Flooring The Consumer on Simple Marketing Now

Please visit Flooring The Consumer's new home on SimpleMarketingNow.com where you can subscribe to receive updates to blog articles in real time!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Final Issue: Endless Frustrations!

"From the Internet: Frustration" originally uploaded by Suzyn.
Hurray! My Mom is done! She's delighted with the end product.

But, she doesn't want to dwell on the experience. What a shame it wasn't better.

The story began with My Mom is in the Market for Carpet and continued with Next Issue: Dizzying Choices. Here we move onto the 3rd major issue preventing so many consumers - like my Mom - from joyously, whimsically and enthusiastically shopping for carpet: unexpected problems and endless frustrations! And, all you can do -like the dog in this picture- is passively and patiently wait for it all to be over with...

Now, problems occur. They are a natural part of our day to day interactions, especially in complex categories -like flooring-where there are so many factors beyond our personal control. Unlike apparel or food, it isn't just a matter of browsing, selecting, purchasing and walking out with one's acquisition. Other critical activities need to take place, namely measuring and then installing, which require coordination with multiple parties and can lead to problems!

Given the nature and complexity of flooring, why is it that stores and sales people aren't better prepared to manage problems? We're talking communicating vital information -aka doing follow-up- with the person affected: the customer. You may not be able to prevent the problem, but you sure can let the customer know that problems have occurred, help monitor the situation on her behalf, facilitate scheduling, maybe anticipate and prevent other complications, even create a solution. You are your customer's advocate, partner, advisor, enabler, facilitator.... and all of these communications tell the consumer that you care and you appreciate her business. [Remember in Going The Extra Kilometer with Iron Girl Judy Molnar how paying attention to a lot of little details can add up a very big difference?] And, what a way to develop a strong customer relationship!

At the very least your customer will be impressed with how seriously you take her business, her relationship, her overall experience. And all this attention will form the basis for the most enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements and referrals that you could ever hope for! So, shouldn't following up with your customer be embraced rather than shunned? [See A Good Hug is Worth.]

Back to my Mom. Timeline for her journey: browsed June/July. Signed for the jobs on August 3, 1st room done 8/28/06; 2nd room done 9/11/06 and the 3rd finally completed 9/23/06. Total time elapsed since signing: 2 months.

Problems and frustrations:
  • Bedroom - no one explained about the width of the carpet roll and the need to order so much extra carpet to do the room. She felt robbed; installers took away the extra carpet. Had she been prepared, she would have had it bound and given to my Nephew [sorry, Sean!].
  • Kitchen - didn't realize until the day before installation that she needed to find someone to turn the gas off. She doesn't remember her salesperson mentioning the need and the store couldn't recommend anyone. This meant that my Dad had to get involved, increasing the frustration factor all around.
  • Dining Room - it wasn't measured properly. Couldn't do an area rug [previous solution] so went with a wall to wall solution which required that a border be added. This meant an extra cost which did get communicated, also meant additional delays.
  • Lots of nasty comments about needing to move her own furniture. She emptied everything in her dining room several times; moving the few pieces in there would not be a big deal for 2 strong guys. Now, what's wrong with offering that service with a smile to a customer who has just spent a lot of money with you?

My Mom worked with 3 separate installation teams for her 3 projects. Make that 4 since the dining room required an additional redo/installation. Scheduling communications came directly from the warehouse. Her salesperson knew nothing about the details, yet wasn't the salesperson her primary point of contact? Whenever the call came to schedule the job[s], the person on the phone wasn't aware of the details either [Ok. So we're doing 3 jobs for you today. Oh, 2 have already been completed?].

The job would be scheduled and no one would show up as promised. No phone call. My Mom would call her salesperson to get information. For one of the jobs, she received a last minute call saying that the installers had food poisoning from eating seafood. My Mom didn't believe it! The story didn't match up with what she had observed about her hard-working, meticulous, focused, professional installers. Lucky for that store that she was impressed with the installers.

My Mom represents one of our typical woman consumers and she is frustrated. She hopes NEVER to have to go through this again. The sad thing is -given her carpet store choices- this is possibly the best retail experience available. Yikes! So, lucky for this store she won't actively discourage people from doing business with them. She will, though, be sure to lower their expectations drastically.

