Browsing Tag

humanistic business

Be A Better Brand Manager: Look Your Customers In the Eye

Eye contact is on the decline, according to the Wall Street Journal. There are several reasons why we’re not looking at each other as often as we used to: the ubiquity of smartphones, the rise of remote employment, and attention spans that have shrunk like a cashmere sweater in a hot dryer.

Adults are making eye contact between 30-60 % of the time, Quantified Impressions report, and our own field observations have revealed that the younger the adult is, the more they tend to skew toward the 30% end of the continuum. What does this mean for retail?

Eye Contact: Understand the Opportunity

Eye contact is a largely unconscious behavior. The majority of people seldom put thought into their decision to look another person in the eyes or to instead, look away. There are many cultural factors operating behind the scenes that influence how often a person initiates eye contact, as well as how long they’ll be willing to maintain that connection. Gender, social standing, community traditions, and even emotional states all factor into the eye contact equation.

Cognitive neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen has stated that eye contact provides information about the target of others’ expressions and clues about their communicative intentions and future behavior. This information enhances and augments any verbal communication we may have, making it easier for both parties in the conversation to understand each other. A shift in the culture that means less eye contact can mean less understanding.

One of the keys of being a successful cult business is developing a comprehensive understanding of your best customers. It’s essential that this understanding is possessed by people at every level in your organization, from the leadership team to the front line associates. Developing your team’s understanding of and skill with eye contact is a simple, no-cost way to promote that understanding. When your team uses their eye contact skills effectively, your customers will feel like they’re listened to and valued. This subtle touch helps drive sales, strengthen customer relationships, and can contribute to your customer’s decision to recommend your store to their family and friends. If the current eye contact decline continues, the fact that your team is committed to meaningful eye contact can even serve as an important brand differentiator.

It’s important to recognize that encouraging your team to make eye contact more often is not a one-time deal. Individuals throughout your organization will have differing levels of ability and comfort when it comes to establishing and maintaining appropriate eye contact. Integrating ongoing education and reminders into your regular staff communications helps keep your team committed to making meaningful connections with your customer base.

Be a Better Brand Manager: The Essentials

Provide your team with specific education regarding eye contact. You can’t just say “Make more eye contact!” As a rule of thumb, we should be making eye contact approximately 70% of the time throughout the conversation, for approximately 8-10 seconds at a time.

When dealing with a group of customers, it’s important to acknowledge each of them individually with eye contact.

Too much eye contact can be as problematic as not enough. When the gaze is held too long, it can feel invasive, even vaguely threatening. Be aware of cultural differences where eye contact is involved, and adjust your company’s practices based on your customers’ ingrained preferences.

You Can Get There From Here: L.L. Bean’s Sure Footed Approach To Social Media

L.L. Bean has been very successful in the mail order business for one hundred years. Founder (and namesake!) Leon Leonwood Bean would be proud — and probably absolutely dumbfounded by the latest role the familiar catalog has taken on in the marketing and promotion of his business.

Earlier this month, Liz Pride, who hails from Leon’s neck of the woods, took the L.L. Bean catalog and used it as the basis of her creative endeavor, a quirky Tumblr called “Your LL Bean Boyfriend.” On the site, Pride pairs images from the catalog with short snippets of copy that could have come directly from the pages of your favorite romance novel.

For example:

Nathan quietly opened the door and brought in a tray with a bowl of chicken soup over to me. “Let’s kick that cold you have,” he said, “I know how much you want to go skiing next weekend.”

The combination has been in a hit. In a little over a week, Pride has collected over 7,000 followers, including the L.L. Bean team.  Carolyn Beem, a spokesperson for the sportswear and outdoor gear retailer, told AdWeek, “We’re just going to watch it like everybody else,” she says. “We think that it’s a load of fun. It’s well written, and it’s funny.”

L.L. Bean has done more than watch the popular Tumblr. They’ve even participated, adding their own comment to the site: Elizabeth- we at LLB are loving this. Most of us never thought of LLB and sexy in the same sentence. It is the talk of the office!

A Humanistic Approach To Social Media: Joining The Conversation, Not Controlling It

We have to applaud L.L. Bean for skillfully navigating one of the emerging challenges of social media: the brand-centric conversation in which the brand itself is not the driving nor primary voice. If Clay Shirkey’s right about the cultural and social changes we can expect to see in an environment of cognitive surplus (Not familiar? Watch Clay’s TED Talk on the topic here!) there will undoubtedly be more and more of these types of creative projects being developed by Brand Lovers.

The challenge we have as brand managers is complex. Becoming aware of conversations, assessing them, and determine what role, if any, we have in their progress, is not a process that we, as an industry, have articulated particularly well to date. It is unsettling for leaders who believe they have the ultimate control over what their brand is all about to discover that that’s not true at all: it is customers who build brands, not brand managers and marketing departments.

