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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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    I’ve been thinking a lot about market research lately, and how important it is to know your customers. Some companies are flying blind when it comes to offering and advertising their products or services. Here’s a few tips on why and how to get to know your customers!

    Meet their needs and solve their problems. It may seem obvious, but how are you going to meet their needs if you have no idea what their needs are? Some companies think that because they sell a certain product, they don’t need to find out about their customers’ needs. But just because you fill a niche, you’re not off the hook! Take Zippo for example. I just saw an article about Zippo changing their marketing strategy, as their sales have been falling. They have focused on pocket lighters for the majority of their existence, but have recently started moving into female-friendly and outdoor-friendly products. By recognizing that their products were being used in different ways, they were able to gain more market share and expand their business. Talk to your customers and find out what they need.

    How do I talk to my customers? There are many ways to speak to your customers, but the biggest point is to listen to what they’re saying. Don’t go into research trying to prove a hypothesis about what customers like and dislike, just be open.

    -          Focus Groups: Focus groups involve speaking with a small group of the target demographic, usually in a moderated session. The moderator asks guiding questions to open up the discussion, and keeps the conversation flowing. Taping these sessions gives companies the opportunity to view facial reactions and other body language, and to accurately record spoken responses. Maiden Form used a focus group when their sales were falling, and found out that their target demographic of young females viewed them as a brand their mom would use! They quickly re-worked their strategy and sales started rising.

    -          Surveys: Surveys are great because you can reach a large number of people to ensure a strong sampling of the target demographic. Once you receive the responses, you can use statistical analysis to figure out the most important problems your customers face. You can also use surveys to determine ways to improve your solutions to those problems. ConstantContact and Survey Monkey are two services that make it easy for you to set up online surveys.

    -          Usability studies: There are two ways to view this: Is my solution useful? Is my solution usable? Let’s take a look at the first question. You need to make sure that your product or service uniquely solves a customer’s problem. Coming into an established market is difficult, so you need to make sure that you have a unique value proposition. You also need to make sure your solution is easy to use. My favorite example of this is the label, “some assembly required.” I know dads around the world shudder at this phrase, as it usually indicates hours of work with obscure tools. Instructions and usage should be customer-friendly, and you need to do testing to figure this out. Focus groups can act as a moderated testing situation, where participants are given product examples and asked to rate them on different aspects. For software and other technology, a Beta version usually reveals bugs in the product. UserTesting.com offers a low-cost remote usability service that is perfect for website owners. There are many ways to figure out if your product is useful and usable, and these must be included in market research.

    Market research is not a one-time endeavor, but rather a continual process of understanding your customers’ needs. So, how does your company stack up in the market research category?

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    Today’s post features “The Medici Effect“, by Frans Johansson. I’ve been promoting this book to my friends, family and random co-workers since I first read it in spring 2008. This was the most eye-opening book of my college career, and I would recommend it as a yearly read for anyone who needs a touch of creativity. Why do you need creativity in Marketing you say? Check out the highlights of the book to see if you can use any of the tips!

    Connecting things that wouldn’t normally be connected

    The book talks about jogging your brain by connecting things that wouldn’t normally be connected. Force the connection if you have to! He gives examples of architecture and insects, music and airlines, and many more. When people go out of their way to find a connection, they might just happen upon a brilliant idea! As you think about your product, service, company, and customer, think about new ways to incorporate your brand into life.

    Planning for failure

    Sad to say, but we all know most ideas fail. But if everyone in your company is so afraid to fail that they never try, you’re missing out on a wealth of brain power and ideas. To encourage creativity and problem-solving, create an environment where it’s ok to fail. This is not talking about laziness or sub-par performance, but rather genuine attempts to find a new way to solve a problem. When your company and employees allow time to fail, re-formulate, and try again, your customers win. Ultimately, failure is a part of improvement, so encourage out-of-the-box thinking once in a while.

    Breaking down the barriers

    These chapters focus on communication and inter-discipline collaboration. To make an out-of-the-norm connection with an idea, it would stand to reason that you would need to make an out-of-the-norm connection with a person or place. If people in your organization are holed up in their offices, behind their desks, with their computers, how are they going to encounter anything new? Break out of the silos! Encourage your employees to talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other. You may think that Marketing and Accounting have nothing in common, but you might be surprised to find that both of your clients face a particular problem. Don’t be afraid to interact with those outside your normal circle, both inside and outside the organization.

    I could go on about “The Medici Effect”, but I would suggest you take a look for yourself. It’s a quick, engaging read that’s well worth the while… and after you check it out, you’ll agree that you need a little creativity in Marketing.

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    I was pleasantly surprised with a promotion from Starbucks, the Starbucks Treat Receipt. If you buy any beverage before 2:00 pm, you can use the receipt to get any grande iced beverage for $2.00! Now, I’m a pretty avid Starbucks fan, so discounts are always appreciated. Of course, encountering any promotion always makes me wonder about redemption rates and the increase in sales. With a survey of one (me), I decided to do a little analysis on this Treat Receipt.

    Normally, my husband and I stop in at Starbucks on Sunday mornings. Let’s take a look at how the Treat Receipt has affected our behavior:

    Before Treat Receipt: $8 spent in the morning

    We each purchase a beverage and one or two pastries, making our average ticket about $8.00. We normally make this trip one time on Sunday, so our daily total remains at $8.00.

    First Treat Receipt: $8 purchase in the morning + $2 purchase in the afternoon = $10

    We received our first Treat Receipt with our normal morning purchase. We were excited to use the receipt, so we made an additional trip on Sunday afternoon, increasing our daily total by $2.00.

    Second Treat Receipt: $5 purchase in the morning + $2 purchase in the afternoon = $7

    However, after learning about the Treat Receipt, we changed our behavior. Instead of purchasing two separate beverages, we shared a single large beverage, thus decreasing our normal morning total by $3.00. We then utilized the promotion in the afternoon, which decreased our daily total by $1.00.

    I wonder how often people change their morning purchase based on their plans to take advantage of the promotion? I also wonder how many people already frequent Starbucks more than once a day and thus decrease their daily totals by utilizing the promotion? I’m sure the marketing gurus at headquarters have numbers to answer these questions. Average ticket amounts and cannibalization are important factors to consider when offering promotions to core customers. Clearly, the second scenario described above is the goal of the promotion. As I said, I only have a single data point, so my conclusions may be way off-base.

    On the other hand, what if the goal isn’t to increase the average ticket over the summer? There are many other qualitative goals that may yield future value. For example, I might not be willing to spend $5 on a beverage I’ve never tried. The Treat Receipt is a low-risk way for me to sample a drink that may become my favorite. The promotion could result in me increasing my average ticket in the future by getting me hooked on something new (and more expensive). The promotion goal may be to increase brand loyalty through more touch points. Each time I visit the store, Starbucks gains more face time, which builds trust and credibility. The more experiences I have, the more likely I am to have a good experience.

    With no numbers to back me up, I guess I’ll be content to ponder… with my grande Java Chip frappucino, of course!

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