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5 Secrets of the Super-Service Economy

5 Secrets of the Super-Service Economy

The Super-Service economy is here and brands need to adjust their thinking to the realities of consumer expectations.

1. Don’t rely on relationship

In a recent study published in the magazine “Marketing Week,” consumers thought the whole idea of having a conversation with a brand was silly. That caught my eye because so many of us in the marketing world talk about having discussions, conversations, dialogue and relationships with consumers.   Are we kidding ourselves?

According to a recent Deloitte survey of 4,047 respondents in 28 product categories and more than 350 brands, brand loyalty is declining. That’s the 3rd straight year that brand loyalty has gone down. On the surface that would seem to tell us that the relationship approach to marketing isn’t working very well.

2. Conditional Love or none at all

The shift in power from brands to consumers has meant brands have had to come up with a new way to woo buyers. In this 1:1 vs. one to many age, it seemed only logical that the approach should be to make consumers our friends. The thinking went that we could use email, social media, and the rest of the digital toolbox, to simulate a personal, real time relationship. In the end our brand would become a trusted friend and knowledge source, and loyalty would lead to easier and cheaper sales.

Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Consumers have really taken their empowerment to heart and like a pretty girl surrounded by admirers, are enjoying all the attention. Consequently, their minimum expectations of brand performance have only risen as they have experienced brands with the Super-Service approach.

Now with many brands delivering the valuable content, great user experiences and terrific customer service that characterize Super-Service, consumer loyalty has surprisingly become even more flighty and conditional.

3. The table stakes just got higher

The Super-Service model, which until recently set only a few brands apart, is now quickly becoming table-stakes.

So how do brands differentiate themselves in a Super-Service world? How do they win when everyone is delivering a consistent, top-notch experience?

That depends on what kind of brand you have. For many the answer is product innovation, for others creative differentiation, even data can be a route to differentiation and loyalty.

For example, Hyundai already had great prices and a terrific consumer experience in every part of the customer cycle, but it wasn’t enough. So they focused on developing a product that would set them apart, in their case unexpectedly in the higher end segment.  This not only delighted customers, but also redefined the brand.

Amazon built its business on low prices and service, but as its model and competition has matured, it has turned to building loyalty based on data ownership and insights, from Amazon Prime to product recommendations. Banks and financial companies have also started to see data as a route to loyalty, because customers are averse to leaving organizations that hold data that they need.

4. Reciprocity buys less

Wins with the fickle consumer can be very short lived in a “what have you done for me lately” world. The reciprocity that brands used to rely on in building loyalty now has a much shorter echo, with the result that consumers want something new more often. That’s why Hyundai went on to develop innovative, integrated mobile technology and Amazon seems to have a new innovation every day drone delivery It’s also why the blush is fading slightly on Apple, as its products age, its competition strengthens and its customers grow impatient. Unfortunately resting on your laurels today, for even a moment, is risky.

Many brands, however, don’t lend themselves to product innovation like an Apple and Hyundai, or data innovation like Amazon. While a beer can that tells me when it’s cold is cool, it doesn’t change the essential experience of the brand in the same way as introducing the iPhone can.

So instead of trying to create new product attributes, those categories need to focus on attaching new emotional attributes to the brand. Old Spice has famously committed itself to this kind of creative differentiation.

The product doesn’t change, the value doesn’t change, but the story, however, is always changing (the latest: Old Spice). But this takes a really a big commitment to feeding the beast, because, like Chinese food, the fickle audience is hungry again twenty minutes later.

5. Customer experience is the foundation

The foundation for success in the Super-Service economy is the customer experience. Even more so since social media has connected all the parts of the customer cycle, from pre-sale to post-sale, with the result that the customer experience has also become very influential on the acquisition process.  Being a customer and being a prospect used to be two fairly separate states. Of course there was a bit of word of mouth between the two, but nothing like the organized deluge today.

Now, other than the performance of the product or service itself, the experience of being a customer of your brand has become your most important marketing asset or liability.  Which is why it’s amazing to me how so many companies still treat their customers so poorly, putting at risk not only customer loyalty, but also their reputation.

Cable providers and Direct-TV, for example, are notorious. How often do they do anything for their customers except jack up the rates? But for prospects, there’s always a new deal, a new benefit, a new offer, virtually every day.

The good news is that this marketplace is navigable despite its complexity and demanding consumers. With the right modeling and process (3Cs) it can be broken down, understood and managed. This starts with carefully mapping all the connections that make up the consumer journey, and the surrounding influence eco-system. Then the game becomes to decide where you want your brand to sit on the continuum, between product innovation on one end and creative innovation on the other.

However, no matter where you end up, in the Super-Service economy you have to start by making sure that customer expectations, online and offline, are always met and exceeded.

