The Value of Showmanship

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Some products really know how to make an entrance. Originally posted on November 27, 2012.

We’re taught never to judge by appearances. We all do it anyway.

Our all-too-human tendency to judge a book by its cover surely is unfortunate from a social justice standpoint, but from a marketing standpoint it offers an opportunity not to be missed. Namely, the opportunity to dress up your product or service to look the part so that customers will be more likely to buy it, both metaphorically and literally.

Not long ago I had to deal with a clogged drain. Since my otherwise handy sink plunger had proved powerless against this particular clog, I went looking for the meanest, toughest, beefiest industrial strength drain opener I could find. Amid two shelves of brands at The Home Depot, one contender stood out. Its authoritative black bottle certainly impressed, but the coup de grâce was that the bottle was packaged within a resealable plastic bag that was plastered with warnings.

Now, come on. The beefy bottle and childproof cap provided a perfectly safe seal. The bag was nothing more than showmanship. Its sole purpose was to create an impression of contents so dangerously nasty—and, therefore, effective—as to make even the most defiant clog quake with fear.

It worked. I had no choice. I had to buy that brand. Resealable bag and all.

Good showmanship that impresses is part of good marketing. That’s why airline crews dress in crisp, military-style uniforms. You and I both know that attire doesn’t fly a plane, yet most of us would feel less secure if our pilot sported a tank top and cutoffs. It’s why Del Monte makes Milk Bone dog treats in the shape of little, cartoonish femurs. Don’t try telling me that it’s your dog who finds the design charming. It’s why bank presidents wear suits, symphony orchestra players but not rappers don tuxes and formals, the Raid bug killer logo appears in bold, no-nonsense yellow type over a black shield (underscored by a lightning bolt, no less), horror movies have creepy soundtracks, Tropicana sticks a straw in an orange, iPhone packaging evokes an altar, and the Secret brand deodorant logo is set in a script font instead of, say, Stencil or Impact.

Even nature gets in on the showmanship act. As far as anyone can tell, a peacock’s big, colorful tail, a lion’s stately mane, and a gorilla’s elegant silver back — all otherwise useless or even arguable liabilities in the wild — serve to impress.

Regardless of what you bring to market, how you package it matters. Endow your product, store or service with the kind of look and feel—showmanship—that telegraphs “This is the real thing.” You’ll sell more.

Posted in Digital payments Marketing by admin. Comments Off on The Value of Showmanship

TBT: Functional is so last-decade

Originally posted July 15, 2014.

Things have flipped. Not long ago the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s enjoyed a competitive advantage by providing free onsite Wi-Fi. Today, that’s pretty much de rigueur. Providing onsite Wi-Fi is not so much a competitive advantage as not providing it is a competitive disadvantage.

Likewise, offering mobile banking, once the sign of a forward-thinking financial institution, no longer impresses. To do that, mobile banking must do more than function. It must connect.

We have made strides since the original hardware-delivered bank experience known as the ATM. Though you could name them, paint them, network them, and install more of them in more places than the competition, still, an ATM was pretty much an ATM. Today’s digital banking, however, needn’t be so clone-like. As yet, not too many banks seem to realize that. Unlike old ATM technology, today’s digital technology and devices allow for positive interactions, even personal ones, with a strong brand.

Here’s a quick look at how a few forward-thinking financial institutions are breaking out of the “Functional Only” box.

Tip: People will spend time on your site—when it’s fun. Walk into any public place and watch the number of people interacting with portable devices instead of with each other. While you’re at it, note that no one is making them do it. People willingly engage with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Minecraft, Flipboard, and more because, well, these virtual places have personality, and they’re fun. Some financial institutions have given their websites social and entertainment appeal, and found that clients return more often and linger longer. Need I point out that returning more often and lingering longer build loyalty and present a marketing opportunity?

Get ’em young. Ordinary financial institutions stew about attracting rising generations once they come into money of their own. Smart financial institutions start earlier, when those generations are still kids. They load their sites with educational pages, games, social tools, and more. By the time young people with no money morph into young adults with careers and money of their own, they have been already won over.

Personalize the impersonal. At first it seemed that the use of technology in banking would eliminate the personal touch; instead, it turns out that technology can convey it. A good interactive system connects clients with bank people via live chat, tweets, social media, and even, when desperate times call for it, telephone. A screen is no longer a barrier. It is a conduit.

Check register? What’s a check register? Even the staunchest paper defender must concede that checks are obsolescent. If the majority of people do not want to write checks, it follows that the majority do not want to write their transactions in a check register, either. But that doesn’t mean they want to give up oversight and control of their money. Hence the rise, indeed, the inevitability of online Personal Financial Management (PFM) tools.

I dare to you to show your laundry. It’s becoming increasingly fashionable for companies, financial institutions included, to post client reviews on their websites. But if readers suspect that you parade the praise while conveniently hiding the pans, you lose all credibility. At that point, posting reviews is no more effective than not posting reviews. That is why some brave banks post negative comments right along with positive ones. With the negative ones, they also post the bank’s response as to how it plans to make things right. This validates the rave reviews, which creates trust, and shows clients how you deal with problems, which, if you handle them properly, also creates trust. Don’t worry about the occasional irrational client who can’t be pleased. Your customers are on to them more than you think.

There are two problems with ideas like the above. First, they cost money. But then, it costs more not to make the investment, thereby losing clients to a competitor who does. Second, they require vision, which, let’s be honest, is often what “can’t afford it” really means. If someone anonymously printed this article and left it on your desk, you know who you are.

For details and examples of the above plus other ideas, I commend you to the The Financial Brand post, “12 Technology Trends Shaping Financial Marketing.”

