Category Archives: Branding

Are customers at the heart of your business? Here’s what that means to Virgin

Customers at the Heart of Business

Image Source:

In a recent British Parliamentary Enquiry into the awarding of rail franchises to private companies, Richard Branson said: “Our customers are at the heart of our business”.

What does this really mean from a practical point of view to the Virgin Group? Well, as an example Virgin Mobile recently asked its Australian customers to nominate themselves to be part of a Virgin Tester Team. The successful Tester Team participants are sent the latest handset to test drive and asked them to review the phone model’s advantages and disadvantages via a two minute video. This is uploaded to Virgin’s YouTube page and the Tester’s own social media channels. Then they get to keep the handset.

This initiative is based on two bits of customer insight:

1)   Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of product information, only behind referrals received from family and friends.

2)   The growing trend on YouTube for users to upload videos of themselves , share them with friends showing the moment of newly purchased technology products.

This is an example of taking customers into the heart of your business based on customer insight and good business sense. By asking real people to review handsets openly potential customers are getting a fair and honest review by everyday people, not just the technology pros. It enables Virgin Mobile to obtain rapid and meaningful feedback from customers that it can use to continually improve the customer experience.

How can you bring customers into the heart of your operations?

4 simple practices to build a customer culture in your company

This is a great short video interview with Tony Hsieh of Zappos discussing how the concept of culture and customers come together. Also thanks to Robert Reiss, host of The CEO TV Show.

The intersection of customers and corporate culture

The culture of an organization dictates how it will view customers and how it will treat them.

If everyone is expected to understand who customers are and what they value, then people naturally start doing this. Culture is a form of social pressure, it is the way you are expected to behave in a group environment, hence it is a very powerful way for leaders to create an environment of success.

Customer culture specifically looks at how much attention is being placed on bring the customer viewpoint into all decision making. It is a proven way to drive better business results as it ensures the business is aligned with its market.

Here are some great customer culture building practices that you can begin today regardless of the role you play in your company:

1. Put Customers on the Agenda

A great habit that gets everyone thinking is to start every meeting with a customer insight. Share one piece of feedback you’ve collected, one idea you have heard directly from a customer. These insights and stories can come from anywhere in the company. It does not have to be a deep conversation – just a way to get in the habit of brining the customer viewpoint inside before getting on with the rest of the meeting’s agenda.

2. Building Customer Empathy

Have someone share their own recent customer experience. Was it a positive one? What made it positive? Why did it stand out in their mind? How does it affect the way they think about that company and would it influence whether that would continue doing business with them? What does it mean for your company?

This simple exercise is a great way to build customer empathy in the team. By thinking like a customer you can make changes that will drive increases in value.

Steve Jobs and his leadership team conducted a similar exercise and recognized how dissatisfied they all were with their mobile phones. In their experience, phone’s were difficult to navigate, complex and basically not user friendly. This created the drive and inspiration to develop the iPhone.

3. Encourage Leaders to Share Customer Stories

Create a regular opportunity for senior executives to report on what they learn from their own conversations and interactions with customers.

There maybe extra leg work to translate what they heard into a useable insight, but it will be well worth the effort.

4. A Top Successes/Frustrations Customer Conversations Report

Create an ongoing forum for people to share what customers are saying in the form of a communication piece to the whole company. It should be in story form but can include statistics on key customer metrics ie things that are important to customers that your company helps them achieve. For example LinkedIn tracks how many new connections it helped people create on its professional networking site each day.

It should also include the top frustrations customers have when doing business with you. This highlights to everyone the priorities in terms of maintaining and improving customer satisfaction levels.

We have lots of FREE tools, templates and elearning modules to help build your customer culture here

What other practices do you use to drive a great level of focus on customers?

A new way to innovate and get funded

Customer Focused Innovation

One of the biggest challenges in businesses is determining whether your new product or service actually fills a need. It maybe a cool product, you may like it yourself but if no one will pay money for it, its just a hobby.

There are some really interesting emerging online businesses designed to help entrepreneurs with just this problem.

Kickstarter is one site that has received significant exposure thanks to the incredible success of the Pebble Watch project. Essentially a smart watch that connects to your iPhone apps so you can control music, view text message, get news feeds right on your wrist.

The project raised almost $3 million in 3 days from its “backers”, essentially its future customers and supporters. When the project finally closed it had over $10 million in pledges that was used to get the business off the ground and get production going. In return for the pledges the backers will receive the first editions of the final product.

