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    I’ve been thinking a lot about brand identity, and a recent trip to Taco Bell had me laughing about brand identity. They’ve recently introduced “The Drive-Thru Diet”, featuring their Fresca menu. The Fresca menu highlights items with under 9 grams of fat, which is pretty low for a Taco Bell meal. However, “The Drive-Thru Diet” takes it a step further, promoting Taco Bell as a healthy option on your road to weight-loss. WHAT!?!? Hold on a minute… Taco Bell as a weight-loss option? Excuse me while I laugh again at that thought.

    It may sound harsh, but does anyone really believe that Taco Bell is a viable option for weight-loss? No. And, quite frankly, Taco Bell should be glad for that, as they’ve spent millions on ad campaigns for late-night meals, and cheap convenience. I loved their “Fourth Meal” campaign and drive-thru windows that stayed open late, and feel that both of those promotions held true to the brand. I just worry that they are putting a lot of effort into something that will ultimately fail because it doesn’t hold true to their brand.

    I’m sure Taco Bell has a good reason for launching this new promotion. My thought would be that they are trying to appeal to health-conscious mothers who are trying to feed their children and themselves on short notice. My next thought was that New Year’s Resolutions might offer the perfect opportunity to introduce this new line.

    There are always opportunities to move into new markets, but you need to think carefully about what your brand stands for, and how people perceive your brand. If you depart to heavily from the brand identity you’ve cultivated, you may alienate your core audience. So, how many of you are planning to use “The Drive-Thru Diet” to reach your New Year’s Resolutions?

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    It’s happened to all of us: the rude customer service agent, the To-go order with no utensils, the long waiting times, and an all-around awful experience. Since it’s happened to all of us, it stands to reason that every business has had a hand in giving customers a bad experience. So how do companies save face, keep their integrity, and maintain customer loyalty?

    The product recall: Most of us would consider a product recall to be a bad sign for a company. However, a voluntary recall can actually help the company! When companies voluntarily recall a product for safety reasons, they show that they care about their customers more than their profits. A voluntary recall also allows the company to maintain control of the situation and the communication about the situation, rather than letting customers and reporters dictate communication. Take the Tylenol recall by Johnson and Johnson in 1982. After several fatal incidents, it was found that Tylenol had been poisoned by someone from the outside. Johnson and Johnson took the product off the shelves, and re-introduced it with heavier packaging to ensure that no one could tamper with their products. This prompt and thorough reaction helped company maintain its reputation of trust, and now Tylenol is one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs on the market.

    The immediate fix: Sometimes it’s unnecessary to completely recall a product, and a “quick-fix” can help a company save face. While shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond, I heard a customer trying to return an office chair at Customer Service. He stated that the chair would not maintain its height when he adjusted it. After looking at the model number, the Customer Service employee stated that the manufacturer was aware of the problem, and was offering a special part for free to fix the issues with the adjustment. She gave the part to the customer with simple instructions, and he left happy with the result. By simply taking action to resolve a problem, the manufacturer kept their customers happy in spite of a problem with the initial product. Most food establishments manage problems this way, by offering to re-make your drink, or throw your steak back on the grill for an extra minute if it is under-cooked. The immediate fix can be a face-saving and money-saving tool.

    Give a genuine apology: This may sound like a given, but sometimes customers just want an apology. If there is a way to offer an immediate fix, companies should take time to make these offers to customers. However, if there’s not a quick fix, find a way to offer a genuine apology. Most customers are frustrated because they feel that companies just don’t care about them, and that because companies don’t care, problems will continue to arise. By offering a genuine apology, a timeline for corrective action, and assurance that it will not happen in the future, a company can show that it does care about its customers.

    Bad experiences are going to happen, but it’s how you deal with the situation that seals the deal for customers. What are your strategies for dealing with customers who have a bad experience?

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    I grabbed pizza at Sbarro during a shopping trip with my sister, and at the end of the meal, I mentioned that Sbarro had started doing what Papa John’s has been doing for the last 10 years: garlic sauce. However, Sbarro is offering garlic sauce as an upsell for $0.65 per container. After finishing my pizza and barely making a dent in the container of garlic sauce, I told my sister that I was pretty disappointed with my decision to purchase the garlic sauce because I didn’t eat enough to warrant buying it. I know it’s only $0.65, but relative to the enjoyment and the total ticket price, that’s a decent upsell. Maybe it’s just me and my Marketing mind, but I had a few thoughts on how they might improve this upsell.

