Posts

Why Companies Need Their Customers to ‘Love’ Them

Everyone today realizes the importance of digital technology and social media. For most firms, however, the road ends with “likes” on Facebook and promotions on Twitter. According to Barry Libert, Jerry Wind and Megan Beck Fenley, these limited strategies leave a lot of value on the table when customers are looking for a company to “love.” The winners in the market will be those firms that can pivot their business model for great customer intimacy and inclusivity, they write in this opinion piece.

Every morning, like us, you probably pick up your Apple iPad, check your Facebook feed to see what family and friends are up to, and then Google something that catches your eye. If you like what you see, you probably purchase it with your Amazon Prime account and receive it the next day. All we now need is for our iPads to dispense our morning Starbucks coffee and we’ll be happy campers.

For many of us, Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (the GAFA four), feel as essential as the air we breathe. It’s hard to imagine our lives — working, socializing, shopping and entertaining — without them.

Sure, we may interact with other companies. But it’s less frequently and with a lot less enthusiasm. We merely “transact” with these other firms. They have not created endearing or profound relationships with us, and we don’t want to share much, if anything, with them. We save all that good stuff for Facebook.

The GAFA four are outstanding in the intimacy that they create with their customers. They make a strong effort to understand the unique characteristics and preferences of each customer and use the insights that they gain to serve the customer better. Further, they see each customer as a complete personality with needs around different facets such as work, play, socializing and self. They serve these needs wholly — and this, in turn, encourages more sharing and openness from their customers.

In short, these four companies are building a long-term, holistic and generous relationship with their customers. It’s almost as if they love us — not like our parents or spouses, of course, but by way of “unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” And the result? In 2014, Google’s revenue was up 19% year over year, Amazon’s sales were up 20% year over year, Facebook’s revenue was up 58% year over year and Apple’s revenue was up 7%, ending the year with their best-ever quarter.

Likes vs. Love

Traditional brands are trying to join the game and gain that essential-as-air quality. But they find it difficult to move beyond a transactional relationship. Usually, we only see and hear from them when they want something from us. These companies are very focused on whether or not customers are loyal to them, but they rarely consider how loyal they are to their customers. Their actions often seem self-serving; soliciting Facebook “likes” to promote themselves. This short-sighted approach stems from a common view that customers don’t have much to offer beyond what’s in their wallets.

Traditional companies are very focused on whether or not customers are loyal to them, but they rarely consider how loyal they are to their customers.

For example, you have probably purchased many cars over a period of time, but it is unlikely that any car company has offered you a loyalty program that allows you to buy four cars and get the fifth for free. Nor is it likely that they have asked you to partner for the design of their next car — except, perhaps, a company like Local Motors. They probably haven’t asked you for anything other than your purchase, and haven’t offered you anything other than a vehicle. The once-every-few-years transaction you have with a dealer is unlikely to create “love.” A car company that wants a relationship with you would act differently.

For those organizations that take a new perspective and build genuine and mutual relationships with each customer, it is a win-win situation. These organizations move their customers along the spectrum of affinity from “transactors” — who have no relationship beyond the purchase, to “supporters” — who regularly interact with the firm, to “promoters” — who share their enthusiasm for the brand with friends and family, to “co-creators” — who actually feel that they are partners with the organization (Figure 1).

Sponsored Content:

Figure 1: The four types of customers

The good news is that your customers are already there, seeking to share and collaborate with corporations. For example, customers are already sharing opinions on Yelp and TripAdvisor; they are helping create advertising for Danone yogurt, designing new Nike shoes, offering products on Etsy and eBay, and creating content for LinkedIn and Facebook. And by doing so, they are offering these companies their skills and assets, plus a great deal of insight into who they are.

Need to Change the Business Model

But most established firms remain hesitant when it comes to this type of customer equality and mutuality. Our research on the business models of the S&P 500 Index companies (based on data from 1972 to 2013) indicates that at present more than 80% of companies employ older business models where customers are valued only for their dollars and not for their assets, insights and contributions. If your organization can break ranks and adopt this new way of thinking and acting, you will see that the more you share with your customers and the more you understand them, the more they will love you.

Some companies are building initiatives and the technological capabilities needed to develop co-creation relationships with their customers — lasting relationships that are mutual and self-reinforcing. Nike, The North Face, Jeld-Wen and many more firms now offer customer co-designed products, and the sharing economy is growing from cars (Uber), to lodging (Airbnb), to clothing (Rent the Runway). Many firms, however, are only building a token Facebook page and Twitter account. In the journey towards “love,” creating a social business is only a small step. The final destination is one where [both] customers and companies enjoy success, fulfillment and shared value.

