had no idea what was going to come of it. GfK used ninety-six prospective new car customers who had no clue that a commercial was being filmed and each car was subjected to 70 tests. Of the ninety-six test drivers, fifty-nine of them chose Chevrolet and the company also came out on top in forty-three out of seventy tests.

It could have swung any way, though I suppose if it had been overwhelmingly negative, Chevrolet may not have published the results at all. Needless to say the company provided customers with a realistic and unbiased look at their cars to help them make an educated buying decision.

Giving a wholistic view might weed out 20% of your customers, but they are most likely the 20% you don’t want anyway. According to LoyaltyOne’s 2011 COLLOQUY report, almost a third of consumers (31%) say they are more likely to tell family, friends, and co-workers about a bad experience with a product or service than a good one. You might remember from my previous articles that isolated negative reviews can benefit a company, but not heaps of them. The best way to avoid excessive negative reviews is to avoid the customers who are likely to give them. Like Tim Ferriss of ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ says: “Poisonous people do not deserve your time. To think otherwise is masochistic.”

American insurance company, Esurance released a new campaign in late 2011 asking “what makes a company trustworthy?” The commercial suggested that “hearing what a company’s customers have to say” provides the most reliable answer, and encouraged potential customers to check out the brand’s Facebook page to see what its current clients really thought of their service (oh, and FYI … apparently when fans post negative comments, Esurance is virtuous about responding in a timely manner).

Lay your cards on the table. If ‘haters gonna hate’ anyway, let them weed themselves out before they even start business with you. Stop trying to chase anyone and everyone, instead let the ones you want come to you. They’ll be your biggest raving fans and attract more like them to do business with you. Plus you’ll enjoy working with them more.

No Comments Ryan

December 17, 2014

The secret to delivering excellent customer service every time

The secret to delivering excellent customer service every time

At a business networking breakfast I attended a short time ago, the guest speaker asked us: “What is excellent customer service?” There were a few answers, things like “making a promise and keeping it”, “going beyond the call of duty”, “caring about your customers” and so on. Whilst the speaker acknowledged that they were all great responses, they said the real answer is very simple. Drawing a line on a board, they said, “this is your customers’ expectation”. The speaker then drew a second line just above it stating, “and this is what you deliver”. That’s excellent customer service.

So we can assume meeting your customers’ expectations is good service and anything below that is bad customer service.

It played on my mind for a couple of days and I kept coming back to it. There was one thing about that simple formula which intrigued me … where did that expectation come from? I could only come up with two possible sources:

  1. Previous experience with another provider (you’re being compared to someone else).
  2. You told them, either directly or indirectly through your sales pitch and marketing materials, what to expect from you.

Even if someone has had previous experience with another provider in the past, your marketing still sets their expectations. I remember another thing my mother, who has an international organisation with a multi-million dollar annual turn-over, told me growing up: “Always under promise, and over deliver.”

I’m most interested in how people’s expectations are set because I believe it’s the key consistently satisfy customers. How many of us are making our jobs harder by setting our prospective customers up with unrealistic expectations? I don’t actually think customers are getting pickier and expecting more for less on their own, it’s this Bigger/Better syndrome brought on by advertisers trying to outdo each other. It’s also partly due to the overwhelming competition which stems from the economic climate.

Customers expect more because companies are promising more.

What if we only made promises we could easily keep and outperform? What if we could weed out the customers we don’t want and attract the ones we do want, right from the start? What if we could turn our flaws into benefits? Here’s my favourite word … what if we could be totally Flawsome and have people love us for it?

No Comments Ryan

November 18, 2014

Vegemite’s Struggle vs Marmite’s Triumph

Vegemites Struggle vs Marmites Triumph

Vegemite, as we know it, had a Flawsome beginning because it was originally invented by accident. It was a German scientist who discovered that brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. In 1902 his formula gave rise to the popular UK spread Marmite. Vegemite followed in 1922 when the disruption of British Marmite imports after World War 1 inspired an entrepreneurial Australian food company to develop its own version, which was later acquired by Kraft Foods.

Due to a slowly diminishing market share, Kraft tried to launch something new – reinventing the popular spread by blending it with cream cheese to create a monstrosity briefly known as iSnack 2.0. It’s still around, it’s now known as Vegemite Cheesybite, but its reception has been uninspiring. Kraft later tried to tone down Vegemite’s pungent flavour in a bid to recapture the taste buds of children, and address some of the high-salt health concerns that were putting off young mothers. It created a lower-salt, vitamin B-rich mild version of the spread aimed at infants, which the company called ‘My First Vegemite’. An even bigger failure, it was pulled from supermarket shelves just over a year after its launch due to poor sales.

