Category Archives: customer

Turkish Airlines and the price of a reassuring brand

I started writing this somewhere over Eastern Europe aboard a Turkish Airlines Airbus 320 bound for Istanbul the third leg of four in a round-trip from Bahrain to Europe and back.  I can’t recall ever having traveled Turkish Airlines until two weeks ago when I made the reverse trip from Bahrain to the UK, but had I not been a captive of my round-trip ticket I would probably have switched carriers at Istanbul, never to return to the carrier again, such were the horrors of my first leg.

I find it hard to remember a more dour cabin crew than that which accompanied me from Bahrain to Istanbul.  I felt sure their training must have included hours spent in front of mirrors perfecting their scowl.  Their general, attitude toward passengers was variably off-hand or aggressive and they seem to have taken their frustrations out on the in-flight fare, which they had managed to suck all the moisture out of before throwing it at us.

What a contrast, therefore, was the second leg of the same journey, where we were greeted by smiles and tended with tasty, well-presented (by airline standard), in-flight catering.

Leg three of the round-trip was even better.  New plane, pretty attendants with nice smiles and truly good food and as I lounged in leather-clad comfort I reflected on how my opinion of Turkish Airlines may have differed, had this been my initial experience.  The final leg demonstrated how great, well-trained customer-facing personnel can even overcome other deficiencies in your offer.  The last of the quartet of Turkish Airlines planes I was to experience was clearly in the twilight of it’s years and it hadn’t been at the front of the maintenance queue either.  I found myself hoping this was because they had spent so ling diligently servicing the engines!  In the cabin there was only one working toilet, a number of the entertainment centres were faulty and the crew were put to the test by a woman with two juvenile delinquents who were sitting behind me and promised to ruin my flight.  However, they didn’t because the cabin crew worked hard to bring the experience back on track.  The complete event has underlined to me the importance for any business of achieving consistency and the essential role that internal marketing plays in that.

I have spoken many times in my seminars and writing about the importance of consistency in the success of a brand.  Not just consistency between the different facets of your business, but within each one too.  Had my third flight been my introduction to Turkish Airlines and what was my first been a subsequent experience I would have been more ready to accept that it may be difficult to get it right every time.  As things are I need more reassurance before I accept that Turkish Airline’s good stuff isn’t the fluke!  I often quote some statistics I picked up years ago that say it may cost ten times as much to sell for the first time to a customer than to make subsequent sales to the same person, but it will cost a hundred times that to entice a customer back once you have disappointed them.  Such is the price of reassurance.

Customers need the reassurance that only consistency will provide and of course while its best for everyone if you are consistently good, with all the implications that has for customer retention, pricing policy and margin; being average all the time is better than lunging from crap to brilliant in a way that makes doing business with you a lottery.

Achieving consistency is about nothing more or less than internal marketing.  Identifying your brand, its values and attributes and introducing them to every employee at every level of your business in such a way that they adopt them as their own.

If you have the right people in place they’ll take this and run with it bringing their personal skills and experience to bear and adding value to your brand and therefore your business.  There’s no shortcut.  Organisations who have chosen instead to apply a dictatorial approach to what they call “training” have consistently failed.  As dictators around the world have learned, dictatorship only works if you can preempt every eventuality, which of course you can’t, so you have to adopt a more nurturing approach and allow well-trained and motivated staff to interpret your brand values. In fact, one of the organisations that has achieved most success in this is another airline – SouthWest Airlines, who famously wooed customers with a consistent, if off-the-wall, brand personality through two industry slumps, almost uniquely maintaining profitability throughout.

These days we are all looking for ways to squeeze the highest return from investment and with the price of mainstream media what it is, communicating within your own business looks like a bargain.  What is more, most organisations find that the return they get on internal marketing significantly outstrips that of external campaigns.

I’m quite sure that had the cabin crew on my Bahrain to Istanbul flight focused on delivering the Turkish Airlines promise my overall impression of the airline would have been a lot better.  As it is, because I was a captive of my round-trip ticket the carrier had the chance to demonstrate what they really could do and I might just be persuaded to book with them again, but probably only if they were cheaper than their competitors.  As I said … such is the price of reassurance!

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Are you running a business or pursuing a hobby?

I realise that TV shows like Mary Queen of Shops, Country House Rescue and my favourite (if only because I could watch Alex Polizzi doing anything all day)  The Hotel Inspector, despite being formulaic and often contrived are the current entertainment of choice, but what I’m really waiting for is a series of “the ones that got away”.

I’m just itching to see the cases that sent the celeb consultants screaming out of the door, if only because I need the reassurance of knowing for sure it’s not just me who occasionally encounters a hopeless case that simply won’t be helped, or for which there is just no hope.