    First, I felt they needed to offer two different size containers, one for single slices, and the other for whole pizzas. Since I don’t know their margins, I suggested a price of $0.25 for the single-serve container, and $1.00 for the larger container. I figured that a $0.25 is a no-brainer, and that every customer who likes garlic sauce would be happy to make the purchase. After their meal, they would feel satisfied and compelled to order garlic sauce each time they ate at Sbarro. The same logic applies to those purchasing an entire pizza. An additional $1.00 on a $12+ sale takes very little thought, and increases their satisfaction enough to compel them to purchase garlic sauce as well.

    The art of the upsell can be tricky. You don’t want customers walking away feeling uneasy or dissatisfied about their purchase. Instead, you want them feeling that they made a great impulse decision, and due to their satisfaction with that decision, make the upsell part of their regular purchase. When you attempt to upsell, you need to consider how it benefits the customer, not just how it benefits the bottom line. If customers feel cheated or tricked by the upsell, you hurt the possibilities for future purchases. So, how have you made upsells work for you?

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    I’ve seen many examples of misinterpretation of the underlying need, and I just had to post about it. These two examples show a fundamental lack of understanding of the customer’s underlying need.

    Recently, I went into Starbucks, and witnessed the following encounter: Starbucks was out of sleeves for hot cups, and the barista was asking the person at the register to double-cup the hot beverages. The person at the register said that she wouldn’t do that because it was wasteful, and that if customers wanted their beverage double-cupped, they could ask for it themselves. The barista replied that it was difficult for her because customers were asking for sleeves, then resorting to double-cups, and it was taking her time to have to go back and forth when 9 out of 10 customers were complaining that their drinks were too hot to hold.

    I also noticed this same issue when I went out with a co-worker to pick up some donuts for the office. The donut shop only accepts cash, and he only had a debit card. He decided to go to the convenience store next door to see if they offered cash-back. He asked the attendant if they offered cash-back, and was told that they did not. However, the attendant failed to mention that they had an ATM machine in the back of the store!

    So what gives? Why aren’t these people willing to help out their customers? The issue is not an unwillingness to help, but rather, missing the problem. In the first example, the person at the register incorrectly assumed that customers wanted sleeves for their cups. In fact, the customers wanted to keep their hands from burning on their hot beverages. Because heat was the underlying problem, any solution to mitigating the heat was acceptable. In the second example, the attendant failed to realize that my co-worker needed a way to get cash, and that an ATM was a perfect solution for his underlying need. The ability to recognize and meet the underlying need provides an unparalleled opportunity to Marketers.

    Consider this: what if you can make your product or service become the underlying need? The “Hungry? Grab a Snickers” campaign is an excellent example of a Marketer making their product the underlying need. On the surface, they acknowledge that the person is hungry, and they are looking to satisfy their hunger. By saying, “Grab a Snickers” they are encouraging the person to associate Snickers as the only solution to hunger. Snickers hopes that the next time a person needs a snack, they will feel that they NEED a Snickers. All companies do this, from car manufacturers, to soda makers. Car makers don’t want people to think, “I need to get from point A to point B, how can I do that?” Rather, they want you thinking, “I NEED a Lexus.” Coke wants you to crave a Coke, and attain satisfaction only after you’ve enjoyed a Coke. They don’t want you to think, “I’m thirsty, I need a drink,” but rather, “I NEED a Coke”. By understanding the underlying need, you can make your product or service become the underlying need. And when your product or service is what a customer NEEDS, you’ll see your sales increase.

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    I enjoyed Blue Bell ice cream for my birthday. That might not mean much you, but consider this: I’ve had Blue Bell ice cream at almost every special event for the last 20 years, and you can’t get Blue Bell ice cream in California. My mom shipped it to me! How did Blue Bell make such a loyal customer out of me?

    Strong Branding. I can still sing their jingle, and it’s been the same ever since I can remember. Their logo and packaging have remained unchanged, and their product has stayed the same. They add new flavors, but overall, it’s the same brand I’ve known since I was little. If you are constantly changing your brand, customers get confused. They think, “If the brand is changing that much, what’s their product doing?” When you pick your brand identity, make sure you consider the long-term message. The advertising may change, but the heart of the message needs to support your brand identity. Consider the Coca-Cola branding debacle. When they came out with “New Coke”, it failed miserably. People thought of Coca-Cola as “classic”, and didn’t take kindly to be forced into “New Coke”. They knew nothing about “New Coke”, and sales fell. When Coca-Cola went back to their “classic” standard, sales rose.

    Build Trust. Getting customers to trust you is a fundamental piece of the puzzle. People are generally risk-averse, so it’s much easier for them to stay with a company they trust. Why try some other ice cream when I know Blue Bell always tastes great? If you can’t build trust directly, build it with a thought-leader. I may not know enough about hard-drives to trust a company’s word, but if my husband trusts that company, I will trust that company. It’s not just about a reputation of quality, it’s about sticking with customers so that they’ll stick with you.