Given these lows, imagine what little effort it would take to delight the flooring consumer, and give her reason not to postpone redoing her floors! Given that the Big Box experience is usually even worse, imagine the opportunity for specialty flooring stores to truly differentiate themselves with the consumer! Consider these ideas:

  • My Mom didn't use the internet to do research. So, what about offering her brochures or reference materials talking about roll size and how to best match seams for traffic patterns? What about letting her know IN ADVANCE that she would have excess carpet to deal with and asking her what she might want to do with it?
  • What about a check off list in preparation for installing a new floor? What about a referral list for getting gas temporarily shut off? What about having someone on staff available to do that? Wow!
  • What about having the salesperson be my Mom's main point of contact and having that salesperson proactively and FREQUENTLY calling my Mom until the job is completed? And don't forget a followup call afterwards. Can't hurt. In fact, had my Mom not had to do the chasing around, she would have been considerably happier with her adventure. She felt let down, and unimportant. A 'thank you' note might make a difference.
  • What about showing up for installation appointments within the time window? And calling to let the consumer know what to expect.... My Mom was severely inconvenienced.
Our opportunity in retail is to make it easy for the consumer. So how do we convert endless frustrations into unlimited delight and desire to repeat the experience over and over again, and to tell everyone in digital range how wonderful it all was?

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Next Issue: Dizzying Choices

"Wide Selection of Food and Fresh Fruit" originally uploaded by ecteam.
As you know, My Mom Is In the Market for Carpet. Although she has postponed making decisions, it's not that she hasn't tried. Each time, though, she was overwhelmed with the choices available and simply walked out.

For my Mom -and for so many women consumers in North America - when shopping for carpet the choices are dizzying and difficult to understand/visualize.

Selecting product wasn't any easier this time especially with the aggravation of my Mom's sales guy. If it hadn't been for my Sister, she would certainly have walked out again.

I spoke to my Mom shortly after this visit -- you should have heard how she enjoyed sharing the gory details of her encounter with her sales guy [i.e, remember from I Can't Get No Satisfaction how powerful negative word-of-mouth is?]. But, she also talked at length about the dizzying array of products and how difficult it was to visualize how product would look in her home. How could anyone in their right mind expect a consumer -even one with glasses- to make a significant decision for their home based on a postage-sized carpet sample? Good question! Now, granted, she did have larger samples to look at in a generic color, but most of the interesting color choices were only available in small swatches.

"Why is it," she asked "that in this day and age of sophisticated technology there can't be an easier way?" She proceeded to describe to me her vision for a solution.

Eerily, it matched something I had just experienced at NEOCON in the Bentley Prince Street Showroom called the "Zoom Room" - an "innovative simulation technology system... Developed by Tricycle, this 3D visualization tool provides customers with instantaneous life-sized recreations of custom color carpet products in an actual room environment." Can you imagine how that would have revolutionized my Mom's experience? Can you imagine how she would have talked about this tool to ALL of her friends? What a source of buzz! of fun word-of-mouth!

The Zoom Room led me immediately to another NEOCON inspired experience also made possible by Tricycle [check out the Tricycle blog about "sustainable design in the interiors industry, especially carpet."] I learned about this during a fascinating panel discussion titled "Hybrid Carpet. Cut/Loop Cars." that my company's Ultron carpet fiber division sponsored about 'dematerializing the creative process'. In other words, make the creative process more virtual, use fewer precious resources, and come up with the right solution faster and more efficiently.

What if my Mom could have brought home some large size simulated paper samples of her carpet choices, in the right colors, that she didn't need to sign her life away for or have to return in 48 hours? This is what Nood now offers the commercial world. Kimberly Gavin in the July 3/10, 2006 issue of Floor Covering Weekly in an article titled "Newcomer: Nood is the un-carpet company" describes the company as the "un-mill" and explains that "the supplier aims to dematerialize the commercial carpet process".

Not only are there huge environmental benefits -which Kimberly Gavin details in another FCW article titled "Tricycle sampling saves time, resources" in the August 21/28, 2006 issue- , but for consumers - like my Mom - imagine offering them a large sized, user-friendly, realistic sample that could actually help with the purchase decision. For now, these options are for the commercial rather than the consumer world, but imagine the possibilities!

The lesson from this: figure out how make it easy for your customers to visualize owning your products. In "Why We Buy" [see Recommended Reading/Retail Trends on right hand sidebar of Flooring The Consumer ], Paco Underhill explains that shopping is about seduction - helping the consumer experience the merchandise in their possession before buying it, helping them become emotionally involved in the choices you offer. So, if you don't figure out a way to make that painless, and ideally enjoyable, then you will prevent your consumer from buying from you. Is that what you want?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

My Mom Is In the Market for Carpet....

