Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is this the formula for loyalty and CRM success?

I just finished the book $100 Start-Up by Chris Guillebeau. It’s a smart, inspiring read and a must for anyone thinking about starting a small business. Guillebeau has pulled together a ton of really interesting examples of start-ups that have made it, many with a minimal upfront investment.

There was one passage that I found especially interesting and it related to success. Through his studies, Guillebeau determined that most successful small companies had a few attributes in common. He then came up with a simple formula to explain it:

Passion & Skill + Usefulness = Success

This got me thinking—there are several areas of business and marketing where this equation could be applied, including most loyalty initiatives. Because while it’s possible to come up with a great idea that’s of value to customers (Usefulness), the same effort and expertise (Passion & Skill) must be put into its execution and promotion for the initiative to be a success.

Here are three loyalty and CRM-related efforts that I believe are hitting on all cylinders, providing a valuable resource for customers, while backed by the passion and skill that lead to a successful outcome.

1. Push a button, get a pizza. In a recent issue of Trendwatchinga customer loyalty initiative from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates caught my eye. It’s for a standalone pizza shop called Red Tomato Pizza, and they’ve developed a truly amazing way to increase sales from existing customers.

The pizzeria has a loyalty club and it recently sent all its members a Red Tomato Pizza VIP Fridge magnet. Let me tell you, it’s no ordinary magnet with the pizza shop’s phone number on it. It’s a high-tech gadget that offers the ultimate in convenience, allowing you to About the size of a small box of matches, the magnet is shaped like a pizza box with a “lid” on it. 

Open the lid and there’s a button inside you can “push for hunger”. The device then uses Bluetooth functionality to connect to the Internet—and automatically orders your favorite pizza to be delivered to your registered address. No picking up the phone. No clicking on to the Internet. Just push a button on your fridge. (Check out  the cool demo.)

2. Conquering the fear of flying. Miles, schmiles. The airlines need to come up with new and unique ways to attract and retain customers and I think Virgin Atlantic Airlines in the UK has a brilliant one. It’s a unique effort to capture an underserved part of the flying market—those who fear flying—and turn them into regular Virgin Atlantic customers.

The airline has developed a program called Flying Without Fear, including a comprehensive Web site that claims to be “the Internet’s biggest resource for fearful flyers”. There you can find videos, success stories and support networks for dealing with flying phobia. Live workshops are available and there’s an active online community discussion on overcoming the fear. (Sample passage: “I was able to manage the flight without valium and without tears!”)

For iPhone users, there even a mobile app to assist you, that includes a personal greeting from Sir Richard Branson himself, answers to common questions from a pilot, and an in-flight tutorial that can guide you as to what’s going on during each portion of your flight. The program claims a success rate in excess of 98%, and I’m guessing Virgin Atlantic has attracted a plethora of new and loyal customers because of it.

3. A belly-full of rewards. Belly is a US-based digital loyalty program that allows customers to sign up online and automatically start earning points at over 1,000 small businesses. But what really sets the program apart are its tech-y nature and unique rewards.

Each participating merchant is equipped with an iPad that customers can use to sign in and track their points. No membership cards or key fobs necessary. But for me, the coolest aspect of the program is the fun, seldom monetary, often wacky rewards. For instance, you can: 

  • Earn “cut the line” privileges at several coffee shops and grocers.
  • Get a sandwich named after you at a local deli.
  • Earn a “punch the owner in the stomach” reward (!?) at a comic book shop.
  • Get a 10-minute “all you can eat” pass at famed Chicago sausage shop Devil Dawgs.
How about you—have you noticed any new loyalty or CRM initiatives of late with the passion, skill and usability to be a success?

This post by writer and creative director Tom Rapsas originally appeared on Loyalty Truth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Avis still trying harder?

I recently reserved a car online for a pending vacation and without much searching went right to Avis. I have a soft spot for the company having worked as creative lead on the Avis U.S. advertising account from 2006 through 2008, including their top-tier loyalty program, the Avis Chairman’s Club.

Rather than go directly to the Avis Web site to make the reservation, I went though a new program I had just joined called Geico Privileges. It’s basically a tack-on discount program for Geico auto insurance customers and in this case I was promised a discount of up to 25% on my next Avis rental.