So, the real question is: “What does it take to love our customers and be loved in return?” The answer: Serve your customers the way they want to be served. Fulfill their needs not just for products and services, but also for connection, community, participation, recognition and fulfillment. Of course, we recognize that customers are not heterogeneous and have unique preferences in how they wish to interact with different companies. What we suggest is that you create opportunities for those customers eager to have a relationship with you.

Changing your relationship with your customers means changing the way you interact with them. Most companies attempt to do this through marketing initiatives and social media. As mentioned above, this is a very superficial approach. The most successful and most loved companies adapt at the level of the business model and find ways to share value creation with their customers.

Changing your relationship with your customers means changing the way you interact with them.

The Winning Moves

Let’s return to the GAFA four, and see how they have created network businesses that expand the customer relationship.

  • Google: Google made the decision to make two of its most popular products open source: Chrome (a browser that is open source through Chromium) and Android (an operating system). This allows users to help guide the development and get bug fixes and desired features faster. People love Chrome so much that it dominates the browser market with three times as many users as the next popular browser.
  • Apple: Along with its wildly popular products such as the iPhone and iPad, Apple formed a developer network to help outside parties create software for its platforms. This ensures that there is a great market for the apps the customers want, and allows those with an interest to participate. In 2014, 59% of iPhone users described themselves as “blindly loyal” to the platform.
  • Facebook: The world’s largest social network, where the users create all of the content, Facebook allows users to communicate with their friends and family and share whatever they want to with the world. In Q1 2015, Facebook had 1.4 billion users, nearly 20% of the world population, and 70% of them interact with Facebook on a daily basis.
  • Amazon: The behemoth Internet retailer allows both individuals and companies to sell through its online channel. This increases the selection available to customers and probably also brings down the prices through increased competition. According to the 2014 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient study, Amazon.com had the best reputation among U.S. companies (for the second time), and it also was the leader by way of emotional appeal.

If you would like to join this movement and expand your business model, partner with your customers and cultivate “love,” we recommend a simple, five-step process, PIVOT, to build these capabilities in your own organization:

  • Pinpoint: Know your starting place. Gauge customer sentiment and how well you know your customers and how well they know you.
  • Identify: Take inventory of the places, if any, where customers contribute to your organization. Take inventory of your customers’ groups and their characteristics.
  • Vision: Envision a new future where you partner with your customers in a new business model, allowing them to participate and share in the value.
  • Operate: Begin shifting a small amount of your capital (including time, talent, and money) to this new business model. Start small, insulate from the politics of the larger firm, and prepare to iterate.
  • Track: Put in place new metrics appropriate for this customer-centered, network effort. Add key performance indicators (KPIs) such as number of interactions (sales or other), number of customer-partners, and value returned to customers, to your standard financial measures. Use these to guide rapid iteration.

Despite their incredible size, the GAFA four are still rapaciously eating up companies and expanding into new industries (see Figure 2, excerpted from FABERNOVEL, GAFAnomics, October 2014). They are gaining more and more attention from, and forging deeper intimacy with, their customers. And it’s not just Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon that incumbents should be worried about. Their emerging and younger siblings like Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Instagram and Alibaba have hundreds of millions of customers the world over that spend a significant time of their day with them.

Figure 2: The industry-consuming growth of GAFA

 

The stumbling block that most companies encounter on the path to “love” is simple: Leaders believe that “love” belongs at home and not in business. Companies also believe that customer partnerships bring dangerous risks and loss of control. But that old way of thinking now brings its own significant risks as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon garner our “love” across an expanding industry profile.

To capture customer attention, organizations need to move beyond their everyday tactics of “faster, better, cheaper.” They also have to elevate their game beyond the current mantra of “delivering a quality experience” or the latest fad, Facebook “likes.” These steps are important, but still insufficient to compete in a world where your competitors know your customers as unique individuals and partner with them to create shared value.

In short, remember this phrase: In a world of likes, “love” matters. Companies and individuals used to believe that our business lives and personal lives are, and must be, separate. But that is no longer true. Cultural changes and technology have broken down these traditional silos, creating an environment where people want to interact with organizations in new and very personal ways. If you don’t believe us, just watch what happens over time to your top and bottom lines as customers contribute their dollars, plus their assets, skills and ideas, to the companies that listen to them, share with them and love them.

Interested in learning more? Take our Customer Type Assessment to help figure out what type of customers your organization has.