Actually, my Mom has been in the market for carpet for several years now, at least 4 or 5, maybe 6. But, she has postponed taking any action - as do many consumers. Why is that?

The projects:
The dining room has been the longest source of irritation: it's a public space [my parents entertain] and the carpet has faded. Plus, my Mom is tired of the color [originally a rich claret that went well with the teak furniture].

My parents' bedroom is daunting: my Dad's books and research papers tower over one end of the room. Replacing the carpet would require his active involvement, meaning that my Mom can't operate in stealth mode to get the project done.

The kitchen floor has simply uglied out. My Sister and Niece complained multiple times about how lousy it looks. That wound up being the tipping point for my Mom. That plus my Sister's willingness to be involved. It got her moving and actively considering possibilities, but not with enthusiasm.

Why not? My Mom - like a lot of consumers in North America - is an AVID shopper. That she would put off this opportunity to participate in the world of consumption highlights many of the issues consumers face when shopping for floor covering:

- the shopping experience is depressing
- the choices are dizzying and difficult to understand/visualize
- you will encounter unexpected problems!

My Mom - like many women in North America - is also a FIERCE shopper. She has bargained with the pros, purchasing hand-made persian rugs in Iran, leather goods in the bazaars of Istanbul, and many other things in between. I have seen her in action!

So, why - like so many women consumers in North America - would she deliberately put off an opportunity to shop?

The shopping experience is depressing.
This is not the first time my Mom has been in the market for carpet. It went tolerably well last time [my Mom schmoozed in Farsi with her Persian sales rep], but wasn't memorable enough to return to with gusto. [Remember Jason Jennings' comments in Mooving On To Greatness? "Great companies have figured out that satisfied customers leave."]

I offered specific store recommendations. Her reactions? "I don't like that one; the store was messy and unpleasant." "That one? Never again. He was rude and made me feel 2nd class!" Sound familiar?

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that she had found a store and was making decisions!

But, it wasn't a slam-dunk.

My Mom had noticed that one of her former carpet haunts had gone out of business [good riddance, she said!]. It had been replaced with one that looked appealing from the outside: attractive windows that conveyed a sense of fashion. She decided to go in and check it out.

A male salesperson helped her. Well, actually, he approached her, and kind of interacted with her. Hmm. Seems he was neither helpful nor nice, according to my Sister. And definitely NOT a fashion plate [per my Mom, short sleeve shirt, ugly tie and pants buckled high over his belly; an 'older' guy and condescending, too].

My Sister ran interference, picked out some samples for her to take home and they were off. Before leaving, my Mom was read the riot act: you have 48 hours to get those samples back to us, or else! [per my Mom: I felt like a criminal! I had to sign my life away for a few lousy carpet samples just to get them home and see how they might work in my house!] Ohhh! How depressing and discouraging for the consumer! What an unpleasant shopping experience!

My Mom was late returning her samples [she really didn't want to deal with that guy again!], but this wound up being a happy situation! She returned to the store and met two women with style and flair with whom she instantly bonded. One was a designer; both exuded fashion sense and sophistication. Both listened carefully to her and offered suggestions that made sense for what she wanted to accomplish. My Mom started having FUN!

Ironically, the irritating carpet samples gave this retail store an opportunity to repair the damage done in the first interaction. But imagine how much more successful and satisfying this would have been if my Mom had met these two women initially?

The lesson from this: make sure EVERYONE on your sales floor is committed to your consumer's superior service experience, that everyone projects the message you want your store to convey, that everyone knows how to listen and make the consumer feel GREAT about interacting with you. Consumers need to experience consistency in their dealings with you, and it had better be positively enjoyable!

And, make sure that everyone on your sales floor knows how to sell to women! How to communicate with consumers! Help them banish forever the hard sell mentality. Everyone will benefit!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, September 18, 2006

Passing the Torch: Marketing to Moms AND their Daughters

My friend, Sarah Goodman from The Hughes Group, contributed this second post based on her participation in the Seattle Iron Girl event. Her first article is titled Going The Extra Kilometer with Iron Girl Judy Molnar.