I’m currently going through that process of mental double-checking every option explored or unexplored that I guess every business consultant goes through before declaring a “patient” DOA.  My nemesis has proved to be a small advertising agency with a £1.5million turnover and accumulating losses that came to me at the beginning of the year.

I believe there is a solution to every business problem and the biggest obstacle to success, as in this case, is usually prejudice, laziness or obstinacy of top management, who despite consistent failure, insist on perpetuating the same model or set of practices.  Who was it who said “Insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome”? What is really frustrating about this case is that the solution was pretty obvious.

The people at this agency are getting on in years and looking for an exit that they quickly discovered didn’t exist.  Their stated losses were modest enough, but when I took a closer look I discovered that the three partners, who were independently wealthy, weren’t paying themselves a salary, which made the real picture rather more of a nightmare.  Strangely, this isn’t the first time I have come across a business where owners were not paying themselves and been forced to point out that they were not a business (which makes money), but a hobby (which burns it)

Working as I often do with marketing services firms I always start with the perspective that whatever discipline they may lead with, a marketing services firm is a consultancy.  A position which carries with it two clear responsibilities.  The first is that you must know more about your subject than your clients do.  This may sound obvious, but I often find client/agency relationships that are a bit like the blind leading the blind.  Assuming you qualify on the first point you should be advising your client not taking instruction, otherwise there is no reason for your existence.

Explanations for the failure of this business were turning up under every stone I turned:

  • The principal of this business told me with pride that he had never in his life stepped foot in any other advertising agency and didn’t know what they did or how they worked.
  • In fact they had never conducted a competitive review and were oblivious to who their competitors were or what they were offering.
  • Neither had they undertaken a client review.
  • None of the employees had worked in other marketing services firms either, so their “training” had all been at the hands of their agency principal.  Consequently their perspective was as narrow as the business.
  • In an era where integrated marketing is accepted as essential this agency operated in a very narrow field indeed.  All they offered was local press advertising!  Account handlers positively resisted the idea of offering additional comms, probably because they didn’t know anything about them.
  • The business operated on the commission model where, as an NPA recognised agency (remember those?) they received a 15% commission payment from publishers, which they used to pay for the design and artwork they provided.  I don’t know of another agency that still operates this system, simply because it doesn’t work.  For one thing any agency, regardless of “recognition” gets 15% discount from publishers these days and for another, 15% of the space cost is rarely enough to cover the cost of design and production when the majority of the space you are dealing with is in local newspapers.
  • They “sold” advertising space rather than advised on media strategy and account handlers were paid on commission, just like a media sales rep.  They also did pretty much what their clients asked if it meant selling some space.
  • Senior management had no contact with clients and I was refused access to them because the account handlers wouldn’t allow it!!!  Work that one out!
  • Their in-house management system, including job-bag management and invoicing was all done BY HAND!  Yes, you read that right.  What’s more, they were adamant that this was better than a computerised system.  I haven’t seen that much paper since Wiggins Teape was a client of mine!

The list goes on, but you get the idea.  However, without giving too much away, after speaking to local businesses, business networks, competitors, local media and other marketing services providers, I identified an opportunity for my client to create a model that catered for small businesses and even outlined a plan for growing the business nationally.  This was obviously going to take the founders out of their comfort zone, but they weren’t planning on being around for long, so that was hardly the point.  My job was to make their business attractive to potential investors.

I wasn’t entirely surprised though, when the owners decided not to adopt my strategy.  It had become clear to me early on that they weren’t removing themselves from the situation.  Comments like “But we like the business as it is” and “What we really want is someone to come in with a few new clients” were commonplace, despite me pointing out that the business was losing significant sums mainly because there aren’t any clients left for whom the agency’s offer was relevent.

So, this is one for the “ones that got away” file.  A fruitless exercise, but maybe not a waste of my time because its always good to have an insight into markets and in this case I have awoken to an opportunity that some other small agency might make work.  It also reinforces my belief that businesses fail, largely because they deserve to and that a great many small businesses should start by deciding whether they are running a business or pursuing a hobby.

Is your customer support a bit of a let-down?

Most businesses these days understand that they are driven by Brandships.  Many appreciate that Brandships are built on trust and few would fail to recognise that if their words and deeds are in any way inconsistent, either with each other or with their Brand Promise, they stand little chance of establishing the level of trust that success is built on.  So where is it going wrong?

Having acquired this wisdom, organisations around the world now devote a great deal of time and invest heavily in initiatives designed to represent their brand values consistently at every touch-point.  Getting every communication to say the same thing is the essence of integrated communications.

Because customer acquisition for all the reasons I’ve explored here in the past, is getting horribly expensive, Brandships are more valuable than ever, which is why businesses are increasingly seeking to improve their customer support,  a factor that is accentuated by the growth in e-tailing where the incidence of customer complaint is, as I mentioned last month, a bit of an issue.