If one were to speculate on the reason’s L.L. Bean’s leadership believed that their customers chose them before any other brand, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the values of high quality merchandise, rugged outdoor aesthetic and trustworthiness (backed by an almost legendary guarantee) would rank very high on this list. What Liz Pride’s work is doing is revealing another layer of psychological associations Brand Lovers have with L.L. Bean. In Liz’s world, the L.L. Bean customer is sexy, caring, and nurturing. It’s an expansion of L.L. Bean’s key marketing message that evidently has great appeal and the brand didn’t have to lift a finger to benefit from it. The fact that they did, engaging in the conversation in good faith and with good humor, has further endeared the company to those drawn in by the hunky models and romantic prose.

The tenets of Brand Modeling remind us that listening to the customer, completely and on a number of levels, is the route to success. LL. Bean, by abandoning the all-to-common typically litigious, controlling response to creative endeavors with a more humanistic, welcoming, and responsive approach, has gained access to new insights about what their customers value most about their brand. We’re sure they’re going to capitalize on those insights.

Your organization can do the same thing if you’ve got the vision and courage to commit to putting customers first.

Is Profit the Most Important Thing?

What would you say if you learned that everything you learned in business school is wrong? Not just wrong, in fact, but fundamentally and fatally flawed, rotten to the proverbial core? How would that knowledge change how you function as a business leader?

These fascinating questions were featured during The Aspen Institute Presents, a new PBS series featuring leading entrepreneurs, politician, and thought leaders discussing philosophical questions and practical challenges. The segment that really captured our attention centered on the premise that increasing shareholder value is the most important thing to any corporation, and the accuracy of that premise.

As proponents of a more humanistic approach to business, this is the type of conversation we want to see happening in every business class, everywhere. As expert after expert reported (and you can watch the entire segment here), organizations that focus too relentlessly on shareholder value as the only meaningful metric consistently fail. They’re less profitable and enjoy a shorter organizational lifespan than organizations that consider shareholder value only one of a number of relevant factors that go into determining overall profitability.

The Proven Value of A Humanistic Approach

This is consistent with what we’ve learned through our own research into Cult Brands. Dominant organizations are those organizations that clearly and concrete demonstrate their devotion to the greater good. Shifting the company’s viewpoint from a narrow focus on the immediate bottom line to a longer range, more global perspective that takes social and environmental concerns into account yields significant results in terms of customer loyalty and ongoing organizational profitability.

Don’t get us wrong. Making money is important. But it’s not the only important thing. Even in commodities industries, today’s consumer is expecting more and more from the brands they do business with. Organizational transparency and community involvement are more important than they’ve ever been. It’s especially important that a brand’s internal values be in alignment with customer expectations.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been a vocal proponent of this concept, and he shares some of the reasoning behind his philosophy here. The message that the mighty chain rose up in response to a need for community and a place to connect is one we’ve heard before, but it’s one we need to hear again and again. It is by understanding on a deep and fundamental level the needs and psychological hungers of the marketplace that we can best create products, services, and especially brands that succeed.

Starbucks maintains an enviable place in the market because Schultz views all of his decisions through a humanistic lens, asking himself if his employees would be proud of and happy to implement the decision he makes, and if he’s acting in terms of the greater good. We’ve seen the chain make some great moves along this line, such as sourcing all of the chain’s mugs from a domestic producer rather than a cheaper Chinese source. Sacrificing some measure of immediate profitability to do the right thing has proven to be a profitable model for Starbucks. It’s a replicable model that begins by understanding who your customers are and what they want the most from your brand.

Putting the Social in Social Media: Focus on What’s Fun

Over 60% of the world’s population is active on one or more forms of social media.  You’ve got to wonder what that’s about.  Why are people so focused on Facebook, so tethered to Twitter?

On one level, this is an easy question to answer. We can talk about the fundamental imperative that drives human beings to communicate with each other. Talking is what people do: communicating with each other allows us to make smarter decisions, enjoy a higher quality of life, and attain goals more efficiently and effectively. The propensity to engage in conversation is one of the defining characteristics of humanity. Social media provides a vehicle where we can talk with more people, at greater distances, at a speed never before imaginable in all of human existence.Given the serious benefits that communication offers, it’s no wonder that social media has become such a phenomenon.

Yet while communication offers serious benefits, not all communication is serious.  In fact, some of the most powerful conversations — those that offer real rewards in terms of establishing and strengthening relationships — are pretty funny.