Facing the same diminishing market share, the UK division of Kraft was also trying to encourage a new generation of consumers to try Marmite. Rather than softening Marmite’s taste and compromising the brand image, they instead celebrated the difference of opinion about the product with a new slogan: “Love it or Hate it”.

When entering the new Marmite website you’re asked “Who are you?” and given the opportunity to enter as a Lover, or a Hater, of the spread. Enter as a Hater and you’ll be welcomed like this: “Eat Marmite? You’d rather rip the wings off live chickens. You’d rather be stripped naked in public. You’d rather swallow rat’s tails and snail shells … Enough already! We get the picture. And yes, you’re in the right place …”

Marmite has created renewed momentum through social media by creating ‘love it’ and ‘hate it’ pages on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign built so much momentum, in fact, that it resulted in the coining of the phrase ‘Marmite effect’ or ‘Marmite reaction’ for anything which provokes such strong and polarised feelings.

A series of humorous images (known as Internet Memes) that have been shared on Facebook contain the words “Haters gonna hate” and nothing could be more true. If people are going to either love or hate your product no matter what, you may as well take control of the conversation and move it somewhere that it can be monitored and monetised (Marmite is now selling ‘Hate’ merchandise to customers they never would have had traditionally).

So what can we take away from the advertising genius of Kraft Foods (the UK division)? If you have a polarised market, ask yourself how you can strike up a conversation with your product ‘lovers’ and ‘haters’ alike. Being Flawsome is when you’re unpopular with a percentage of the marketplace, and you turn it to your advantage.

No Comments Ryan

October 22, 2014

Three Lessons on Cutting the B.S

Three lessons on cutting the BS

Jon Lovett, who spent three years as a speech writer for President Barack Obama, delivered an outstanding Keynote Commencement Address for Pitzer College’s graduating class on 18th May 2013. A truly Flawsome speech, he started with: “Hey, guys. Graduates, how are you guys feeling? I, for one, think we look amazing in these gowns,” and compared everyone (himself included) to looking like “flamboyant gay judges”.

He went on to say that he wasn’t going to waste their time with a typical commencement speech, and would do his best to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable to say. Stating that one of the greatest threats we face is bullshit, Jon delivered three honest, practical lessons about “cutting the B.S” from which we can all learn, not just college graduates. Here’s my summary of them:

1. Don’t cover for your inexperience

You have to be confident in your potential and aware of your inexperience. There are moments in life when you’ll have a different point of view because you have a fresh set of eyes, because you don’t care how something has been done before; there is another way, a better way to do it. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you’re wrong and you should shut up and listen to somebody who’s been around the block.

When we’re new at something it’s worth being more solicitous of the judgment of those around us. Be eager to learn. It’s okay to be sceptical, but also be humble and confident in yourself.

2. Know when to speak up and when to hold back

On the other side the coin, sometimes you’re going to be inexperienced, naïve, untested and totally right. The way Jon decides when is the right time to speak up or hold back is the subway rule: “If you see something, say something.” Call B.S. when you see it and don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces and throw a punch or two to make a point (metaphorically). Though it’s difficult to strike the balance every time, Jon says “it helps to be very charming” and that he’d rather be wrong and cringe than right and regret not speaking up. If you’re not too stubborn, you’ll learn and grow and get better at striking that balance until your inexperience becomes experience.

3. Know that being honest, both about what you do know and what you don’t, can and will pay off

Jon said: “Up until recently I would have said that the only proper response to our culture of B.S.  is cynicism, that it would just get worse and worse, but I don’t believe that any more.” We may have reached peak bullshit and increasingly those that push back against the noise and nonsense, those who refuse to accept that untruths of politics and commerce and entertainment and government will be rewarded and we may be at the beginning of something important. Be responsible for one another and carry yourselves with integrity. It’s exciting that maybe, just maybe, those traits don’t just mean you’ll do good, but this earnestness, this authenticity, will help you succeed in a society that is demanding those qualities with both hands.

In my book, ‘Flawsome’, I talk about Political Correctness, and how as business we can cut the B.S. in our marketing to great effect. I drew a lot of inspiration from a book called ‘Bullshift’ by Andrew Horabin. If you’ve already read my book, then I’d suggest reading that one too. It’s short and to the point (no B.S) and certainly worth the read – it’ll change the way you do business.

