Jennifer Rice has a post suggesting that companies should Market using the "How" they do business:
So you build your brand not on what you do, but how you do it. There will always be somebody else doing what you do. If not today, then just wait a couple months. I disagree with Al and Laura Ries; you can't "own" a product category... but you can own a way of doing business.
It is a great post, but I'm not so sure I agree with it...
In the technology field (which Jennifer is talking about) IT managers do want to know "How", they're analytical (typically). If you've got a cool "how", then you should talk about it - but only when the customer asks.
Jennifer gives some examples in the computer field:
Dell makes computers. Big deal; so do a lot of other companies. But they've built their brand on how they do it. Customized and mail-order. Now, do they have to stick with computers? Not if they leverage their "how."
Apple makes computers. It's their "how" that's given them a cult following. It's their "how" that they extended to the iPod. There are a lot of other music players out there. It's iPod's "how" that sets it apart.
Gateway makes computers. How? Hmm... like everybody else. Oh, and they have something to do with cows. Once you pull off the cow suit, their products and service are pretty generic. This is why branding is the executive team's job, not marketing. Marketing can work with customers to determine the opportunity in your space, but it's got to be translated into an operational "how" before it's turned into an ad campaign.
In the comments, however, David Foster suggests that Apple is known for Design.
I couldn't agree more David. Apple makes the coolest products - I'd bet that very few customers care about how they do it... except those companies trying to steal Apples creativity.
People don't care how apple makes things.... what is that old saying? There are two things you never want to see made - laws & sausages.
As a customer, almost every product is a sausage.
In the book How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, the author suggests that people only ever buy two things:
Solutions to problems
He goes on to give some examples. One of my favorites - and one I've used it more times than I care to admit - is about drill bits:
People don't buy 3/4 inch drill bits. They buy 3/4 inch holes.
However, the more I think about that, the less I agree. My new take is:
People don't buy 3/4 inch drill bits. They don't buy 3/4 inch holes. They buy the respect and admiration of people commenting on the picture they've hung on the wall using the hole provided by the drill bit.
The drill bit is a tool put to use in service of some goal of the individual. Almost no one cares how the drill bit is made. The hole will be covered up by a picture or covered with paint.
The "How" a company does what it does comes after the "What it does for me" - as an individual.
Let me give you a real life example of this...
I had a great idea. CALM.
The Custom Application License Model.
A couple of years ago I left my job at a large regional consulting firm to help a friend start a consulting business. Before I did, I suggested that the market was already too crowded and before I'd agree to move we had to have some approach that made us stand out (urgh, if I only knew then what I know now)...
One night it hit me: what if we could remove the up front cost of custom development? What if we could remove the risk of custom development projects?
We'd have people lined up for miles!
Think about the benefits of applying a license model to custom developed software:
No upfront costs - the customer pays only after the applicaiton is in production
Faster ROI (return on investment) is achieved because you aren't paying for development
No need to get capital budget approvals
No need to have a staff to support the application - the license fee covers support & maintenance
The license fees can be depreciated
So off we went. I joined my friends software company to start a consulting practice and we were going to change the way people paid for custom developed software.
You see where this is going, right?
People didn't care. Even in the midst of a recession, when IT managers at companies of every size were working with budget constraints, this seemingly obvious way of doing development didn't get their attention.
Now, keep in mind that my friends company had been around for 20 years. Lot's of big name customers... lots. Very recognizable names. So, it wasn't that we were some new kids on the block, we had credibility.
But... I was so stupidly focused on "How" we could help them and not What they needed help with, that I eventually failed.
I'm no longer there. The failure was a direct result of caring more about How we did business. I was so focused on that great idea that I forgot the single most important lesson in business: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Live and learn, huh? I sure did.
So, is the "How" a company does what it does important to you?
I recall watching some customer service video a long time ago about some hospital staff member treated this mean-spirited dying patient really well, and she alters her Will and leaves the staffer a boatload of money. The point of the video is obviously to show that you never know what will come from treating people nicely.
Todays version of that is information about good & bad service spreads very quickly. Treat everyone well, you have no idea how loud and far their voice travels.
In this case, Lessig is a famous guy, he has a big audience and now lots of people know about this service blunder. I fly United and have a Mileage Plus account, which means that every couple of weeks I get something in the mail from them. They obviously know who we are and how many miles we travel. From a technology standpoint, recognizing these customer milestones is really easy and seems like a no brainer.
Imagine had United taken the time to reward an obviously loyal customer even in the smallest way, say with a Thank you card on his seat when he boarded the plane.
Imagine the post he would have written had they done something really nice for him...
We've all heard the phrase "sex sells", but is it true? Moreover, I'm curious, when was the last time an advertisement influenced you to purchase something?
I know that ads are part of an organizations "branding"/"marketing" campaigns - and there is the whole "top of mind awareness" thing... blah, blah, blah.... but when was the last time you saw an ad and then bought that product/service?
"For with legitimacy the bloggers will gain a seat at the table. And with that comes Access, Status, Money, Power... and, if we've learned anything about the mainstream media, that breeds complacency... or whatever".
All too often, the focus of business is on the business... not on the people who work there.
So, I'd like to start this little meme about the people who do the work. Post the answers on your own blog and do a trackback here. If you don't have trackbacks, leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don't have a blog, shame on you! Seriously, if you don't have a blog you can answer the questions in the comments here.