When strategizing about reaching the female consumer, do we only focus on those women who will walk into our store this week or this decade? What about their kids -- the next generation of loyal customers? Are we paying attention to them now, and making them feel comfortable in our stores?

According to Iconoculture, 57.9 million Generation Y (under 27) and Millennials (12-22) have already surpassed the spending power of previous generations, because their needs and opinions drive many older adults’ purchase decisions. With spending power of nearly $615 billion per year, they literally represent the future market for most consumer brands.

I was struck by this inevitable “passing of the torch” last weekend at the Seattle Ryka Iron Girl 5K/10K event. Many mothers brought their daughters out to run with them, passing along the value and love for fitness and the outdoors to their little ones, from strollers to walkers to runners.

Before the race began, Iron Girl director Judy Molnar welcomed the nearly 1400 women to the event. She had all the little girls (under the age of 12) raise their hands and had the rest of us cheer them on. I got goose bumps seeing our futures running side by side with us. They kept up well too. The youngest finisher was 7 years old, and an 11 year old placed 13th overall.

At the awards ceremony, the little girls showed obvious enthusiasm and excitement at being a part of the event. The always “ran” to the awards stand, and had the widest smiles for the camera—their carefree spirit was contagious.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the event was the drawing for the B.O.B. fitness stroller at the end of the awards ceremony. The winner was walking with her one month old daughter in a small, very basic stroller. The little baby had a shirt that said “I’m an Iron Girl” and a cute hat to match. As the mom came up to receive her prize, her girlfriends cheered wildly and the entire crowd joined in. Not only were we celebrating someone so committed to fitness getting a major upgrade in a stroller, but also the symbolism of participating with even the youngest of the next generation—an inspiration for women of all ages.

At events like this across the country, women cheer on these girls’ accomplishments, with high hopes for their futures. The question is—what are marketers doing to understand what these girls-turned-women will need and want in 20 years?

The next generation of female consumers has been raised on technology. Iconoculture describes them as “media-immersed”, growing up “praised and raised” for success. They will be better able to balance family, school/work and play than their parents did. They will be looking for ways to connect with others, while developing their own, unique identity.

Although marketing budgets are often limited and long and short term goals need to be prioritized, I believe the companies that focus on the next generation of female consumers sooner rather than later will be in better position to reap the benefits for many years to come.

Consider taking a first step by enthusiastically welcoming the next generation into your stores with their moms, and successfully engaging both in your retail environment!

Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Exit the Grandes Dames of Retail. Enter?

Queen Elizabeth I originally uploaded by PD Wylde.
We've been talking about it, shaking our heads, wondering how can it be so. How can Federated be 'macy-izing' the country? Why would they want to replace the grandes dames of retail -- like Marshall Field's -- with Macy's? Why contribute to the sea of sameness already plaguing the retail world?

Could it be that they want to recapture the cultural and educational legacy of department stores? The 9/7/06 issue of The Boston Globe in an article titled Culture at the counter by Jan Whitaker describes how department stores offered free concerts and art shows [that museums envied and tried to emulate]. How they demonstrated the latest in technology [e.g., store lighting], how products worked and how they generally showcased aspirational concepts, products and fashions [i.e., culture].

Think where consumers go today for culture: Barnes & Noble or Borders, iTunes or Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart, TiVo, cable, yes - traditional movie theaters [although much less so!], museums and art galleries, flickr, YouTube, as well as travel experiences [purchased online] and experiential boutiques and stores... Education happens online and -especially for women- through fellow consumer word-of-mouth recommendations. You don't hear department stores mentioned.

This 8/27/06 Chicago Tribune article by Sandra Jones titled Grand old stores too old, grand. Carsons' flagship no longer destination reinforces how retail has changed simply from a square footage perspective:
  • The Carsons building [in Chicago] is 1 million square feet. That's big enough to fit four Wal-Mart Supercenter stores inside.Carsons sold the building years ago and is leasing back a slimmer 600,000 square feet inside. But still, that's big enough to fit nearly two Ikea stores.
  • Wal-Mart's biggest Supercenters are 230,000 square feet, not nearly as big as Carsons.
  • Cabela's, the warehouse-size sports store from Nebraska, operates some of the biggest stores in the country, big enough to hold an indoor mountain. Its largest stores are also only 230,000 square feet.
  • Indeed, entire malls could take up the space Carsons is leaving behind, including the Westfield North Bridge mall on North Michigan Avenue that is home to Nordstrom.