    High opportunity cost. Make it hard for people to leave! If you consistently offer exceptional products, prompt customer service, and fair prices, why on Earth would anyone want to leave? I’ve owned two Hondas in my life, and I’m quite content to own Hondas for the rest of my life. The car runs great, the salespeople are knowledgeable, and the maintenance is easy. It’s a high cost for me to try out another brand of car and another dealership. You need to exceed expectations, so that it’s very difficult for anyone to decide to leave.

    Become a habit. The more involved you are in a customer’s life, the harder it is for them to leave. Create more touch-points with your customers, and make your product or service part of their everyday life. When I go to the store, I grab the same brands over and over, because that’s what I’ve always done. Habits are hard to break, so once you become a habit, you’ve most likely scored a life-long customer. Additionally, if it was a habit for a parent, it can easily become a habit for a child. You can save on acquisition costs and retention costs by becoming a mainstay in a household. When a new household is started, they’ll continue in the buying habits they built as a child.

    So, are your products a mainstay? Do your customers keep coming back?

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    I watched the VMAs last night, and the talk of the night was the Kanye West debacle with Taylor Swift. For those who didn’t see the Twitter trend, Taylor Swift won the award for best female video. During her speech, Kanye West took the microphone, and proceeded to go on and on about how Beyonce’s video is one of the best of the decade. Needless to say, Taylor Swift was about to cry, Beyonce was embarrassed, and the entire audience was angry. So, what does all of this have to do with co-branding, affiliates, and partners? Kanye West is about to start his tour with Lady Gaga… and guess what? After Kanye’s screw up, Lady Gaga may see her tour ticket sales plummet as well, as audiences attempt to boycott Kanye. This is a long story to say, “Choose wisely!”

    Know and trust your partners. It may seem obvious, but you need to take the time to get to know a potential partner. Do your research! How do they treat their customers? Are they financially stable? Are they ethical? You wouldn’t trust your children with a complete stranger, so why would you trust your company reputation with a company that you don’t know?

    Don’t alienate your target audience. Companies work hard to build a brand that their customers relate to, and it only takes one bad partnership to alienate your customers. When choosing to co-brand or partner with another company or non-profit, consider the value-add to your customers. Does the potential partner have a complimentary product or service? Do they support a cause that your company and customers are passionate about? Partnerships should be strategic moves that benefit the customer, not short-term endeavors to increase cash flow.

    Do it big. If you’re gonna go for it, go for it whole-heartedly! Work with your partner or affiliate to develop a sustainable strategy, and share your resources to accomplish your mutual goals. Take time to understand their products, services, and customers, and let your customers know about the new partnership. If you seem hesitant about your new strategy, your customers will also be hesitant, so show them a united front.

    In this economic climate, strategic partnerships can be the key to survival. But be smart about it, and don’t let someone like Kanye crash your ticket sales!

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    What are you willing to pay for a cup of coffee? How about jeans? Sunscreen or bug repellent? Most would answer, “It depends.” When you start throwing in brands, locations, and extenuating circumstances, you start seeing a fluctuation in price points. Starbucks patrons will pay around $2 a cup for coffee. Jeans can range from $10 a pair to hundreds per pair. We went camping this weekend, and forgot to bring bug repellent. On top of a mountain, we were willing to pay a staggering $10 for a can of bug repellent. So, how important is your brand and location? I’d venture to say it’s the difference between profitable and bankruptcy. So how can you maximize the impact of your price points, mark-ups, and branding?

    I discussed knowing your customers in an earlier post, and this is key when deciding your price point. If your value-proposition is largely based on price, you need to make sure that you are targeting consumers who base their decisions largely on price.

    Price points and mark-ups go hand-in-hand, as price points can change depending on circumstances. You need to understand which circumstances warrant a higher mark-up, and which circumstances will be seen as outrageously over-priced. The circumstance may be a constant condition, and it may even be integral in your value-proposition. For example, Starbucks seeks to offer a coffee experience, while McDonald’s seeks to offer convenience.

    The value of your brand is much more difficult to nail down, particularly because brands stand for values. Consider the cost of a pair of jeans. If you just need a “throw away” pair of jeans, you’re not willing to pay $100 for them, and the value of the brand is generally for convenience and the lowest price. If you’re looking for comfort, you’ll pay more, and go with a brand that stands for comfort, functionality, and flexibility. Some brands offer the most trendy and stylish jeans, with higher-than-average price tags and shorter-than-average life spans. Your brand, and what your brand stands for, plays a huge role in deciding how to price and mark-up your product or service.

    So what are your customers paying for? What are they actually willing to pay for? Are you maximizing your opportunities?