From the Geico Privileges Web site I connected to a co-branded area of the Avis site. There, I chose my location, added my discount code and booked a weekly rental. Not seeing a discount applied to the total, I initiated an online chat where I was informed I’d get my discount at the time of the rental.

There was just one issue. When I picked-up my car, I looked at my new paperwork and didn’t see a discount, just the regular price. I inquired about it and was told by an ever-smiling Avis agent that the location I was standing in did not and had never offered this type of discount.

My next step: a phone call to Avis customer service where I was informed that if I looked at the teeny-tiny block of mouse type at the bottom of the original estimate I would find the words: “Offer is available only for rentals at participating locations”. And sorry, but this location was not participating.

When I complained that this should have been spelled out at the time I made the reservation—after all, I input the discount code at the Avis site and indicated my pick-up-location—my customer service rep blamed Geico. She said they never should have offered me the discount in the first place. At which point I asked to talk to a manager.

The new perception of customer service in a Zappos world.

The funny thing is in today’s digital world we often expect an immediate resolution to our customer service problems. Recent online service issues I had with Eddie Bauer and yes, the reigning champs of a superior customer experience, Zappos, had me thinking we had reached a new paradigm in customer service. If things weren’t right, by golly, they got fixed—and pronto. So I was a little taken aback by the initial response I got from Avis.

On top of this, it was recently reported that Avis has dropped their tag line of nearly five decades, “We Try Harder” for the mystifying “It’s Your Space”. It apparently has something to do with the various ways businesspeople use their cars while on the road. (Note to Avis: is that really a point-of-difference between you and other rental car companies?)

It all had me wondering if customer service was now a secondary consideration of the “new” Avis. Had they decided, like so many airlines, that it was all about the ability to offer the cheapest price, customer service be damned?

Well, all’s well that ends well. My customer service rep relayed the problem to manager Thomas Mayfield at Avis headquarters in Tulsa who promptly called me. With sincerity, he apologized for the mix-up, said the Avis site should have warned me I wouldn’t be getting a discount—it’s something they’re working on—and offered me a $50 credit for my next rental, good at any location, including the one I was just at.

Good job, Avis. Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.

This post was written by vacation-loving creative director and writer Tom Rapsas.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Who says you can’t have it all? The brand Gods, that’s who.

I was recently reminded of a series of commercials that ran for the American beer Michelob Lite in the 1980s. Based around the syrupy jingle “Who says you can’t have it all?”, the spots showed a certain demographic, at the time called “yuppies”, who supposedly did have the whole enchilada. As Hugh MacLeod points outs in his humorous, “do-the-work-you-love” book Evil Plans:
The campaign for Michelob Lite beer tritely asked the question “Who says you can’t love your work and leave it too?” as a sly substitute for the question “Who says you can’t get great, satisfying taste in a beer that also happens to be kind of light and watery.”
Some of the other themes in the campaign included the head-scratching "Who says you can't be somebody and still be you?" as well as the paean to lost youth "Who says you can't have pinstripes and rock and roll?" The answer in every case was an emphatic “Oh yes you can!” (You can check out one of the commercials here.)

The “Who says you can’t have it all?” ad campaign only had a shelf-life of about a year and in hindsight it’s not hard to see why. At its core, the brand was making a statement that’s just not believable. In beer, as in life, there are usually trade-offs involved. And while a beer with less calories may be a good thirst quencher, it probably doesn’t qualify as “a super premium beer”, as Michelob Lite liked to refer to itself.

