September 11, 2012

The Bare Necessities Of Brand Loyalty

Over the past few months, I've become something of a regular at The Bald Barista in Dublin. It's a handy place to prepare for my nearby meeting, the staff there are very friendly and the coffee's pretty good too.

But, despite my growing habit, I resisted their offer of a loyalty card, as I didn't want to add to the clutter in my wallet. Meaning I missed out on an occasional complimentary coffee and the Bald Barista missed out on my becoming part of their loyal customer group.

That's until I noticed someone ahead of me in the queue retrieving their card from a small rolodex behind the counter and handing it to the barista. She endorsed it, then returned it to the customer, who in turn replaced it in the rolodex. Problem solved!

When it came to my turn, I said 'yes' to the usual offer of a loyalty card, quickly wrote my name at the top, and added it to the rolodex under 'T'. All the while, feeling strangely pleased with myself as I did so.

As I sipped my coffee, I compared this apparently unsophisticated system with those employed by the larger coffee chains, who have typically adopted electronic technologies to track custom and keep coffee drinkers sweet.

And I concluded that, whilst the Bald Barista's system was a little cumbersome, and technically very old-fashioned, there was something quite appealing about knowing that 'my card' sat behind the counter (rather than in my wallet) waiting for my next visit. Something very personal too.

The more I thought about it, the more ingenious this unsophisticated system seemed to me. In making it personal, the Bald Barista was getting much closer to the heart of loyalty than many of his more technologically advanced competitors. For me, the simple knowledge that my card, with my name scrawled on it, enjoyed pride of place in the rolodex behind the counter, made the loyalty card much more than just a system to rack up points towards a free beverage. Instead, I felt myself to be a card-carrying member of the Bald Barista community of coffee-drinkers, something that the shiny plastic systems on offer elsewhere had failed to do.

I'm unlikely to be alone in feeling this way. Sometimes, the simpler approach is best, and brand-owners are better advised to choose those systems that bring them closer to their customer rather than just enable them to manage a process more efficiently.

Now, I'm quite sure that economics played a part in the Bald Barista's decision to stick with a 'pen and paper' system, and I'm fairly sure the system isn't fool-proof, but for me the unadorned simplicity of an approach which puts you right at the heart of a business is irresistible.

Over To You: What do you think? Have you experienced slick loyalty systems that leave you feeling cold when compared with those that offer something of the human touch?

July 28, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger...Or Simply More Effective

"To us they're Olympians. But to their moms, they'll always be kids"

Fast Company recently invited us to "find out which brands have already ascended the podium in the freestyle advertising events in London' and included ads from the likes of Nike, Paddy Power and Lego in their top twelve.

Whilst many of these ads are very powerful, the winner for me has been one from Proctor and Gamble that didn't even make it onto Fast Company's very crowded podium. I suspect the magazine's Olympic judges have been swayed more by the glamour and attitude of some of these ads rather than by the powerful insight that drives the narrative of Proctor and Gamble's Olympic Kids 2012.

The idea behind the ad is very simple but effective. It features a number of children participating in an Olympic Games, whilst their mothers look on. At the end, it emerges that all along we've been watching grown athletes in action through the eyes of their mothers. The brilliant punchline, "To us they're Olympians. But to their moms, they'll always be kids' goes to the very heart of the relationship between a mother and her children and reminds us that no matter how grown up we are, we are still our mother's children.

(Having just turned forty-seven, I see this for myself when my mother bristles at how broadcaster George Hook "is always interrupting you" during our Kickstart Your Business feature on Newstalk every Saturday morning. That may be George's style with guests and co-presenters, and part of his great appeal to listeners like me who enjoy his often-combative style, but my mother continues to look out for her little boy!).

The Olympian kids is one of a series of ads that cleverly links Proctor and Gamble and its products to the Games; another salutes the mothers who work tirelessly behind the scenes to support their children in their efforts to reach the top of their particular game. Perhaps the only mis-step in the ad is the US-reference to 'moms' rather than 'mums', which is likely to jar just a little in this part of the world. But I'm nit-picking.

It seems to me that by telling a very simple story very well and touching the hearts of mothers in this way, Proctor and Gamble are much more likely to see a return in terms of loyalty and sales, than those other ads which are more about the hard-nosed, competitive side of the games in my view.

What do you think? Is this little boy too dewy-eyed at the shameless appeal of a multinational giant to the heart-strings, or is an ad that speaks to a mother in such a powerful way likely to reap the benefits on the supermarket shelves?

July 02, 2012

Too Good To Be True

It must be the horse-trader in me but I like the idea of a bargain as much as the next man. And so I find it difficult to ignore the offers that come my way courtesy of the various online dealers that negotiate rates with hotels, restaurants and other providers on my behalf. But that same horse-trader sometimes wonders how so many of those businesses can afford to give away the value they offer and yet turn a profit.