Barry Libert is CEO of OpenMatters, an angel investor, digital board member, and senior fellow at Wharton; Jerry Wind is director of the SEI Center and a marketing professor at Wharton; and Megan Beck Fenley is a digital advisor and research associate at OpenMatters. Susan Corso, a leadership consultant with OpenMatters, contributed to this article.

 

Pop Shoppe

By Matthew Thomson and Kendra Hart:

The Pop Shoppe was once a leading player in the Canadian soft drinks market, but changing market conditions and corporate mismanagement drove the company into bankruptcy in the early 1980s. In 2003, an entrepreneur purchased the rights to the brand, and was considering reintroducing it in the market on the idea that many Canadians would be as fond of the Pop Shoppe as he was. The challenge was significant: the new potential buyer had little experience in the beverage industry and limited funds for a brand revival, and consumer habits had changed in the many years since the brand died. Questions about market segments and brand positioning loomed large. Older consumers might embrace the reintroduction of the old brand, but did they comprise a sustainable market segment? Would older consumers be able to turn their children onto the brand? How true should the brand stay to its original concept? Was a new positioning strategy required to meet growth goals? Could enough consumer and retailer interest in Pop Shoppe be raised to make the brand succeed? This case lets students grapple with the difficult task of re-launching a once-iconic brand after a significant absence from the market. A B-case supplement to Pop Shoppe (A) deals with the entrepreneur’s decision in 2010 on whether to enter the U.S. carbonated soft drinks market. The B-case highlights important distinctions between two seemingly similar markets in an attempt to demonstrate that success is not always easy to replicate.

Renova Toilet Paper

Renova Toilet Paper: Avant-garde Marketing in a Commoditized Category (2014) INSEAD Case (Yakov, Seabra de Sousa, Chandon, and Sweldens)

Renova, a Portuguese toilet paper manufacturer, is battling to survive in a stagnant, commoditised market dominated by international giants and private labels. To grow and remain independent, CEO Paulo Pereira da Silva is considering three options: 1) private label manufacturing, 2) new functional innovations, and 3) launching a black toilet paper. What should he do? And how should the chosen strategy be implemented?

L’Oreal

L’Oréal in China: Marketing Strategies for Turning Around Chinese Luxury Cosmetic Brand Yue Sai (2014) INSEAD Case (Yang and Chandon)

Yue Sai is L’Oreal’s troubled Chinese luxury brand. Alexis Perakis-Valat, the new CEO of L’Oréal China, has made it a point of honor to turn the brand around. He has asked Stéphane Wilmet, the brand’s new general manager, to come up with a turnaround plan that will restore L’Oréal’s reputation in China as the world’s best cosmetic marketer. Stéphane Wilmet and Ronnie Liang, Yue Sai’s marketing director, must reconsider everything from Yue Sai’s value proposition down to its media, price, product, and distribution strategies. Please visit the dedicated case website to watch commercials and video interviews.

One Fine Stay

One Fine Stay (2015) Harvard Business School Case (Jill Avery, Anat Keinan, and Liz Kind)

Miranda Cresswell, marketing director, and Greg Marsh, founder and CEO of onefinestay, were grappling with branding and positioning dilemmas. onefinestay offered high-end home rentals to travelers who sought a more authentic and local experience than a typical upscale hotel might provide. onefinestay’s brand had been “hacked” together quickly during the company’s early years. After five years of rapid growth, Marsh brought Cresswell on board to do a comprehensive analysis of the company’s brand and its positioning in the marketplace. Cresswell had spent several months gathering data and insights, and was starting to experiment with use case scenarios that took a crack at segmenting the company’s customers. The preliminary results were interesting, but raised more questions than they answered, and Cresswell wondered if this was the best way to segment the market. While segmenting in this way was intriguing, it led to a branding challenge – as a start-up, it was difficult for onefinestay to have the resources to support multiple brand messages in the marketplace and different segments wanted different things from their travel experience. She pondered whether there were other ways to group customers that would allow for a more universal positioning for the brand or whether the company needed to focus on one or two segments to serve. Positioning the fledgling brand was a challenge. Who was the company competing against and how could it carve out a unique value proposition that would appeal to travelers and be differentiated from what was offered by other hospitality options? Was its current moniker “the unhotel” working for or against it?