You can watch Jon’s commencement address here.

No Comments Ryan

October 8, 2014

The Human Brand

The Human Brand

Humanised branding is when a business exhibits an attitude and set of distinct behaviours, resembling a person’s personality. The personality could be inspired by an actual person, a board of directors, the staff, and/or the personality of the marketing department. It could be one of these which resonate through the rest of the company, or a collective personality that just develops naturally. Either way, it’s the communication of the unique personality that differentiates ‘humanised branding’ from ‘branding’ as we traditionally know it.

The trend towards people being attracted to businesses with more humanised branding is based on human nature, which dictates that people have a hard time genuinely connecting with, being close to, or really trusting, other humans who appear to have no weaknesses or flaws. Now, for the first time in history, people openly broadcast and share their lives online – flaws and all. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see why brands are increasingly expected to do the same. People are driving themselves away from boring brands in favour of ones with more personality. This is largely inspired by the rise in social media.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explained it best:

“I think people worry too much about bringing their personal selves into business, when I think the way to succeed in today’s world is to make your business more personal.”

Consumers’ disillusionment at some downright dodgy corporate behaviour has festered into outright disgust and social media has only picked at the scab. As a result, any brand that can show business in a refreshing new light is guaranteed to be welcomed with open arms. With every business that succeeds while remaining reasonable, helpful, fun or even somewhat ‘human’, consumers will become increasingly disenchanted when dealing with traditional, boring, impersonal brands. It’s becoming more and more obvious that personality and profit are compatible.

Statistics released by Havas Media in late 2011 revealed that most people would not care if 70% of brands ceased to exist. When I read that statistic, I wondered what the 30% were doing to make their customers care about them. Without knowing the identity of the 30% of companies, I’d be willing to put money on the fact that they truly care about their customers, and make it known.

No Comments Ryan

September 30, 2014

Marketing Humour: Is It Okay To Be Rude?

Marketing Humour Is it ok to be rude

Canadian yoga equipment manufacturer Lululemon released a video in December 2011 entitled ‘Shit Yogis Say’. In the video ad Lululemon pokes a little good-natured fun at its own community by featuring a young female yogi spouting a host of ‘common’ catchphrases anyone within ten metres of a yoga studio is likely to hear, as well some more obscure ones.

Things like:

  • “I’m concerned about your aura.”
  • “How do you say that in Sanskrit?”
  • “I need a coconut water.”
  • “Let’s go to the farmers market after class.”
  • “This mat is recyclable.”
  • “I got a blockage I’m working on.”
  • “I just bought some really cool eye shadow for my third eye” and on it goes.

Of course, “namaste” is repeated frequently to the point of annoyance and the video ends with shocking, yet hilarious: “Namaste Mutha-F#@kah.”

Yes, it upset some people. Some have even suggested boycotting the brand entirely. However, with under 250 dislikes and almost 10,000 likes out of well over two million views the campaign has generated a whole lot more momentum and a stronger fan base than some airy-fairy feel good ad promoting the function and comfort of their clothes.

Is it time to lighten up and realise that being offended by something says more about us than it does about the person affronting us? I think it’s time to say what we mean, and, if possible, do it with a sense of humour. Most people love it when brands push the limits of political correctness. Not everyone will like it; not everyone will even get it. Humour is like that. Some people love ‘The 3 Stooges’, some love Stephen Fry. Some love both, others don’t like either. I’m convinced though that the people who like to laugh significantly outnumber the miserable souls who are reluctant to even smile.

Here are a couple of quick tips on using humour:

1. It’s okay to be rude.
2. That said, be ultra-cautious about making jokes of a political or religious nature.
3. Run your ideas past a few people to make sure your work is funny without being overly unprofessional, offensive or alienating…

… and the golden rule:

4. Never ever be funny at someone else’s expense; it’s just as easy to be funny without putting someone down.

A disabled person can crack a joke about their disability, but if an able-bodied person make a joke at their expense, we’d call it teasing or bullying. Lululemon isn’t attacking any one person in particular, they are really poking fun at themselves and their own industry. They have the right to.

If people see you’re trying to be entertaining they’re more likely to side with you. If your humour is self-deprecating (without totally undermining your business), well … that’s Flawsome!