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Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

You’ve Got a Video Problem

How to Make Great Brand Videos

In the pre-digital days there really wasn’t a need for brands to produce more than the ads that went on traditional media. Now they need to produce an almost constant stream of fresh content to keep up with digital channels and social media. For most companies it’s a pretty tall order because making content is a completely different business from what they know. And it gets even harder when so much of the content that they now need is video.

Since cheap bandwidth has made high-quality video so easy to get, people want more and more of it. Projections have video representing over 85% of all Internet traffic in a couple of years. So brands need to make lots of videos. The problem, of course, is not just the quantity, but how does a brand make videos that are good enough to stand out? While cameras and equipment are cheap and easy to get, creativity and know-how are still in short supply. Of course, what makes a video good is in the eye of the beholder, but most of us know bad video when we see it, and the last thing any brand needs is to be spreading bad videos.

So the challenge is for companies to put in place the capability to produce lots of “good” videos, consistently over time. The problem is that because the budgets are much smaller, it’s not like producing TV commercials, which brands have a lot of experience with. According to the 4A’s, the average cost to make a TV spot is over $300,000 — but for video content, that may be your entire budget for the year.

The big question is — do you try and do it in-house or hire pros? While you may need a lot of videos, you may not need enough to justify the large expense of hiring a full-time team. So another approach is to hire an in-house video producer whose job it is to put together freelance teams for each production. This is not a creative person, but a video project manager, and you still need to be doing enough work to justify a full-time person.

For most brands the answer is to hire pros. The advantage, of course, is the wide range of talent and capabilities you can access. The problem is how to keep the costs down. Most agencies focus on developing the creative, and then hire a production company for the execution. As a result, the costs mount quickly. Some TV production companies do creative, but their focus is really on the production and they are rarely able to develop the creative or the strategy for the video, which is critical. So that leaves companies and agencies that specialize in video content for digital channels.

The ideal is to have digital content strategy, plus creative, plus production under one roof. A company that can do all of that — and that is set up to produce a lot of video content over time, cost-effectively — has found the perfect solution. Of course, the videos still have to be good in the eye of the beholder, which to start with would be you.

  • 04.03.13

The Rise and Ruckus of Branded Journalism

Branded Journalism

As a growing copywriter with a print journalism background, I love the idea of “branded journalism.” Editorial content written for brands, targeted at consumers, supported by analytics, published in digital spaces, that raises a big middle finger to the rule that advertising and journalism can never mix? Sounds good to me.

For brands, the need for journalistic content stems from growing branded communities in social spaces. As brands and consumers engage in more personal conversations via social, consumers simply demand more from them.

More than ever, consumers want brands to give them things of value outside of their products or services. A sense of community that includes transparency, responsiveness and quality branded content. That’s where brand journalists and copywriters come in.

Last week, I stumbled on the work of Kevin Maney, a veteran USA Today reporter who turned his attention to advertising after two decades of writing and reporting as a journalist.

After a successful reporting career, Maney made an interesting move. He started working with big brands like IBM to create journalistic content.

Maney co-authored a book in conjunction with IBM, but branded journalism can include works of art, articles, blog posts, books, photos or videos produced by a brand to reach an identifiable market.

Couple creating content with the market downturn, and many wannabe journalists and former reporters are turning to jobs in advertising, marketing and digital. Many seek jobs that offer more security but still challenge them to use skills from writing in the newsroom like critical thinking, deadline management and creativity.

According to Robert McChesney, co-author of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It, public relations professionals now outnumber reporters 4-to-1. With print journalism seeing a continual decline in revenue, it isn’t surprising that some journalists are now writing for brands. Market aside however, branded journalism still causes some debate.

Critics fear that branded journalism might fully eclipse traditional journalism. Will the news report about a damaging tornado suddenly be sponsored by a home insurance company? I highly doubt it. The audience would be too quick to call a news organization on it, like they did with The Atlantic’s big advertorial fail in January.

The Atlantic fiasco highlights that we’re working in a time where the line between advertising and journalism is blurrier than ever. Marketing, digital and journalism just came crashing together, giving us a choice. We can either sit here staring or use this opportunity to create new, innovative content that people will respond to.

By we, I mean brands or agencies working on behalf of brands. New organizations don’t have the freedom to pepper advertising content in their editorial work, but ad professionals now have the unique opportunity to produce journalistic content. If done right in digital spaces, that journalistic content will likely produce results.

The key lies in planning responsibly. Branded journalism needs to be intentional, driven by strategy as much as it is by good writing. It must be targeted and audience-specific and not overstep it’s bounds. Producing journalistic content doesn’t equate to producing a Pulitzer winning news article, so brands shouldn’t try to.

How each company executes branded journalism will vary, but hopefully by the end of the year we will see more fact-based, journalistic content reaching consumers and generating revenue.