Posted in Marketing Mobile Banking Social Media Uncategorized by Matt. Comments Off on TBT: Functional is so last-decade

To the Swiftest Go the Spoils

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WHEN YOU SEE WORDS like “estimate” and “90 percent” flung about without supporting data, it’s wise to assume you’re dealing with a guess landing somewhere between wild and educated.

But when no less than IBM does the flinging, I’m inclined to pay attention.

IBM recently suggested that 90 percent of all data has been produced within the last two years. Whether the statement is informed or speculative, and regardless of what they include (or don’t) in “all data,” the point is well taken. We are compiling data at breakneck speed. There is no reason to believe the trend will slow, and there is every reason to believe it will accelerate.

“Accelerate” is the operative word. Marketers aren’t just upping the speed and volume of data accrual. Sophisticated tools analyze on the fly, cutting response time to seconds. The goal? To show up on mobile devices in hopes of influencing customers in the very moment they are thinking about buying.

In an article by John Adams, Ross Christi, manager of LoyaltyEdge at American Express, has this to say: “The volume of data isn’t necessarily the challenge. It’s about using it intelligently and managing it in an efficient way.”

Keeping and analyzing customer data isn’t new. Savvy marketers have done it since the early days of direct mail, the original interactive medium. They didn’t call it data back then, but a rose is a rose. Data at the time pretty much consisted of name, address, purchase type, frequency, and average spend. In today’s interactive and mobile world, data comprise much more. And while at first it seemed as though privacy fears and laws would curtail data gathering, something interesting happened, and fast: consumers began volunteering the very data that fear-mongers had earlier convinced them marketers should not be allowed to obtain on their own. Mobile device users willingly reveal the merchants and products they like, where they’re shopping or dining at the moment, what UPCs they’re scanning, and more. Add up enough of those voluntary data points (and, for existing customers, overlay them with established buying preferences), and a picture emerges of who is where and thinking about buying what. Respond to the picture fast enough with a compelling offer sent to a mobile device, and you increase the odds of winning customers while they’re still at the point of purchase and, hopefully, still in a buying frame of mind.

Fear-mongers are still at work doing their best to decry fast-responding marketers as manipulative or sneaky. Nonsense. Sound marketing is a win-win. Marketers win by creating or growing customers. Customers win by receiving usefully timed information and offers on products they actually care about. And, of course, no data is shared without express permission from the customer.

John Knuff, general manager of global financial services for Equinix, said (as quoted by Adams), “What we are seeing now with intelligent targeting is more data mining is going on and happening within the customer session—so if a consumer is getting instructions on what to do to access or redeem an offer, a lot of the information to drive that has to be transferred in real time.” Knuff adds a caution: “… if the data set is on the West coast, but the session is on the East coast, the data has to traverse three to five vendors and has to travel three thousand miles several different times during that session. That’s really going to bog things down.”

Time has always been money. But in the marketing arms race, shaving—by even an insanely infinitesimal amount—the time it takes to turn data into a well-executed marketing response will give the marketer a serious advantage over competitors.

Posted in Marketing Mobile Banking Social Media by Matt. Comments Off on To the Swiftest Go the Spoils

Zappos: Rhetoric and Reality

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Lest I be misunderstood, let me state for the record that I love Zappos. I admire, perhaps even envy them. And I like shoes as much as the next guy.

When companies attain preeminence, it is usually due to a convergence of factors. Surely Zappos is no exception. Being early to the game helped; with a strong, consistently fashionable offering, they established a relevant brand for upscale shoppers. Their adeptness at removing barriers to purchase and delivering legendary customer service play a big role. So do wide selections, good web design, easy navigation, solid back-end management, a generous return policy, reader-friendly copy, favorable word of mouth, sound capitalization, old-fashioned elbow grease and more. And not to be overlooked, though no one cares to admit their part in any success, are the twins of fortuity generally known as Luck and Timing.

It makes for an arguably fine recipe for any aspiring internet startup. The trouble is, once a company becomes a runaway success and reporters start showing up to ask how they did it, the above description seems so … so … banal. What reporters want to write, readers want to read, and, conveniently, business leaders want to dish up is self-congratulatory rhetoric dressed up as revolutionary thinking. Ironically, the result tends to be equally banal, often a mere recycling of In Search of Excellence-style flatulence. Yet in some sort of bizarre social contract, interviewer, interviewee and reader agree to treat the flatulence as new and instructive.

So it is that companies like Zappos come to believe, and would have us believe, too, that it was their strict adherence to cool-sounding values that rocketed them to success, and that your own strict adherence to like values will inevitably rocket you there, too.

At first glance, the values Zappos parades on its website and that reporters eagerly gush about appear compelling. Who can argue with lofty ideals like Deliver WOW Through Service, Embrace and Drive Change, Create Fun and A Little Weirdness, Be Adventurous, Pursue Growth and Learning, Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication, Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit, Do More With Less, Be Passionate and Determined, and Be Humble?

But let’s step back from the excitement for a moment. Exactly how does one implement and measure WOW? How about passion and weirdness? (For that matter, how do you reconcile an admonition to be humble with the blatant braggadocio of running self-aggrandizing, Are-We-Cool-or-What standards all over your website?) These are not standards. Standards are measurable. These are slogans designed to promote, not to explain.

Of course, their very magic and elusiveness explain why many managers eagerly embrace them. No one can prove that you do not adhere to what cannot be measured. Nor can anyone disprove their effectiveness. If a company succeeds, credit the “standards.” If it fails, claim that the “standards” would have worked if only the company had truly committed to them.

Zappos and other successful interactive companies deserve praise and admiration for their success. But it’s important not to discard the nitty-gritty for sexy sounding platitudes.

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Posted in Marketing by Matt. Comments Off on Zappos: Rhetoric and Reality