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    Alas, posting weekly takes time! I have caught up a little and will do my best to post weekly as promised. This breaks my #1 rule about social media avenues… post REGULARLY. Otherwise, you leave your readers wondering what happened. Eventually, they start to fall off because they aren’t sure when you’ll be back, and they are frustrated with the lack of content. I was a little absent from Twitter as well, but I am trying to post at least twice a day. There’s always so much interesting information to check out when I’m checking my updates, and I get distracted with the great content.

    I will have a new post up soon, and again, please pardon the hiatus!

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    I was recently asked to speak to a group of business women on the topic of social media. Most of these women have been in business for years, and they know how to succeed. However, they wanted to know more about the social media scene, so they asked me to give an overview of the topic. I was struck by the knowledge gap as I was speaking, and I feel that as Marketers, we still need to make sure that we are educating business people about these tools. I’ve seen several blog posts about convincing the CEO to embrace social media, and I found myself fighting a similar battle during my presentation. So, how do we bridge the knowledge gap?

    First, we have to quell the fear. Many business people are still afraid of moving their message online. They fear that their email addresses might be sold, that clients or co-workers may have access to private information, and that there’s no way to establish and decipher truth. We need to assure them that as connectivity grows, so too does accountability and integrity. Just as there are bad seeds in the real world, you will find bad seeds in the virtual world. But most entities will keep your information secure and site credible sources for their work. The virtual world is not a place to fear, but rather, a place to grow exponentially.

    Once we’ve conquered the fear, we need to show the relevance of social media. There are statistics, case studies, and success stories all over the internet, so find and present the information that is most compelling. When business owners see how social media has impacted their competitors, they won’t want to be left behind. When they see how it has helped organizations that they work with and hold stock in, they will want a piece of the action as well. By helping them understand the future of business, you can help them figure out how these tools fit into their strategy.

    Finally, help them strategize. Many business owners don’t understand that social media is a tool to advance their strategy, not a fad that forces them to change what they’ve always known. Social media is about connecting with people, so you don’t have to stop using your brand, message, and product. Rather, you can use social media as a way to expose these core components to many more people. When clients are ready to accept social media into their Marketing strategy, you need to be diligent in showing them how to use the tools. Help them create and monitor their accounts, teach them the lingo, and address security and ettiquette concerns. Every company may not need every tool, so help them evaluate which tools are most profitable for them. When you help them strategize, you ensure a long-term place for social media.

    I was excited to speak on social media, and I’m excited to help implement social media strategies. However, I realized that I need to lay the foundation before I can build the house. And once the house is built, it’ll be open to the community!

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    I just came home from the ice cream shop, and I saw a father out with his kids. It reminded me of my father-daughter dates, complete with a special occasion double-scoop from  Baskin-Robbins. Guess which ice cream shop I visited today? That’s right, Baskin-Robbins. And guess which ice cream shop is my favorite? You got it, Baskin-Robbins. You can build a lifelong customer out of someone with an emotional connection to your product. Here’s a few thoughts on building an emotional connection with your customers.

    Define your target audience. Some companies want to mass-market their product, but it’s more effective to have a well-defined target audience. By targeting a subset of the market, you can fully understand what makes them tick. Every product can’t meet the needs of every person, so it’s better to make a quality product that meets a specific need in your target audience.

    Make the message emotional. The most convincing pitch touches your heart, which in turn touches your wallet. If you feel emotionally invested in something, you’re more likely to get financially invested. Ask your audience to feel something for your product, and create situations that give them memories. Don’t just focus on the call to purchase, but rather the call to connect. When people start connecting with you outside your product, they are much more likely to make you their long-term choice.

    Create the atmosphere. Images are a powerful way to stir up emotion, but you can use all the senses to create a connection. If you can pinpoint the trigger for your target audience, you can create an atmosphere that entices them to buy. Stores at Christmas are a perfect example of creating the atmosphere. They touch your olfactory senses with candles that smell like cinnamon and gingerbread, your eyes with bright bulbs on a beautiful tree, your ears with carols, and your hands with rich textures. It’s hard to stay within budget when you are over-whelmed with thoughts about the perfect Christmas, and you can’t wait to see the joy on someone’s face as they open their gift. The atmosphere helps solidify the emotional connection, which keeps customers coming back again and again.

    Be consistent. Above all, you must have a quality product. Trust is hard to build but easy to lose, so you must make sure that your customers know that you provide a quality product at all times. Don’t just solicit an emotional connection via superficial means, but be vulnerable to connect. Engage your customers on a personal level, and allow your company to be invested in the customers. Talk to them, listen to them, understand them. When customers know you’re in it for the long haul, they are much more likely to stay in as well.

    My dad and I always had a blast on our father-daughter dates, and they wouldn’t have been complete without a little Baskin-Robbins. Whose memories are incomplete without your product?

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