So what is Federated doing? The Marshall Field's flagship store in Chicago [soon-t0-be Macy's] comes in at 1.8 million square feet [Macy's Herald Square in NYC is 2.2 million square feet]. According to the article:

Federated Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren has taken great pains to assure Chicago that the State Street flagship, even as its name changes to Macy's, will remain intact. Lundgren is on a mission to revive the department store and looks to the flagships at Macy's Herald Square in New York, Macy's Union Square in San Francisco and the soon-to-be Macy's State Street in Chicago as key to his plan."Our philosophy is the flagships are the hubs of activity that draw the largest customer audiences and can offer the best of everything," said Jim Sluzewski, vice president of corporate communications at Federated in Cincinnati. "It takes a significant amount of money to make a flagship function. For us the concept of the flagship is very much alive."

Ok. So, they want to resurrect the grandeur of the department store experience? What's the plan for all that space? More stuff? Mind you, I haven't set foot in the Macy's Herald Square store in years: It's just too big; it's overwhelming and I don't have the time to navigate through it. I can find the stuff I need more efficiently elsewhere. And, the experience? Well, how is it special?

This 9/7/06 article from the San Diego Union-Tribune by Jennifer Davies titled Macy's celebrates its 400 new stores. Federated plans aggressive ads, community programs gives you a taste for the sheer size of the undertaking. The goal: "consumers will soon see Macy's as a fashion leader on a national stage, yet accessible locally" across 45 states and DC in 800+ stores. To reinforce the local angle, Macy's is "trying to establish ties to each community it is in." That's cool. But, Macy's as national fashion leader? I don't think so!

George Whalin from Retailer Blog brings up the point that Federated will be competing against itself in some markets. "It's called cannibalization. They've just got too many stores here" [here being 1 county in San Diego with 13 stores]. Suggests to me that they will need to close some stores.

This last Macy's related article from the 9/8/06 Chicago Tribune titled FIELD'S FINAL DAYS. House brands heavy at Macy's. Federated uses a legion of designers to help set its clothes, other products apart, increase profitability discusses Macy's strategy of designing and selling its own merchandise. The author writes "the strategy is key to winning over shoppers who have complained for years that all department stores look the same." Hmmm. National chain developing its own brands to showcase cutting edge fashion? Not. National chain developing safe, same-looking products that will appeal to all, thereby reducing SKUs? More likely

The article makes note of the following improvements:

  • Field's shoppers will also notice changes in the stores' layout--wider aisles, less clutter, sitting areas near the fitting rooms and wheeled shopping carts. [ed.: Kohl's offers carts]
  • Sales clerks are required to dress in black in order to be more easily recognizable.
  • And computerized price scanners allow shoppers to check prices themselves. [ed.: Target and Wal-Mart have price scanners]

Now, that's good news. Macy's stores feel claustrophic they are so jammed packed with stuff. I wonder how enthusiastic the sales clerks will be? Will they be excited about helping me and creating the most memorable shopping experience ever?

Time will tell whether Macy's is hugely successful, but this goes against everything I see happening in the retail marketplace. Michael Silverstein's Trading Up and Treasure Hunt [see recommended reading MARKETPLACE TRENDS in Flooring The Consumer describe how the marketplace has shifted from the traditional pyramid [few rarified offerings at the top, lots in the middle, and tons at the bottom] to an hourglass where consumers choose to trade up [think experiential, aspirational new luxury goods] or treasure hunt for bargains [think Wal-Mart]. The middle - the realm of the department store - is squeezed. So, you see Kohl's shifting downward, Bloomingdale's upward, and everything in between disappears. Where does that leave the 800+ Macy's stores?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Going the Extra Kilometer with Iron Girl Judy Molnar

Notice Sarah's race bib. Her name appears immediately underneath her number.

My friend, Sarah Goodman from The Hughes Group, participated in the Seattle Iron Girl event that took place this past Sunday, September 10, 2006. She contributed this post:

In marketing we talk about “going the extra mile” to connect with the female consumer and get her to take notice. Although measured in kilometers instead of miles, the Iron Girl 5K/10K in Seattle demonstrated the power of the personal touch in a spectacular way last weekend and it is in large part because of the individual behind the race.