What’s great about this approach is how it leverages social media and the online world to get projects in front of supporters and early adopters and asks them to commit funds upfront.

We know from working in market research that a lot of potential customers say they like a new product idea but when it comes to actually purchasing they don’t follow through. This is a great way to get commitments to a project before invest time and money.

Another cool success story comes from Scott Wilson a designer of the Apple Nano wrist band. Experts told him it would never work, no one would pay a high price for a premium wrist band for the Nano.

The Nano Wrist Bands

Within a month Scott raised more than $1 million dollars to fund production and a large number of the wristbands sold at twice the price predicted by experts, $79. In fact 76% of customers said they purchased the Nano because of the wrist band, now that got Apple’s attention!

Kickstarter is only available to entrepreneurs in the US at this stage so some other alternatives are listed here ( I found this list on Quora): is a successful Nordic platform for crowdfunding that will soon add the element of equity crowdfunding – a kickstarter-like platform for social good initiatives globally.
PleaseFund.Us – pretty similar to Kickstarter but in the UK, using paypal – A crowdfunding plugin for WordPress. – Just like Kickstarter, but with more options. – A site devoted to reviewing kickstarter alternatives (English and French, open to all) – “Crowdfunding Platform for Social Good” ”

Source: Quora

Is traditional media dead? Maybe Inbound Marketing is the Answer?

The overwhelming trend in the advertising business over the past few years has been fragmentation and a shift to online digital media. The traditional 30 second TV spots and print ads reach smaller audiences and have less impact than they once did.

It is time for marketers to look at new ways to deliver the results businesses need to grow.
Brian Halligan, the CEO of Hubspot is promoting the idea of inbound marketing and in fact is running an inbound marketing university this month to help people develop new marketing skills in this emerging arena.

Marketing is changing but here is a great video lamenting the old days in the advertising business…..

World’s Best Viral Video?

I have been reflecting recently on viral marketing and it’s capacity to build global awareness almost instantly…

Like every great marketing technique there is a formula:

It has to be interesting and in a way that really stands out whether its wacky, creative, controversial, unexpected or inspirational.

This is one of my favorites (maybe the world’s best? – that probably depends on your criteria…..), it connects with viewers emotionally with a simple powerful idea that connects people around the globe…enjoy!

Confusing the brand message with what the customer wants

A colleague tipped me off to a branding effort in the financial services industry.  Ameriprise is the former American Express Financial branch which is trying to stake its hold in the consumer finance sphere.  You may have seen their ads where Dennis Hopper clearly speaks to the Baby Boomer generation.

Chronicled in a Star Tribune blog, a young professional wrote this comment:

“Oh goodness, that dreams stuff is just a bunch of tripe. My wife and I were looking for a financial advisor, met with someone from Ameriprise, and the guy just kept asking us about our dreams, which we made abundantly clear wasn’t our interest – we wanted to talk numbers and percentages, but this guy just kept blabbing about the dream book.“It’s probably fine for less-than-financially-literate boomers, but they’ll need a different approach if they want to get in early on the 25 and under crowd…” 

Seeing their ads on TV there’s no doubt the company is shooting for the Boomers who (1) identify with the rebel spirit, (2) are focused on financial results over the specifics of how they’ll get there, and (3) are about to retire.  Fair enough, that’s good marketing:  clear targeting and positioning.  But I wonder about this sales rep who wouldn’t change his tune when this younger, financially-savvy customer showed up.  Why didn’t he change?  Are Ameriprise uninterested in the under 25 age segment? Was the sale person unable to adapt the message? 

Translating the brand message into a sales message can sometimes be challenging particularly if there is not good alignment between the brand message and a certain customer segment as it appears to be in this case. A good sales person should be able to translate the brand message or value proposition into customer terms and adapt to what the specific customer in front of them is saying. In our training course, “Creating Effective Value Propositions,” we work with clients to identify the range of segments that may respond to their product/service and to develop a multi-faceted set of value messages that speak to which ever customer comes through the door. I am sure Ameriprise would benefit from our course as it requires the marketing professionals to think deeply about the type of customers they have and how to address their specific needs.  Although as a non-Baby Boomer, Dennis Hopper’s thoughts on the power of dreams does not resonate with me, I am sure it could be a powerful message for its intended audience. The question for Ameriprise is how do they more effectively manage their unintended  customer segments?