My sister is a Counter Burger fan and frequent air traveler. When I shared on Twitter that she chooses to layover at San Diego International Airport (SAN) because of The Counter, Co-CEO Craig Albert responded. Our initial Twitter exchange was friendly and brief.

Fast forward a few weeks. My sister was again headed to SAN, but risked missing The Counter’s closing time by 15 minutes. I tweeted and Craig immediately took action. We coordinated flight arrival time and burger service with the efficiency and excitement of a lunar landing. The result: a fun tweet stream, a great photo, and a brand advocacy story that’s hard to beat. Here’s the interaction:

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Craig’s tone and communication style is reflected in every Counter Burger touchpoint: on their website, in social media, and behind the sales counter. The company has created one voice – a voice that’s open, human, and fresh – and that obviously resonates with their loyal customers.

Many thanks to Craig and The Counter team.

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I am pleased to have my voice heard here. Many thanks to @colincampbellx for reaching out.

“Why do some people post negative reviews online, of games they have never played and have no intention of ever playing?

New research into reviewing habits online reveals the motivations of consumers who rate products they haven’t actually experienced. It helps us understand why such things happen in gaming.”

Read more by @colincampbellx at Polygon.com.

Choice is now available locally and globally on and offline for pretty much any good or service a consumer could want. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands looking to reach customers across the device universe (mobile, desktop, tablet, gadget, etc.).

Marketers have better access to customers, but customers are better informed as they go into purchasing mode. Comparison shopping, product forums, social media, and other information sources have given the consumer the ability to make informed decisions before, as well as at the point of purchase.

As a result, brands can no longer solely dictate pricing and product delivery timetables – their customers are playing an active and real-time role. Social media, showroom price matching, and price comparison marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon make it difficult for any brand that’s not dictating MAP (minimized advertised price) to be undersold or commoditized.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the B2C world, 66 percent of Moms say that the Internet has changed the way they get information about products, but this savvy comes with caveats. They want to initiate the conversation. Source
  • In the B2B world, 70 percent of B2B tech buyers surveyed said that the amount of budget spent electronically would increase if it were easier and more convenient to browse and purchase items directly from suppliers and their websites. Source
  • Then there are the Internet-born brands such as Warby Parker and others that are making costs and benefits more transparent, disrupting traditional retail margins. Eyewear was a market ripe for disruption. B2C lighting and plumbing supplies are markets currently being disrupted. Source

What does this mean for marketers? It means that brand narrative, data-aided personalization, rich product information, and access to company experts is more critical than ever before. It means that integrated marketing is here to stay.

The minute you accept that your brand or product is replaceable is the moment you start working on great things like positioning, merchandising, packaging, product development, measurement, and an integrated marketing approach. This is the time when you start thinking about how to surprise and delight customers and obsessing about how to remove friction from the buying process. This is when the product finds its voice, and you as the marketer find your power.

Retailers should make amends when customers voice a perceived wrongdoing, however, J.C. Penny’s new ad is a miss – a lost opportunity to draw in new customers. The ad does go to rebuild goodwill among the retailer’s current core audience, but to those unfamiliar with JCP’s newest product assortment, the ad strikes a desperate tone.

I’d planned to visit JCP because of Ron Johnson’s once lauded (and now derided) merchandising strategy. News of the new, brighter, more open JCP featuring independent brands that exude curatorial respect – Levi’s, Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler, and others – got my attention. Now, I’m not so sure. While I applaud J.C. Penney for trying to protect (and win back) their core audience, this misstep might be a case of winning the battle, but losing the war. They’ll save today’s shopper, but lose tomorrow’s; shoppers that embrace experiences and narrative and who will pay a premium (or at least full price) for it.

In my opinion, J.C. Penney’s retail reversal is a loss of the “surprise and delight” that propelled Target (Johnson’s former employer) to retail stardom. They’ve exchanged a “new position” for an undifferentiated return to mediocre pricing tactics. J.C. Penney is once again about price – not value – a position shared by many others in an increasingly crowded space.

Come back, Ron Johnson. You were just getting started.

‘If you’re in a race to the bottom, to the best price, you’re not going to win long term.’ – J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler

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Sindhya Valloppillil’s article about consumer retail, titled “Why Consumer-Facing E-Commerce Is BROKEN,” created quite a storm on Twitter this past weekend. Venture capitalists invested in the noted firms were instantly on the defensive and entrepreneurs attempting to develop new retail models felt attacked.

While Valloppillil created a robust conversation about online retail and venture capital funding, the article failed to talk about the challenges online-only retailers face when trying to simultaneously craft a brand and establish a differentiated business model at the same time. To use a popular visual, these entrepreneurs are building the plane while flying it.

As an ecommerce marketer with several upstart scars, I know firsthand the challenges involved in flying, repairing, building, and trying to keep a business aloft while driving sales. The ability to focus employee excitement into a valid business model requires saying “no” to 90 percent of the projects that appear urgent. Moreover, focusing founder and employee passion into a clear, differentiated brand message takes just as much backbone. One’s ability to articulate a brand’s mission, vision, and values in each customer touchpoint – based on the customer’s context and device – and to then inspire them to propagate your message, is a thrilling and exhausting challenge.

While Valloppillil is enjoying what she termed the “shit show,” the larger discussion is around teams and people. Mike at the Dollar Shave Club lives the mission, but he needs a (or more) merchandiser, a strong technical lead, and omnichannel marketers that can help guide product development, merchandize the assortment, and diligently measure and optimize performance. Sometimes you pick the right team and sometimes a strong board of directors steers you well. If you’re fortunate, great people bring equally great people with them to your organization.