There’s a reason for this. According to Karyn Buxman, author and former president of the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, humor is a social lubricant. People enjoy laughing (for both social and biomechanical reasons) and seek out opportunities where they can enjoy humor. We’re a savvy species, and have long ago figured this out. From the class clown who cuts up to get attention from his peers to the landscape full of funny billboards, humanity has a history of leveraging laughter to fill social and entrepreneurial needs.

This can work really well on social media. Take, for example, this Twitter exchange between Oreo and AMC Movie Theaters.

It began with a simple musing from the Oreo team, about the time honored tradition of sneaking food into the movie theater. AMC responded, and before you know it, thousands of people were watching the two brands swapping comments. It’s important to consider is the humorous, pseudo-combative framing of the exchange. A bantering exchange between two brands presents both in a good light. The Twitter stream with its air of  friendly competitiveness and obvious awareness of current pop-culture tropes imbues both Oreo and AMC with a sense of identifiable humanity.

Focusing on the fun is a smart move on social media. People are retweeting the exchange and following along in part because they want to see who can be funnier. Who will win the witty exchange? It is a mini-event, the type of moment that makes social media enjoyable for the end user.

Remember too that social media users can gain some measure of social standing by being the first to discover or share a funny post, video, or exchange with their peers. Every person who forwarded these Tweets was feeding the essential human hunger for gossip.

If we think about gossip as the act of gathering together in intimate groups to enjoy the same stories in common with other, it’s easy to see how social media’s ability to filter audiences into select small groups is so appealing. The person who can, with a few quick clicks, determine who gets to see the funny material and who is left out of the laughs is fulfilling, albeit likely unconsciously, the need to dominate, to be in charge, to decide. There can be deep water under even the most shallow boat.

It’ll be interesting to see where the exchange grows.  Perhaps it will grow to an epic size, becoming part of both brand’s legacy. Perhaps a Pro-Oreo group will grow up behind the sneak cookies into the theater idea, while fans of AMC can unite to defend the tradition of stereotypically high priced movie snacks. Perhaps it will all just fade away, destined to be nothing more than a Tweet memory.

No matter what, both brands won by becoming more humanistic and approachable in the eyes of their customers. That’s the secret to relevance on social media.

Success by the Slice: Does Being “Flawsome” Work For Domino’s?

PhotobucketPerfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Just ask the folks at Domino’s Pizza.  In 2009, the company’s pizza came in last in a national taste test—tying with Chuck E. Cheese, an eatery known more for the presence of video games and children’s amusements than anything on the menu.  At that point, (and after bringing on a new CEO, Patrick Doyle) Domino’s launched a new marketing campaign, admitting that they weren’t perfect.

In fact, they were pretty far from perfect.  This campaign featured images of horrendous looking pizzas and consumer panels admitting, on camera, that they didn’t think there was any actual real cheese to be found on a Domino’s pie.  The company vowed to improve, and made a very public spectacle of their efforts to fix things.  They even posted a live feed of customer Tweets in Times Square: a highly visible, real-time response to their improvements for all the world to see.

As a result, Domino’s has seen their sales numbers improving steadily. Investor confidence in the brand has skyrocketed. In 2011, Domino’s stock prices rose 110%. Being “Flawsome” appears to be a smart strategic decision for Domino’s.  But why did it work?

Understanding the Brand Lover

The relationship between a consumer and a brand is a complex and nuanced one.  There are many, many factors that lead a person to order pizza from one restaurant rather than another. When we start delving into what the underlying appeal of what a marketing message of “We weren’t very good, really, but we’re trying to get better!” might be, we have to examine not only how the customer views the pizza restaurant in question, but how they view the world in general, and their place in it.

We are dealing right now with a consumer base that has been trained to be skeptical about everything. Having faith or trust in an institution is viewed as a nostalgic form of naivete; we’re sure that there’s going to be a fly in our bowl of soup. Reaching this market with a message of perfection or idealism isn’t going to work. This audience is not capable of believing such things. They know nothing in this world is perfect and they prefer to do business with a company that is honest about their imperfections.

Organizations that can acknowledge their own shortcomings, while putting forward a reasonable plan to remedy the solution with a sense of humor and maturity, appeal to these customers. The customer can identify with the brand—after all, they know they’re not perfect people. They’ve screwed up themselves, once or twice, over the years.  They may have had to go through their own process of rebuilding. There are common points of experience between Domino’s and the legions of customers driving the brand’s turnaround. The brands that are the easiest for customers to bond with are the brands that are most human—and haven’t we been told that to err is human?

There’s a lot to learn from Domino’s. Organizations that move in a more humanistic fashion, understanding and embracing those traits that bring them closer into alignment with their Brand Lover’s experiences and world view, are those that are going to dominate, even in a crowded marketplace. There is value in being “flawsome.”