Today, there are more than few brands who exhibit this same “over-promise, under deliver” behavior (I’m talking to you, banking sector). But there are several companies and brands that are doing an excellent job of nailing down their own unique market positioning by promoting a product benefit that resonates and separates them from their competitors. A few examples:
*Wendy’s. I’m the opposite of a fast food fan, but I’m almost tempted to stop by a Wendy’s. Their new ad campaign is centered around what’s called “Wendy’s Way” with an emphasis on high quality ingredients. Check out their nifty Web site where you can tour a picturesque 3-D farmland that brings to life the Wendy’s point of difference. Does Burger King or McDonald’s use the same fresh ingredients? Probably. But for now at least, Wendy’s has seized and owns the “fresh” mantle. 
*Apple. I’ve seen several of the new “genius” commercials, and I’m less than impressed, as are the critics. After years of superior advertising, Apple has put out a series of corny slice-of-life spots about an employee from their “Genius Bar” assisting customers in need. Yet, while the execution feels very Dell/Best Buy-ish, they do point out a huge point-of-difference that Apple has over these competitors—they offer great customer service from helpful employees who really know their stuff. 
*Meijer’s. In the supermarket category, I could tell you about the superior shopping experience and quality of a Whole Foods or Wegman’s. But instead I’d like to talk about convenience. As reported by the Zing! blog, the Meijer chain has set up a radical new way to redeem coupons. Open an account at their m-rewards Web site and you can enter all the coupons you want online before you go to the store. Then, just enter your mobile phone number at check-out and “your coupons will be miraculously applied to your purchase”. It’s a frictionless way to pass along savings, without all the clipping and paperwork.
One final note on Michelob Lite. While their “You can’t have it all” spots failed, so has virtually every other campaign they’ve tried over the years. (Remember, “Light up the night”? I didn’t think so.) I’ll again let Hugh MacLeod weigh in on this less than successful brand:
“Twenty-plus years after declaring their ability to be all things to all people, that brand is still struggling, trying to be something—anything—other than unexceptional.”
What about the companies, brands and loyalty programs you work for and with: Do they offer a real point-of-difference? Do your customers see them as exceptional?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What customer needs are you meeting?

Gwen Bell
Every once in a while, it’s good to get back to the marketing basics. I was reminded of one recently while reading Reverb, an interesting e-book by writer and consultant Gwen Bell. While it’s primarily about building a small business from the ground up, there’s one quote in the book that really struck a chord with me, as it relates to all businesses and the way we talk to customers:

The priority of running a business is to help your customers meet their needs, while staying in alignment with your principles.

Help your customers meet their needs…” Pretty obvious, right? But how often do we get so caught up in promoting the features and talking points of a product, service or loyalty program, that we forget to address a basic premise: how does what I’m selling meet the needs of my customer?

The first step in answering that question is figuring out what your customers really want from you. Remember: It’s not about what you’re selling, it’s about why they’re buying. Do they want you to save them money? Make their lives easier? Sexier? More fulfilling? Less stressful? More fun?

Until you can determine what basic customer need you’re meeting, or customer problem you’re solving, you should put your advertising, social media and loyalty efforts on the back burner. Because how you answer the “needs” question is one of the most important factors in determining the communications strategy and tactics that will work best for you.

About the second part of that quote: “staying in alignment with your principles.”

We’ve all worked for clients whose key guiding principle is “let’s sell more stuff so we can make more money”. But ideally, the products or services you’re selling and marketing are integrated with the company’s core purpose, its raison d'ĂȘtre.

For me, the gold standard for a company that’s in perfect alignment with its principles is Patagonia, the purveyor of all things outdoors. Go to their Web site and click on the Company Info link you’ll see in big bold type Patagonia’s mission statement:

Our Reason for Being
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Is that beautiful or what? Short, principled and to the point. And it fits perfectly with the products Patagonia sells and the customer needs they meet.

Now I know that not every company is going to have such a noble mission, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many successful and highly regarded companies do. From Starbucks to Southwest, each one has a set of rules they do business by which has helped them become leaders in their particular business vertical.

What about the companies you work with and for—are they helping your customers meet their needs while aligning with a core set of principles?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is community the new loyalty?

There’s a quirky online e-tailer named Fab that’s taking a unique approach to building their customer base. They’re relying almost solely on word-of-mouth through social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, to both grow sales and encourage customer engagement.

The thinking behind Fab is different from virtually every other online retailer. For starters, you have to “join” Fab as a member to gain entry to the site. Then, once you’re on board, you can invite your friends to join in exchange for a nice commission. You receive a $30 credit for getting 10 new members to join, and a $25 credit if your referral makes a $25 purchase within 30 days of joining.

The site is well-designed, clean and simple, but its real beauty is the way it has integrated social media into its DNA in order to keep its members active and engaged. There are ubiquitous social media links around most product pages, as well as omnipresent ad banners inviting users to “Shop with Facebook friends”. There’s a “Live Feed” page that connects customers and lets you peek in on who is buying and “faving” what.