No Comments Ryan

September 16, 2014

Why Can’t We Just ‘Tell It Like It Is’?

Why cant we just tell it like it is

I laughed when I came across the result of a contest at Texas A&M University for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term back in 2007: “Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical, liberal minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.”

Political correctness was essentially created so our actions or words would not offend or upset anyone. Do you remember the cute rhyme our parents taught us if we were ever teased at school?

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.

 Today I think it’s more like:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but offend me and I’ll sue you.”

Political correctness isn’t really about being ‘nice to people’, tolerant and treating others with proper respect – that’s called good manners. Some say commonsense is a thing of the past. If, for example, you catch a burglar in your house, then it’s probably best to help the poor soul by carrying your possessions to the front door lest he should trip and hurt himself and you end up in court!

Is it time we hardened up a little and stopped being so sensitive to people with opinions that are different to ours? Is it time we recognise our personal and ethnic differences and be okay with them?

When growing up I was told, like many other people, that honesty was a virtue and an honourable way of life. Honesty should be the easiest thing in the world, right? It’s not. We can’t just go around saying exactly what we think and feel. But why can’t we just ‘tell it like it is’?

  1. We don’t want to offend anyone.
  2. We don’t want to risk appearing inadequate.
  3. We don’t want to ‘get into trouble’.
  4. We don’t want to take responsibility for what has already happened or might in future.
  5. We don’t want to say ‘the wrong thing’ and miss out on something.

In most of these cases, being politically correct isn’t about the wellbeing of the other guy at all; it’s about avoiding something we don’t want instead of taking responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions. Is it time to lighten up and realise that being offended by something says more about us than it does about the person affronting us?

No Comments Ryan

September 2, 2014

The Secret To Being Forgiven

The secret to being forgiven

The most vital time for any company to be Flawsome is during an organisational crisis. It’s typically the time when most corporate leaders want nothing more than to shutter the windows, lock all the doors, grab teddy and hide under the bed.

Social media has changed the playing field. Traditional public relations experts are being left behind with this newly accelerated spread of information. They used to calculate deadlines and manage a crisis by asking how much time they had to draw up a statement before the seven o’clock news. Now, information about a crisis can reach the public instantly via social media and there’s not as much time to prepare carefully constructed responses and politically correct apologies.

On Valentine’s Day 2007, New York City was hit by an ice storm which meant many airlines with planes queued up for take-off had to return those planes to the gate. Unfortunately for JetBlue, a string of bad decisions, a communication breakdown, and understaffing led the company to keep its planes on the runway in hopes of getting the flights out of town, only to have the wheels frozen to the tarmac. The passengers were trapped on the planes for almost eleven hours.

The response could have been to hide behind a barrier of lawyers and spokespersons, but instead JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman produced a video which began: “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.” When was the last time you heard a CEO say that he or she is “sorry and embarrassed”? It’s this kind of sincere regret which resonates with most inconvenienced customers. Apologising like this goes a long way toward improving a company’s reputation and relationship with its customers, the benefits of which far outweigh risks of being politically incorrect or making yourself legally vulnerable.

The company recognised Neeleman for his communication skills, but how much skill did it really take? Or was he really just being Flawsome?

It’s okay to plan a response and what needs to be said, but avoid scripting every word. If you’re truly sorry, why should you have to read the words “We are sorry” to remind you? We’ve all seen the ritually scripted celebrity apologies, and most of us are cynical of their sincerity. Flawsome crisis management, like Random Acts of Kindness, works so well because it shows people you care. It shows you value them enough to want to make things right. Most importantly though, they have to believe you care. Here are some ways you can help them to believe:

  • Be transparent.
  • Be raw.
  • Be humble.
  • Be honest.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be heartfelt.

If you show that you’re being all of these things, people will forgive you quickly.

Being guarded and hiding behind scripts and spokespeople will only inflame the situation and encourage people to dig deeper. People can quickly become obsessed with outing every dirty secret if you don’t handle it in a Flawsome way right from the start.

No Comments Ryan

Your greatest opportunity for brand reinforcement
Facebook and Twitter: Your virtual suggestion box
Weeding out bad customers out before they start business with you
The secret to delivering excellent customer service every time
Vegemite’s Struggle vs Marmite’s Triumph
Three Lessons on Cutting the B.S
The Human Brand
Marketing Humour: Is It Okay To Be Rude?
Why Can’t We Just ‘Tell It Like It Is’?
The Secret To Being Forgiven