And, of course, so many of them can't. Two recent experiences showed up the difference that a fine margin and no margin at all can make.

In the first, I took up an offer from a dentist, which included an examination, x-rays and clean and polish. My visit was as much a pleasure as any visit to the dentist can be. I was greeted warmly, quizzed professionally on the details of my health, and expertly examined and treated. The dentist then took an extra few minutes to review my x-rays with me, before producing an outsized toothbrush and set of teeth in order to demonstrate to me the correct way to brush my teeth. He had rightly gathered that I had been cleaning my teeth in a certain way for many years, and showed me a different method which he assured me would be just as effective without being quite so hard in terms of wear and tear.  I left his surgery intent on giving him my business next time I needed to make a dental appointment.

My second experience couldn't have been more different. I booked a meal at a restaurant that offered a menu at a price that seemed to me to be too good to be true. And so it proved. I arrived with a friend for our meal and was greeted by a surly waiter who showed us to a section reserved for those using coupons. We were then given a menu devised for those dining on the special offer. Determined to make a point, it seemed, our waiter then clumsily reminded us that our choice was limited to the items on that menu.

It didn't stop there. Throughout the evening, our waiting staff made it very clear that they thought we were cheapskates, nuisance customers who were more trouble than we were worth. In 'coupon ghetto', service was slow and churlish, whilst elsewhere guests enjoyed something closer to friendly and attentive service. Closer to, but not quite there, because the atmosphere on the wrong side of the tracks had clearly poisoned the atmosphere in that particular restaurant and an unpleasant air of resentment lingered like a bad smell from the kitchen.

What a difference a fine margin and no margin at all can make. At the dentist, it was evident to me that he had done his sums properly and made sure it was worth his while to examine and treat me at the special rate. His service was brisk but thorough and I had no sense at any stage that I was an unwelcome patient.  His counterpart at the restaurant obviously hadn't crunched the numbers with the same diligence, and me and my friend were clearly bad guests as far the restauranteur and his colleagues were concerned.

Of course, it's not just coupon deals that can be too good to be true. Time was when the words 'bargain' and 'deal' meant that both buyer and seller benefitted from the arrangement. That's often no longer the case. Horse-traders of old were mindful that each party to a deal had to 'leave something on the table for the other'. Otherwise, the bargain was bad for business.

It's not just sellers who need to be aware of this. As buyers, we should resist the urge to choose cut-price rates that clearly leave no value on the table for the seller. if it seems to good to be true, then it usually is. But, as always, responsibility ultimately lies with the seller. When we go to market, we must ensure that the bargains we strike are good for business; otherwise, we serve both ourselves and our customers badly.

And that's a bad deal for everyone.

Over To You: What do you think? Have you shook hands on a deal that was just too good to be true and regretted it?

January 12, 2012

The Perfect Ending

'The only thing I really want is a cop on the beat, like the guy who patrolled the streets when I was growing up.'

In his book Beat Cop To Top Cop, the former Chief of the Miami Police Department, John F. Timoney, writes how this was the one lament he heard repeatedly from community members throughout his long career, whether as a young police officer on foot in the South Bronx in the early 1970s or in Philadelphia and then Miami as he rose through the ranks. 

He writes about going in search of this legendary cop, "the one who knew everyone in the neighbourhood and who chastised wayward children and settled disputes between neighbours and family members without ever having to resort to making an arrest" and concludes that he exists only in storybooks and in films. The friendly neighbourhood cop is a myth, but a necessary one, "an ideal that most people have regarding police officers in their communities."

As a former police officer myself, I was intrigued to read of this mythical cop, and realised that it reinforces an idea that I've found to be vital to my new role as brand-builder rather than law enforcer. 

I believe that other mythical figures and ideas roam the streets of our neighbourhoods in much the same way as Timoney's legendary cop. Throughout our society, there is a longing too for the inspirational teacher, the kindly shopkeeper and the caring doctor. We picture the white Christmas, the heady days of air-travel, the apple pie just like mother used to make (even when the mother in question was no dab hand at bakery). We are nostalgic for a time when everything was exactly as it should be, and for the people who helped to make it so.

As brand-builders, we need to know and understand the myths and stories that inspire our customers and work towards recreating that ideal world for them. This nostalgia - not alone for the past, but for the imagining of a perfect time - is a vital ingredient of great brands. Whether it is in producing the perfect pint, the classic car or the iconic mobile phone, we must strain towards realising the dream. 

It doesn't matter that we can never achieve the ideal. As Timoney notes, "There is nothing wrong with this myth. Most people like police officers or want to like police officers. It is the job of every police officer and every police chief to help make the myth a reality, or at least make the ideal a goal."

In working to make this ideal our goal too, we honour the deepest wishes of our customers and are well on the way to building a brand that helps them to resolve some of the heartfelt conflict in their lives.