So far, this unique social shopping scheme appears to be working. Fab opened for business just last year and already has 4.5 million members and is generating $400,000 in sales each day. And they’re doing it without any advertising and without any discernable brand voice.

This got me thinking: is community the new loyalty?

In my days at pioneering loyalty marketing shop Frequency Marketing, we talked about loyalty in terms of reward and recognition. Reward usually involved a points-based program that got customers to stick around for a tangible payoff once they reached a preset spending level, while recognition involved soft benefits like complimentary upgrades or services.

But in the digital age, that feels more and more like a limited approach. As best I can tell, Fab has no loyalty program. Their brand voice is muted at best. And while it does offer a “cool” and diverse product line, there are dozens of other e-tailers doing the same the thing. (For starters, check out The Real Real, Uniqlo or Styloko.)

I believe that Fab could be on the leading edge of a new way to gain customer loyalty that’s based not on your relationship with the brand itself—but on the relationship you have with the brand’s community. On Fab, that’s the friends and acquaintances with whom you share links about what’s cool and what’s not.

The fact is no matter how compelling your brand story might be, a consumer is still more likely to relate and bond with like-minded shoppers, who share their whims, desires and tastes. Bring enough of these shoppers together in a community, and you could have a force more powerfully able to retain customers and increase customer spend than even the savviest loyalty program.

What do you think?

Note: This post originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on 6.4.12.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What we need are more big ideas.

A friend at an ad agency recently shared with me some spec creative work they had pitched to a big national company. The primary focus, per the client brief, was an overhaul of the company Web site. And I thought my friend’s agency had done a nice job. The design they came up with was neat and clean, the information was well-organized and there were a couple of nifty bells-and whistles.

There was just one thing missing: the big idea.

The agency later found out they hadn’t won the business and frankly, I wasn’t surprised. Because had I stumbled upon the proposed site, I couldn’t have told you what the company stood for, what separated them from their competitors or why I should buy from them. It was another “me-too” site. And I don’t think this lack of originality was an isolated incident.

Over the past few years, it feels like the power of the idea is often trumped by the power of technology. Coolness wins over substance, and when that happens the opportunity to connect with consumers in a meaningful way is often missed. You may make a one-off sale, but the emotional connection that leads to return visits, repeat sales and brand loyalty is lost.

In the creative department we often say that the creative work is only as good as the strategy or brief behind it. (The exact phrase we use is “Sh-t in, sh-t out”.) And I believe a leading cause of the dearth of the big idea, is a faulty or non-existent strategy from the outset. The upfront thinking (aka heavy lifting) that’s required for meaningful work is often kicked down the road and then retro-fitted into whatever creative/technological solution that’s deemed the most cutting edge or fashionable.

In a recent blog post, Seth Godin touched on this less than consumer-friendly approach to marketing, specifically as it relates to strategy. Godin posited that the culprit was often the fact that there were too many strategies out there: an email strategy and a social media strategy and a web strategy and a mobile strategy” and that they often ignored the “one and only one thing that matters, and it's people”.

Godin goes on to point out the pitfalls that come with an incoherent strategy: All of these media are conduits, they are tools that human beings use to waste time or communicate or calculate or engage or learn. Behind each of the tools is a person. Do you have a story to tell that person? An engagement or a benefit to offer them? Figure out the people part and the technology gets a whole lot simpler.

When we put more value on the tools and tactics than the upfront thinking, what results are poor strategies that lead to weak ideas that fail to engage the consumer. While the finished product, for instance a new Web site, may look shiny and hip on the outside, it often has a pixel-thin appeal and lacks the emotional resonance that sparks people into developing a real relationship with your brand.

One company that’s getting it right: Anthropologie.

My wife is a big fan of this female-focused company’s clothing and accessories and a visit to their Web site helped show me why. The Anthropologie site successfully sells an alluring lifestyle that varies by season. Currently themed “The Island Life”, the site features a mix of beautiful “island” photography, video and copy that’s carried through on each of the site’s main sub-pages. It sets a great mood and romances the customer before trying to make a sale.