Judy Molnar has directed the Ryka Iron Girl Event Series into its second season, so far growing each event by nearly double. I had heard reports of all the little “details” that Judy infuses into each event, to make it a personal, inspiring experience. Instead of the fierce competition that characterizes older sibling IronMan, the Iron Girl series is designed to be less intense, and focus primarily on promoting a healthy lifestyle for women of all ages and fitness levels. [ed. note: go to Doing Good for more information about IronMan, Iron Girl and for a link to Judy's story.]

As I watched and participated on Sunday I saw how, from start to finish, Judy put her personal touch on each detail of the race. It was not one big thing, but instead the multitude of little touches that impressed me.

Here are a few examples:

  • Judy made a note of everyone with a birthday on race day and publicly wished them Happy Birthday by name.
  • As the women were lined up ready to start the race, Judy asked those who had never participated in a race before to raise their hands. She then asked those who were more experienced to turn around and give the women behind them a big round of applause.
  • Judy recognized the many mother/daughter teams participating, and welcomed the many small smiling faces to their first event. Recognizing all the little girls around me made her theme of passing a love for fitness to the next generation all the more powerful.
  • Before and after the race, women would come up to Judy with questions or concerns about the race logistics or other details. Because each woman’s first name was printed on her race bib, Judy would glance at the bib, and then address the woman by name as she answered her. For those upset by something, the personal touch immediately diffused the situation. I was again astounded at what a difference a first name can make.
  • From the starting line salute to the awards ceremony after the event, Judy maintained an approachable demeanor and enthusiastic spirit. She was not so focused on the program that she could not interact personally with each participant, yet was still professional, running an efficient and first class event.

Mother/daughter Iron Girl participants:
After the awards ceremony, I saw many women come up and personally thank Judy for having this event and ask when the next one would be. Judy received lots of positive and probably helpful feedback from women who felt comfortable approaching her and talking with her. I don’t think it was one thing that Judy did to gain this level of respect and camaraderie but instead the many little signs where she “went the extra mile” throughout the event and conveyed the message that she cared a lot!

In today's retail environment, you rarely experience a personal touch as a consumer. As a retailer, you may not know which personal touch will connect with the consumer and differentiate you from the others. But, if you focus on the little things that tell a consumer that you care, they can all add up to a very big difference.

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Brand Experience Lab's Experience Manifesto

Retail Outlet originally uploaded by yendluri69.
As promised in my last post, Highlighting Blogs: Retail Experience, I am focusing here on Experience Manifesto.

Experience Manifesto is the work of David Polinchock, the founder and chairman of Brand Experience Lab in SoHo. [He also contributes to FutureLab.] David pushes the edge of the brand experience envelope and stretches the reaches of your brain. No surprise, he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and NYU.

I first met David in May, 2005 during a seminar at the Brand Experience Lab - it included a walking tour of SoHo - on building a branded retail experience. Sponsored by POPAI [point of purchase advertising international], the session was based on the premise that of the $900+ billion spent on marketing, $18B is spent at retail because traditional advertising no longer works. With power shifting to the consumer, the consumer is responding at the point of purchase, where the brand experience becomes critical for success.

Here follows a summary of the presentation, which remains more than relevant today:

In today's marketplace, many products/services are becoming commodities. The consumer has become increasingly knowledgeable and comfortable making purchasing decisions, relying less on traditional marketing and sales efforts. As a result, it takes more effort/resources/etc. to create a compelling brand identity. The challenge becomes how to ignite passion, and inspire loyalty for your brand.

Success calls for integrating all brand elements as none can be viewed in isolation. Each represents one piece of a larger brand story that needs to be told with passion and consistency, starting with the company itself. The challenge a brand marketer faces is breaking through the visual 'war zone' [i.e., clutter], to consistently present the brand's identity and connect with consumers in a meaningful way - that recognizes that they are time stressed yet want/need to feel good about their purchase decisions.

At the same time, retailers are becoming dominant brands. In order for marketers to retain the full support of retailers [and access to valuable real estate in-store!], they must demonstrate that product and/or displays sell, match the retail identity, are easy to use, etc.

Ultimately, the overall emotional satisfaction with a brand is more important than the features, benefits, customer service or quality alone. Brands must engage and captivate with sensory, interactive, authentic and relevant elements. Brand loyalty is driven by the delivery of valuable experiences, consisting of the sum of all of the brand elements.

A compelling brand experience includes the following:

  • Culture - need to thoroughly understand cultural trends, customer needs, and knowledge of what is coming in the future
  • Creativity - need to take customers beyond a brand's features/benefits to create a visceral connection via storytelling
  • Technology - today's audience is accustomed to technology being a part of one's daily life; so can you find relevant new technology to help tell your brand story better?