We know that DSC was surprised by the volume of interest that their first video created; they didn’t have the supply chain nor the product catalog to capitalize on the surge of customer interest. That said, they have a believable ethos that many of their competitors don’t. They have a story to tell and sell.

Yes, retail upstarts need to understand business, brand, and audience insights – all businesses do – but these elements can’t stand in isolation; they need to result in a roadmap that is executed on time by a coordinated team. DSC clearly did not execute fast enough. Amazon did and so did Zappos. As is Fab with their announcement today. So, before we start slinging mud about what these startups aren’t doing, let’s be prescriptive about what they should be doing.

I’m here to help. jason /at/ jasonmichaels /dot/ com.

 

Most Fortune 500 company websites do a great job telling you what the firm is selling. But guess what? Customers don’t care. They’re looking for outcomes, to fill a need or get smart, and to then either request more information or get on with their day.

Instead of simply listing what you sell, extrapolate through to “the why.” In example, you sell software. For whom? Medical practices. Why? To better manage patient information. Why? To reduce administrative costs. Why? Because administrative costs represent the largest share of OPEX investment, which can’t be written off as easily at tax time. Aha! Now you’re not simply selling medical practice software, you’re selling the kind of efficiency that equates to savings. And that single message can be delivered in a sentence as opposed to a laundry list of features.

Instead of being “Medusoft medical practice software”, you’re now “Medusoft, making medical practices more profitable” (through software). And we’ll all buy that type of return.

An investor I recently spoke with stated, “I look at a company’s website and ask, would anyone care if this company went away? If the answer is no, I go on to the next thing.”

As a strategist I ask, “Has your company uniquely positioned itself in the market, and does that positioning align to your company’s mission, vision, and values?”

If the answer is “yes” to both questions above, then find ways – beyond sales – to validate that your customers feel the same way. If your customers aren’t reflecting your messaging (based on your insights about them), you’d better quickly change the conversation.

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Many people have asked me why I own and work on Studebakers. The Studebaker Corporation no longer produces cars, but there are tens of thousands of Studebaker automobiles on roads, in garages and barns, and on display around the world. And unbeknownst to most, there is an entire community of Studebaker drivers and fans around the globe preserving the brand. The entire subculture fascinates me and is a study in niche communities, the wisdom of crowds, and digital (and offline) touch-points.

I came to Studebakering wanting to work on ‘something big’ with my father. What I found was a gathering of enthusiasts much larger than I could have imagined. For many in the club, their nostalgia for Studebaker revolves around their childhoods and early family life. For me, those memories are being created right now.

“Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.” I hope these cars always transport me back to working side-by-side with my father.

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Originally posted on wirestone.com.

If stakeholders within your organization still view customer loyalty programs as purely a promotional marketing expense, or worse, a margin killer, they’re sorely mistaken. In today’s omni-channel retail environment, strategy-infused loyalty programs can be amortized across the organization to: fuel sales; inform customer insights; amplify brand awareness; accelerate promotions; and most importantly, to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers.

Why do many organizations still shudder at the thought of implementing a customer loyalty program? Well, because they don’t understand the new mechanics of customer loyalty. Who’s doing it right?

Nordstrom’s Fashion Rewards program not only benefits the customer with “points” that can be redeemed with or for purchases, but they unlock services that play into Nordstrom’s core strength and brand promise: customer service. High-touch and valued services such as complimentary alterations, concierge service, access to exclusive events, free shipping, and more.

In exchange, Nordstrom creates a virtuous cycle of repeat touch points and purchases that feed a well-tuned database of your personal details and purchasing habits – amortizing the cost of acquiring you as a customer and better informing Nordy’s understanding of its customer segments. As a bonus, the customer is telling everyone that will listen about Nordstrom’s stellar customer service while wearing the goods they purchased from the store, by way of the web, app, or Nordstrom’s other businesses, Haute Look and Bonobos.

What’s so smart about Fashion Rewards? It’s focused on customer retention and lifetime value and not short-term customer conversion and ROI – both very important, but let’s remember to ‘protect the core’ while expanding the base.

Who else is doing it right? Foursquare.

Let’s face it, many web services would be dead if they didn’t remind us that they still existed. Foursquare was looking superfluous for a while, but then it struck a partnership with American Express that revitalized its relevance for Millennials – its core user base.

Foursquare not only used game mechanics to encourage repeat use, but its discovery tools dented Yelp’s armor by showing us both which businesses we should patronize and why. The incremental nature of Foursquare’s loyalty mechanics propelled it from a novelty to a platform that is now home to even more partnerships and service integrations … so much so that Facebook retreated from the “check-in” deals space.

Both of these companies are focused on creating value for the customer first and foremost and at each stage of the customer life cycle. Loyalty services are core to their businesses, and both firms are realizing gains in sales, utilization, customer feedback, word of mouth and digital social sharing, etc.

Getting customer loyalty programs right isn’t easy. Today’s omni-channel businesses need to espouse the multipronged benefits of customer loyalty programs across the constellation of decision makers within their organizations – from frontline salespeople, to the CEO, to the CFO.

If stakeholders within your organization still see customer loyalty programs as simply key fobs, gift cards, and coupons, they’re missing where retail and socially enabled businesses are headed. And soon, they’ll be missing their customers too.