As far as the company’s use of personalization, upon entering the site it immediately called up the nearest store location (helpfully informing me it was currently closed for “remodeling from head to toe”, but pointing out another nearby location). And I know from e-mails my wife has received, they also do a fine job of personalizing e-mails, apparently by analyzing her past purchasing behavior. Kudos on a job well done!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The “world’s most rewarding loyalty program” suffers a meltdown.

Each day en route to my office in New York City I pass a bright blue billboard on the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s for the newly redesigned United Airlines MileagePlus® loyalty program and it makes the rather bold claim that it’s “The world’s most rewarding loyalty program”.

I’ve been curious as to how the Continental and United merger was working out, specifically in regards to the loyalty program. For several recent years I was a very frequent flier and Continental was my airline of choice. I had a Gold Elite card and have to say I had no complaints whatsoever, especially on those LA to NY flights where getting bumped up to first-class was a godsend.

So when I paid a visit to the now super-sized airline’s MileagePlus loyalty rewards page, I was surprised at what I found there. For there, right on the airline’s very own turf, the program and customer experience around the program were getting roundly and soundly thrashed.

On a page titled “The facts about MileagePlus account numbers, PINs and passwords”, there’s an open comment thread where frequent United fliers can “Post a Comment” and say pretty much whatever they want. As the page notes: At the United Hub we welcome lively and courteous discussion, so we do not screen comments before you post them.

Well, if MileagePlus was hoping for a “lively” discussion, they got it. I read all 18 online comments that were posted over a 7-day period from March 21-27, and the program scored a perfect 18 for 18. Every single one was negative, most in a scathing “I don’t care how long we’ve been together, I’m ready to get a divorce” kind of way.

Below you’ll find some of the messages posted by MileagePlus members. I’ve edited down the longer entries, but the content is 100% genuine.

Begin Comment Thread:

MARCIA FRIEDMAN 7:51 AM on March 21, 2012

I have been trying for 2 weeks every day to get my account set up. The phone disconnects me after holding on and the email is not answered. United service is nonexistent.

UNDEFINED 9:29 AM on March 22, 2012

United.... OMG. This new system is absolutely HORRIBLE!!!! You lost my mileage... All my flights this month have not been credited. Customer service is WORTHLESS. I have been flying United for the past 7 years but I am considering leaving and taking my tens of thousands of dollars that I spend elsewhere. Get it together United.

CONNIE SISKA 11:29 AM on March 23, 2012

United - really - what happened here? I loved the previous United website. this new one - you can keep - it is horrible, not user friendly, stuff goes missing and I can't tell if my reservation is waitlisted for upgrade or not. I am at GOLD Status, but you sent my mileage card for SILVER and I can't get anyone to respond back to me to see if my new one has been mailed. I have been a loyal United customer for the past 12 years and I am not happy about the change.

CHRIS SHAW 11:22 AM on March 24, 2012

This is now an airline that blows PR all over the place BUT does not answer or respond to whatever means me the PREMIER customer tries. How do you spell JET BLUE???

RISCILLA APPEL KENNEDY 1:26 PM on March 26, 2012

Since the switch from Continental to United my 6 years worth of miles are currently unretrievable in outer space. I have been on hold with United for over (6) hours since last Tuesday to get technical support to retrieve these miles. There is no urgency in their part...

CHRISTOF ABSOLUM 5:16 PM on March 26, 2012

Hello. I have been trying to connect but none of my Mileage number and password work anymore. My access in now blocked...I have been sending messages to the Mileage plus support as mentioned but after 5 messages sent over the last 3 weeks, no answer at all from United.

UNDEFINED 6:04 AM on March 27, 2012

Absolute worst service, ever. Took my over 90 minutes just to check in, with the rudest staff (in san francisco) that I have ever encountered. Their system is totally jacked. It's a joke that they actually have customer service, nobody was willing to offer service. It's a miracle that one worker was able to "break the system" so I could actually fly home. Why I would want their miles program is beyond me.

VYNESSA ALEXANDER 4:59 PM on March 27, 2012

I have been working with both United as premier exec and Continental as gold elite...... I have been unable to log on to the site. There is no web support. Ask alex is a farce. United service and support was always better than continental. I have been trying to get help for over a week. Sent emails for help on refunds no response. This is really annoying.