What do you do? - Business Analyst, basically a liason between business and IT folks
What are the challenges? - putting up with people who want to rush off and solve problems without investigating why the problems exist
How do you overcome them? - by reframing the problems and helping to set the context
What is a typical day like? - loads of emails and phone calls
How do you manage information? (Email, Blogs, etc) - I use bloglines for blogs, I'm embarassed to say that my email is a mess - I'm good at replying, but not storage
Lot's of talk in the blogosphere about "conversations" (sorry for any possible embolisms this post may cause). I've got a real problem with this term. Everyone knows what it means literally, some people understand what it metaphorically refers to... but I'm not looking forward to companies that put this in to practice, for two reasons:
There is too much *directed* communication already taking place out there.
We all deal with too many companies in a given day to begin with, who has the time to pay attention to anything more?
If, as a business, I want to engage you and have a discussion... or, even if I just want to convey a message to you, it assumes that you care about me (the business). As the second point above indicates, most of us interact with hundreds of companies in a given day, we don't have time for, nor do most of us care about, interacting with even a fraction of those companies.
For the businesses that are thinking of finding better ways at engaging consumers, before you do, consider the following...
Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk recently (mp3 available) at PopTech, where he spoke about Human Nature (partial transcript):
Asking people to think about what they want causes them to change their opinion of what they want. In fact, it screws up their ability to recognize what they want. This problem in Psychology is called the Peril of Introspection Problem - a lot of the research has been done by a guy named Tim Wilson at UVA and he once did this very simple experiment called, the Poster Test. And the poster test is that you've got a bunch of posters in the room and you bring some college students in and you say "pick any poster you want, take it home." They do that. The second group is brought in and you say, "pick any poster you want, tell me why you want it, and then go home"
A couple months pass and he calls up the students and says, that poster you got a couple of months back, do you like it? And the kids in the first group, who didn't have to explain their choice all still liked their poster. And the kids in the second group, who did have to explain, now hate their poster. And not only that, the kids who had to explain their poster picked a VERY different kind of poster than the kids who didn't have to explain their poster. So, making people explain what they want change their preference and changes their preference in a negative way. It causes them causes them to gravitate towards something that they actually weren't interested in the first place.
Now, there’s one little detail on this. There were two kinds of posters; there were these impressionist prints and then there were these photos of kittens hanging on bars that said, "Hang In There Baby!" And the students who were asked to explain their preference, overwhelmingly chose the kitten and the ones who weren't asked to explain their choice, overwhelmingly chose the impressionist poster. Now - and they were happy with their choice, obviously - who could be happy with a kitten on their wall after 3 months.
Now why is that? Why when you ask someone to explain their preference do they gravitate towards the least sophisticated of the offering? Because it's a language problem, right? You're someone, you know that in your head you prefer the impressionist, but now you have to come up with a reason for your choice. And you don't really have the language of why you like the impressionist photo. What you do have the language of which to say is, well, I do like the kitten cause I had a kitten when I was growing up. So, forcing you to explain something when you don't necessarily have the vocabulary and the tools to explain your preference, automatically shifts you towards the most conservative and the least sophisticated choice.
There you go - you don't want to talk to me. If you ask me to explain something, I'm likely to give you the wrong answer!
There are some companies who get this... I'm sure most of you are familiar with the software maker Intuit (TurboTax, QuickBooks). They have a program in place called "Follow Me Home". The program, in a nutshell, sends Intuit software developers to the businesses and homes of real customers to watch them using the software – this helps the developers understand the real world needs of the end users and teaches the developers how people use the software.
No marketing. No conversation. No Communication. Just an interest in their customers and the real world use of their products. I'm sure this isn't flawless, but it is a heck of a lot better than dragging people in for a focus group.
Even for Intuit, if they truly loved doing taxes (for example), they wouldn't need to watch their customers use the software. They'd know instinctively what people wanted... they'd be able to intuit what their customers wanted... just like their name implies... (sorry, had to use that, it was too good to pass up).
To me, the smartest "conversation" is the one that NEVER takes place. And it doesn't need to take place because we share a connection.
We Connect. We Communicate (as required). And We Repeat (as long as it feels good for both of us).
And that is what it is all about: Connect. Communicate. Repeat. But only as long as it feels good for us to do so.
Actually, taking it one step further: We Connect. We Communicate. We Repeat. We Evangelize (if we really love the feeling).
I don't think people are looking for more conversation or communication, they're looking for more Compassion. We're looking for people who care about us and our wants, needs, and desires.
Jane, recently married, was having lunch with a friend and explaining why she married Bill instead of Bob. "Bob is Mr. Everything." Jane said. "He's handsome, well educated, extremely intelligent, clever, and has a very successful career. In fact, when I was with Bob I felt like I was with the most wonderful person in the world."
"Then why did you marry Bill?" Her friend asked.
Jane replied, "Because when I'm with Bill, I feel like I'm the most wonderful person in the wonderful world."
OBVIOUS POINT: We are naturally attracted to those who make us feel good about ourselves.
Want success? Be more like Bill.
Someone please tell me, is there anyone out there who wants to spend more time interacting with a business? Does anyone have an example of a business that they look forward to interacting with?
Maybe I'm a tightass, as I said in the comment on Hugh's post. Maybe I'm missing something? Please tell me!