To track branded journalism, its growth and the debate surrounding it, a good place to start is Maney’s blog. Ignore the clunky WordPress theme and focus on the journalistic content. After all, content is becoming very valuable.

Want to learn more? Email IQ

Jung at Heart

Carl Jung - father of archetypes

Everyone knows that digital channels and devices have changed how consumers connect to brands. So today we are focused on enabling the consumer’s journey rather than just talking at them, as in days past. But it’s a trap to believe that people are enamored with process and mechanics. Even with the never-ending stream of technologically driven consumer empowerment, the dynamics of connecting to human beings are the same as they were a million years ago. Stories that speak to our archetypal drives are the most powerful buttons we can press. Stories that touch on family, love, loss, death and safety cut across culture and geography. They can be expressed in many ways, and offer endless opportunity for creativity and originality, but in the end the archetypal story is what resonates. Our challenge is to integrate today’s growing number of consumer touch points into, not only a connected process, but into an archetypal story. It’s easy to think in terms of content, functionality, usability etc. but the need for a resonant story is as important as ever. The difference is that the narrative now happens over many connections and many channels. So keeping the essence of an archetypal brand story at the center as we create and connect tactics is the new challenge for brand’s and their agencies.

Wild Bird Band on TV

Pennington TV Commercial from Pennington Birds on Vimeo.

Today we went live with our latest piece of the Pennington Wild Bird Seed campaign, a TV spot featuring the Wild Bird Band, four animated birds in the tradition of Pixar style movies that brings home the promise of “Great Entertainment for your Yard”. The TV commercial features the four birds wisecracking at a bird feeder and includes their rendition of “A’int we got fun”. Tactics also include radio spots, outdoor, banner ads, in-store display, print and a Facebook page complete with a yard entertainment guide. This is a really fun consumer campaign that shows off not only our well known digital skills, but even more so our design and traditional advertising know-how which is where we started.

  • 03.21.10

The ASICS Brand Story

(via anecdote)

This is a great example of brand storytelling. It’s wonderful to hear a company’s founder describe the philosophy behind the brand and the origami visuals  are really engaging. Even though I’m a barefoot runner, I sort of want to go out a buy a pair of ASICS now.

  • 03.07.10

Conan O’Brien: a Man, a Brand, a Twitter Account

(Conan’s March 2nd Tweet)

Conan O’Brien tweeted for the first time on February 24th, 2010 and already has close to 600,000 followers. Unlike other celebrities who tend to tweet either too much, too little, or inconsistently, he only posts one message a day. If you’re a follower, his single tweet stands out to you. Why? For the same reasons things are collectible — scarcity and quality. He’s only sending one a day and he makes it worth it. In fact, the picture in the post came from a tweet he made about how many people it takes to write his daily message.

He didn’t follow anyone for the first few days. Not listening to others is a newbie mistake brands make and seemed a little strange. Then on Friday, Conan did something that is a combination of altruism and marketing genius. He picked one person to follow at random. We all had to know who this lucky person, Sarah Killen, was and her followers went from 3 to over 10,000 in a day. Conan’s tweet said her life would change and it looks like it will. She’s engaged and like any bride-to-be, she’s been overwhelmed by the costs. Now she’s got offers for free invitations, dresses, and more. She’s Twitter-famous and every wants to be a part of it.

What makes this brilliant is that Conan probably thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make one of my fans famous so they can experience what it’s like?” We feel like we know him and over the years and he’s proven to be a really nice guy who recently got a raw deal. I don’t think he was thinking, “Let me show the world that I’m so famous, I can make anyone I want famous.” You know, like in “She’s All That.” If we thought that’s what he was up to, we’d be turned off by the lack of authenticity. The sincerity of his intention is important.

With that sincerity of intention, his success in lending his fame to another person, and innovative approach, Conan’s Twitter account is telling us a story about who he is. If it were a brand statement, it might be:

Conan O’Brien uses innovative media approaches to build connections between fans, celebrities, and sponsors.

If you’re a fan, he’s the everyman who allows you to experience celebrity. If you’re a celebrity, aspiring celebrity, or advertiser, he’s the trusted gatekeeper to his engaged, loyal fans. And his innovative approach to a medium (formerly TV, now Twitter) keeps us all tuned in.

  • 02.11.10

Watch Logorama

This Oscar-nominated animated short uses over 2,500 logos to tell a disturbing story about American culture. And you can only watch it on Facebook. It’s got some rough language, so you’ll definitely want to wear headphones for this one.

More about this film at Gizmodo.

  • 02.05.10

Climate Change

This is a short documentary on climate change shot with the Canon 5dmkII.

Greenpeace: Voices of change. Shot on Canon 5dmkII from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.