The Park Hotels: Revitalizing an Iconic Indian Brand

The Park Hotels: Revitalizing an Iconic Indian Brand (2014) Harvard Business School Case (Jill Avery and Chekitan S. Dev)

Priya Paul, chairwoman of The Park Hotels, an award-winning portfolio of thirteen boutique hotels scattered across India, was in the midst of a brand revitalization program. Landor Associates, a leading brand consultancy had identified three areas of concern: the shrinking differentiation opportunity provided by the boutique hotel positioning, consumers’ negative perceptions of The Park’s properties, and a lack of consistency across the hotel properties in the brand portfolio. Competition was heating up and Paul had a goal to expand her hotel portfolio to twenty properties in the next ten years. Paul knew that she had to make some major changes to her brand, including changing her positioning, choosing a new logo, and selecting the right products and services that enhanced her revitalized brand. And, she had to decide where to site the new hotel properties to best compete against global behemoths, Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt and Intercontinental. How could she best revitalize her brand to stand out in a crowded marketplace, while preserving its rich heritage? Which changes would best propel The Park Hotels into the future?

J.C. Penney’s Fair and Square Pricing Strategy

J.C. Penney’s Fair and Square Pricing Strategy (2012) Harvard Business School Case (Elie Ofek and Jill Avery)

It was August 2012 and the release of second quarter earnings was looming for CEO Ron Johnson. Johnson had intimated to Wall Street that the retailer’s second quarter results were likely to miss expectations again, following dismal first quarter results. These results were particularly disheartening given the company’s radical repositioning of its business model and its brand in February 2012. The heart of the repositioning strategy was a switch from J.C. Penney’s traditional high-low pricing strategy, in which the retailer ran frequent sales to offer customers discounted pricing off of its higher day-to-day list prices, to a new pricing strategy the company dubbed “Fair and Square” pricing. “Fair and Square” pricing attempted to simplify J.C. Penney’s pricing structure and make it more straightforward for customers, offering them great prices every day, with less frequent price promotions. But by mid-summer 2012, customers and shareholders appeared to be voting with their feet, leaving the retailer in droves as it struggled to implement its innovative redesign. Was his new pricing strategy misguided or was it just a matter of time before customers fully embraced it? Johnson was under enormous pressure to turn things around quickly as the all-important back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons were imminent.

The Pepsi Refresh Project: A Thirst for Change

The Pepsi Refresh Project: A Thirst for Change (2011) Harvard Business School Case (Michael Norton and Jill Avery)

For the first time in 23 years, PepsiCo did not invest in Super Bowl advertising for its iconic brand in 2010. Instead, the company diverted the $20 million it would have spent on the game to the social media fueled “Pepsi Refresh Project,” where it invited consumers to generate ideas to “refresh everything” in their worlds. Ideas were vetted and posted on the web where consumers voted for their favorites which Pepsi then funded with grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 for health, environmental, social, educational, and cultural causes. The case analyzes how Web 2.0 is changing cause-related-marketing and compares the benefits and risks of traditional branding and social media branding. Pepsi’s return on investment is analyzed in the context of emerging brand health and social media metrics.

Repositioning the Irving Oil Master Brand

Repositioning the Irving Oil Master Brand (2011) Boston University School of Management Case (Fournier)

Per Feldwick’s brand equity chain, the creation of shareholder value through branding starts with the capture of resonant and powerful meanings for the brand. Uncovering the meanings that can ground a solid positioning platform is not easy, but the task is critical as it provides the theme around which the holistic brand experience is framed. This case lets you grapple with the topic of brand positioning at the workbench level as you explore research into the resonant meanings that can serve as foundations for powerful brands. The case provides data from ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique), a qualitative method with a particular capacity for uncovering the content of a brand’s meaning architecture: the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, beliefs, attitudes, and cultural values that become attached to the product and the brand.2 Using data collected for Irving Oil on the “meaning of buying gasoline today,” you will gain experience with the ZMET method for brand meaning elicitation –the most popular qualitative research technique for meaning mapping in the world. Additional consumer research presented in the case provides context for evaluating the problems facing Irving and informs potential positioning directions for the master brand.

Better World Books

Better World Books (2010) Harvard Business School Case (Michael Norton, Fiona Wilson, Jill Avery and Thomas Steenburgh)

A socially-conscious start-up struggles to compete against behemoth Amazon in the online bookselling industry. As the company grows, the business model is changing and founder Xavier Helgesen must decide whether to expand into selling new books, how to adjust their pricing and donation models, and how to reposition their donation communications. As the industry shifts, the founders find themselves working harder to build brand awareness for their fledgling brand and to manage and incentivize their non-profit partners. A for-profit company with a social mission, Better World Books comes under public scrutiny as they begin to turn a profit.

Portfolio Items