End Comment Thread.

You get the idea. There appears to be a major meltdown happening at the MileagePlus Web site, and it has obviously alienated a whole lot of United’s frequent flyer base. Yet, curiously, it seems like there’s no one minding the MileagePlus store with customer queries going unanswered for days and even weeks.

I see two valuable lessons to be gained from this situation, especially as it relates to opening a dialogue with customers:

1. Never, ever leave a comment system unmanned. Having an open, uncensored comment system is a bold and commendable move. But you absolutely have to have someone onboard ready to respond, answering questions and doing their best to assist program members. It’s an opportunity for a dialogue, not one-way customer diatribes.

2. When absolutely everything is going wrong, disable the comments. When you reach Three Mile Island meltdown stage, it’s time to shutdown the comment section and regroup. Sure, it goes against your “we do not screen comments” philosophy, but sometimes practicality is the better course when your good intentions have been turned into a weapon that’s being used against you.

Here’s hoping they get things straightened out before I start flying again.

Editor’s note: As of March 29, when this post appeared on Loyalty Truth, all the initial negative comments on the MileagePlus site were deleted. But as of today, April 16th, a new crop of negative comments has emerged--with no responses from anyone at United. Once again, someone appears to be asleep at the MileagePlus response desk.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Where e-mail goes to die: looking into my Spam folder.

About once a week, I’ll go into my Google e-mail account and check out my Spam folder. There, I’ll usually find e-mails from a few retailers who, even though I’ve opted to receive e-mails from them, have broken some unwritten Google rules about what constitutes Spam.

A few observations: The Google Spam detector doesn’t like exclamation points in subject lines. Take this one from Staples: Penny deals and more ways to save! or this one from Hallmark: TOM, see 4 new Recordable Storybooks! It also doesn’t like numbers in subject lines, as evidenced by this example from Lending Tree: Tom, rates are as low as 2.5% (3.244% APR) and this one from ProFlowers: 40% off, Tom...Just because we like you☺ All wound up in my Spam folder.

But what’s most interesting and entertaining in my Spam box are the many “scam” e-mails I find there. These scams fall into a few categories, but they all have something in common: their tortured use of the English language, including misspellings and painfully awkward phrases, and their total lack of believability. Below are two types of scams I’ve noticed in abundance lately, as well as a new one.

Scam Category #1: You’re the lucky winner of a sweepstakes.

If you had checked my Spam box over the past few months, you’d see that I’m one lucky dude. For I’ve won everything from the Irish Sweepstakes to something called the Microsoft Lottery. Here’s an excerpt from my latest bonanza. It appears I’ve won a million-million dollars, which I think adds up to a gazillion.

Subject: Dear Lucky Winner

Your e-mail address have been Chosen today on the 1st March 2012,To free lotto Tickets No. lotto/2012/ATMcard. You have therefore been approved to claim a total sum of US1,000,000 Million Dollars in cash credited to file KTU/9023118308/03.

All participants for the online version were selected randomly from World Wide Web sites through computer draw system and extracted from over 100,000 unions, This compensation is proudly sponsored by the Microsoft Corporation, Coca Cola, MTN, Toyota and Toshiba.

Scam Category #2: Somebody died. Let’s share the inheritance.

Most of this type of e-mails center around something really bad happening, including plane and helicopter crashes, the Japanese Tsunami and even a military coup. In just the past week, I’ve heard from almost a dozen friends and relatives of the deceased whose stories always go like this: somebody suddenly died, there’s several million dollars in a bank somewhere, and my help is urgently needed to get it out. This recent entry will give you a good idea of the approach:






New Scam Category: Love is in the air! So give me your bank account info.

Since I imagine the sweepstakes, inheritance and bank phishing scams are now growing a little tired, here’s a new one: a love letter of sorts from a “tall and fair” Guinean vixen. Of course, there are some strings attached to her appeal for a “relationship”.