Defining the brand experience: A product/service is nothing more than an artifact or an act around which customers have experiences. Over time, your brand will be defined by a total impression of those experiences rather than the products or services themselves.

The right experience set creates a strong, emotional and consistent connection with the consumer. This is the force that captivates your audience and arouses an anticipation of benefit upon recognizing the brand. The various brand elements such as advertising and marketing contribute to this group of experiences, but they are rarely the sum total of brand identity.

Expressions of the brand story include the following. Note that they must all be integrated to deliver a single consistent message.

  • Promotion and advertising
  • Retail -- lotsa breakdown here!
  • Customer service staff
  • Web
  • Brand advocate communities
  • PR & events
  • Corporate communications
  • B to B communications
  • Display and package design
  • Product Features & Benefits

Never underestimate the degree to which your customers and consumers will go out of their way for a better experience. Similarly, never underestimate the degree to which one bad experience can undo all other positive efforts. In short, develop a compelling story, and you have the basis for turning consumers into evangelists!

This certainly parallels Patrick Hanlon's comments referenced in Creation Stories, Alain Thys' comments in The Power of Stories, Customer Service Matters!, and I Can't Get No Satisfaction.

Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Highlighting Blogs: Retail Experience

Keyboard originally uploaded by PartsnPieces.
I've reorganized the LINKS section of Flooring The Consumer into 3 separate groups: M2W [i.e., marketing to women], Retail Experience and Flooring. This post focuses on the Retail Experience links.

Fast Company recently highlighted the 3 following resources in its September issue on page 31, under "Self-serving" by Michael A. Prospero. In his words, "these blogs show you how to get [customer service] right."

The first, Customers Are Always, is a gem of a resource. I discovered it in Wikipedia while looking up 'customer service' and mentioned it in Customer Service Matters. It is filled with wonderful customer service related observations, articles, and experiences from Maria Palma, a veteran of Nordstrom and Sears. Plus, she loves Starbucks!

The second, Church of the Customer, is by the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell. As described on their website, it's all about word of mouth, customer evangelism and citizen marketers." You'll find relevant links and valuable observations.

Finally, The Curious Shopper approaches the retail experience from the perspective of Sara Cantor, a retail planner and [female] consumer. I find it refreshing and totally on target. For example, this post -Stores will never die- discusses the value of stores vs. websites. It also refers to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice [see Recommended Reading - Retail Trends on right hand side of Flooring The Consumer].

The Art and Science of Retail Management provides a managerial perspective on the retail experience. Rich Boberg is the store manager for Bon Marche/Macy's in Missoula, MT, and he reports on what he observes, and what works in his store. His blog roll includes a companion blog called Retail Customer Experiences which relates actual consumer experiences.

The next two, Retail Design Diva and Retailer Blog, provide veteran retail perspectives on reaching the consumer at-retail. The Diva site comes from DDI [Design and Display Ideas] and Globalshop. Retailer Blog is the product of George Whalin, retail management consultant and author of Retail Success! I find both filled with unexpected and practical perspectives on making retail connect better with the consumer.

For example, check out the following from Whalin's Retailer Blog, in a post titled "There are lots of ways to provide a pleasantly memorable customer experience!":

A pleasantly memorable experience can come from shopping in warehouses, funky little boutiques, and stores that are beautifully designed. There are no hard and fast rules. I find the disconnect is with retailers who don't understand that shoppers want to be delighted, amazed, thrilled, and surprised. What they won't tolerate is to be bored. [emphasis mine]
The Experience Manifesto I will review in my next post.

Although not specifically related to flooring, these resources offer valuable perspectives on the point of interaction between consumers and product at retail. In essence, best and worst practices for the retail experience. They bring up what's missing or what's working, and help develop higher expectations for how things could be so as to truly FLOOR the CONSUMER - regardless of the category!

Tags: , , ,

Friday, September 01, 2006

Technical Difficulties...

João TV originally uploaded by joaobambu.
I encountered some technical difficulties today publishing my latest post titled "Nurturing Creativity".

It successfully loaded onto Flooring The Consumer, but --for some reason that the tech folks in cyberspace are looking into-- wasn't distributed to those of you on email subscription.

I regret the inconvenience, but didn't want you to miss out on a fun post!