Subject: My Dear,

My Dear,

How are you today? I know this mail will come to you as a surprise, because you don't know me and I don't know you well. Let me first of all introduce myself to you, My name is Miss Gladys Ijere Paul, 21 years old girl from Guinea Bissau. I am tall and fair in complexion, I am loving and caring. After finish my prayer, I got your email from yahoo trust search when I was searching for a foreign partner who will help me for business transaction.

Please reply me if only you are interested and ready to help me and provide an account that will be use in receiving the fund into your bank account. Please I need your help so that we can proceed.

Honestly Speaking I have a special something I want to discus with you about my life and this transaction; I know age will not be a beerier to our relationship. What I need is just your love and caring.

I will give you my best; I really want to have a good relationship with you. I will send my pictures to you and also tell you more about my self, Have a wonderful day with love and trust, bye for now; I am waiting to hear from you soon,

Miss Gladys.

Sorry Miss Gladys, but my wife would not approve. And I could be wrong, but I have a funny feeling you’re more interested in a relationship with my money than with me. (Maybe I can connect her with the guy holding my sweepstakes winnings.)

This post was written by Tom Rapsas and previously appeared on Loyalty Truth.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome to Marketing 2012: the Relationship Era.

There’s a fascinating article titled “The Dawn of the Relationship Era in Marketing” that recently appeared in AdAge magazine. It’s written by David Rogers and Bob Garfield, the latter the same guy who caused a stir a few years ago with the essay “The Chaos Scenario” which (semi-correctly) predicted “the end of advertising as we know it”.

This piece isn’t quite so controversial, but it does point out that the role of marketing in the selling equation is changing. The authors posit that we’re witnessing the end of “the Consumer Era” and are now moving into “the Relationship Era”.

The Relationship Era is based around the idea that companies that succeed in the future will do so because they’ve made some sort of human connection with their customer base. The belief is that in the Relationship Era, the big winners will be companies that people trust because they have “solid core values” and “transparent and honest practices".

These companies will spend little on advertising—because they won't need it. They’ve made a personal connection with a core group of customers who trust them implicitly, because they’ve backed up their core values with actions. They can then rely on these loyal customers to spread the word about their products and services and attract new customers.

The authors believe these brand-fan customers will: "…share your links and retweet you on Twitter and post a photo of themselves with your product on Facebook and like you on Facebook and generate all these network conversations, which go back to the top of the funnel and influence other customers in your network at their own stage of awareness, consideration, preference or action."

So how do you get to be one of these beloved companies who people are tweeting and posting about? It starts with a purpose according to Rogers and Garfield. “You have to explain to all comers why you're in business.” Among the companies identified as successfully “explaining” themselves and their values are Apple, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

One prime example that’s cited is outdoors outfitter Patagonia who for years has had a purpose that resonates with its customers: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. The company then backs up this mantra with real-world actions, donating 1% of its gross sales to environmental causes, promoting environmental sustainability in every aspect of its operations and providing progressive workplace policies like paternity leave and paid sabbaticals.

Another company identified as a having authentic purpose: Krispy Kreme. After a rough start to the decade, in 2009 a new
management team went searching for the company’s raison d’etre and came up with: "Touching and enhancing people's lives through the joy that is Krispy Kreme. Management then “decreed that the joy ethic inform every interaction at every level of the business.”

My take: I can buy into the Relationship Era—but only to a point.

It’s hard to argue with companies like Trader Joe’s and Patagonia, that have carved out their own unique niche in the marketplace with little to no advertising, but lots of positive word-of-mouth and social networking buzz. After all, what’s not to like about free advertising? But the fact is, these kind of companies are few and far between.

Put under a microscope, I’d say the majority of US companies would be unable to pass the “authenticity” sniff test. Even successful companies often aren’t nimble or visionary enough to coalesce around a single purpose and execute it in the marketplace. It’s just not in their DNA. For instance, I wonder if every Krispy Kreme franchise has really been able to add “the joy ethic” to every business transaction.

The good news: companies that lack a specific purpose their customers can rally around, have other ways to grow their business and increase brand loyalty. This includes doing all they can to improve the customer experience from pre-sale to post-sale. It also means enhancing customer engagement, so that customers are communicated with in personal, relevant ways across a variety of touch points.

What do you think—is the Relationship Era upon us?

This article is by Tom Rapsas. You can reach him via LinkedIn.