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Nurturing Creativity

"Creativity" originally uploaded by Staffan Ehde
What sparks an idea? And, how do you nuture the process? Several recent articles got me thinking.

The 8/28/06 issue of USA Today featured an article titled "The brains behind creativity" in which the writer, Kathleen Fackelmann, interviews neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen about her book "The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius" asking questions like: what is creativity, what is ordinary creativity, what happens in the brain during a flash of inspiration and whether the environment plays a role in the creative process. I particularly liked the sidebar on "How to give your mind a workout". Andreason recommends taking 30 minutes per day to:

•Explore an unfamiliar area of knowledge. For example, people who use a lot of math on the job should sign up for a painting class.
•Spend time each day thinking. Don't censor your thoughts, but allow your mind to go freely to a problem and see what kinds of solutions or ideas surface.
•Practice the art of paying attention. Look for and really observe a person, an object or something in your daily commute that you hadn't really noticed before. Try describing or drawing that object in a journal or sketchbook.
•Use your imagination. Spend time each day imagining a different world. What would it look like? What would you do there?

I bet you've noticed flashes of brilliance that occur when you distance yourself from the routine, when you visit a foreign or little known location, or perhaps when you reach the 'zone' in your exercise routine. Maybe it's reading biographies. Science Fiction transports me to a different universe; the problems may be familiar, but the circumstances are so unusual that a regular solution will never work.

The Advertiser magazine from the ANA [The Association of National Advertisers, Inc.] has an interesting article in the August 2006 issue titled "Proceed With Caution" by Chris Warren. It discusses the need to be cautious in pursuing new trends vs. fads and refers to trendwatching.com, including an interesting sidebar on How to Better Spot a Trend:

  • Look cross-industry, cross-discipline, cross-demographics, cross-class.
  • Think like a (paranoid) CEO, even if you don’t get paid like one. Stop being 'just' a specialist and aim to become a generalist: yes, we all need to be a specialist in something. However, we also need to be generalists, to understand the big picture and how we and our companies and products fit in.
  • Never dismiss anything too quickly. Many of today’s success stories, from the camera phone to the Airbus 380, were dismissed and ridiculed from the day they were imagined, announced or conceived.
  • Ask questions. Why is something happening? Why was it introduced? Why do consumers like it? Or why do they hate it?
  • Try stuff out: the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.
  • Read a random magazine every week (buy one you would normally NEVER read), or a random blog!
  • Taboos, prejudices, dogmatism, negativity: all of this will stop you from picking up new ideas (and becoming a more pleasant person!), understanding many of your customers, and will thus cost you money.
      • Although about trend-spotting, it sure matches up with the recommendations for developing creativity. It's about taking the time and being open to new ideas.

        Finally, the same article includes an interview titled "No Need for Speed" with Joey Reiman, founder and CEO of BrightHouse - an Atlanta based consulting firm specializing in idea-generation for businesses - and author of Business at the Speed of Molasses: How Patience Produces Profits. No surprise, the topic is that speed is not necessarily a good thing in business. "By fostering quality and maintaining certainty of purpose, Reiman contends, an organization can generate more creative ideas and, ultimately, higher revenue." I've pulled out a few excerpts from the interview:

        • No one does their best thinking on fast-forward.
        • Progress is not getting there faster, but asking the right questions.
        • I tell [executives] that the bravest thing they can do is set aside one hour a day for thinking.... Going slower actually makes them more productive.... The results are remarkable: more emotional and intellectual revenue in the ranks, new ideas in the pipeline, and dramatic increases to the bottom line.
        • [To strengthen bonds with customers:] If companies slowed down and better understood how we think, they would be able to build more meaningful and long-lasting relationships. The way we sell today is like a Las Vegas marriage. We gamble with our customers, roll the dice on our products, and ask our customers to get hitched the next morning. Relationships take time, not money.
        Again, many similarities to the above mentioned articles -- taking the time to be OPEN to possibilities just generates a world of creative options. [While searching on Reiman, I came across this Fast Company article titled "This Old House Is a Home for New Ideas" by Curtis Sittenfeld that provides additional insight on the benefits of taking the time to think. ]

        So, what are you waiting for? Take the time to practice THINKING. It will lead to creativity; it will allow you to better understand your consumers. It will help you develop truly differentiated retail experiences. You won't regret it and your consumer can only benefit!

        Tags: , , ,
        Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...