I’m encouraged by the increase in the number of businesses who, instead of trying to make customers with a complaint feel like Oliver Twist asking for “more gruel”, have adopted a no-quibble replacement or compensation policy.  It seems that,  at last, the penny has dropped on this one (Although you’ll note from my earlier post on this subject that Halfords still don’t get it!).  However, you can have the best complaint resolution policy in the business, but it ‘aint worth a hill of beans if your customers have to navigate a maze of on-line and telephone obstacles to get to it!  There’s no more telling evidence of a genuine commitment to Brandships than an organisation’s on-line or call-centre process and it’s certainly taken by customers as a pretty good guide to brand values.  So why do so many businesses get it wrong?

My guess is that they simply don’t recognse what’s happening.  I’ve been advising senior execs lately to call up their own customer support line from time to time, rather than rely on the KPIs they get every month.  Whether your process is automated or not, the way you handle after sales contact with customers can be pivotal to the success in Brandships.  This isn’t just about damage limitation (because nearly all the calls you receive are going to be potentially damaging), many businesses have demonstrated that you can actually reverse the momentum, turning a potentially damaging situation into one that strengthens Brandships, if you handle them correctly.  For most this is nothing more than aligning the process to the brand model, which, sadly, few businesses do well.

In recent weeks I’ve experienced both the best and the worst in customer call handling.  The worst being the episode with Halfords that I reported on here last week and a more recent still, an encounter with HP’s customer dis-service process that starts with their un-navigable web site, designed to send you round in circles until you screw yourself!  Yes HP seem intent not to engage with you unless they absolutely have to, which is a pity, because if you can get around the system and actually manage to speak to the person you need, the response (in my case anyway) was exemplary.

I was also disappointed when re-visiting a brand that I have been happy to deal with for years.  I have never before had cause to complain about Polar UK, The local distributor for Polar, who manufacture heart-rate monitors for athletes, but I’ve called and spoken directly to their service people in the UK a number of times.  Such an old-fashioned process may have been a little at odds with their global positioning, but it was very reassuring and, overall, it worked.  Sadly, they have succumbed to pressure to automate their calls handling, but in their case the band-waggon has a wheel missing.  In fact, its possibly the most bumbling and poorly conceived process I have come across for a good while and the antithesis of everything that I have come to expect of the Polar brand.  This takes me right back to the principles of Full Effect Marketing – individual marketing elements, which because they are neglected, neutralise some of the brand building benefits of higher-profile elements that the business is investing in.  In other words … waste!

The up-side of my engaging with customer service processes has been a discovery I made of a business that specialises in designing models that actually contribute to brand development.  Brand Audio in Edgware, North London, will study your brand (even work with you to help you profile it if you haven’t already) and then bring it to life in navigation, messages and music.  Just what every business needs in fact.  This isn’t about hardware or programming (although I’m told they can provide that too), its pure brand development and while I am sure they are not alone in this space, it made me feel good to know that there is someone my clients can turn to for this kind of specialist help.  Brand Audio work with a host of leading brands who recognise the need to prioritise their customer handling processes.  At least, one route to great Brandships (and therefore a healthy business) is in the way you interact with customers on-line and on-phone and I recommend to every business to address this area of their marketing before its too late.

Footnote: Brandships, as it suggests, is the name I use to describe the relationships we have with brands.  Enter the world of Brandships at http://www.thefullblog.com or follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet.

Halfords’ customer service sucks – well, it would if I had my way!

I’ve never had anything against Halfords.  In fact, I could refer to various supportive comments that I have made over the years.  They seems to have carved a niche for themselves in the bike sector, they triumphed in a deal to distribute Boardman bikes, they were smart enough to partner with an auto service business and now fit the products they sell to motorists and cyclists alike and they made the forray into Poland and the Czech Republic.

Their staff in the UK at least, while nothing to write home about, are certainly, if Mary Portas is to be believed, as good as you would expect from a multiple specialist retailer these days.  On the down-side, their on-line performance leaves a lot to be desired and dealing with their head-office at any level is a bit like wading through porridge, but its my recent experience of their approach to customer support that has sent my overall personal satisfaction rating way into the red.

OK, so Halfords aren’t having the best of times at the moment.  Like-for-like sales are down and despite all the usual excuses – recession, weather, cost of car ownership etc – that always has something to do with the way you treat your customers.  You’d be right to point out here that, last we heard, profits were up, due in part to a concerted effort to drag their back office, logistics and pipeline into something approaching the twenty-first century – Oh, and a quick reverse out of the Czech Republic and Poland.  Nevertheless, I still hold on to the idea that if you treat your customers well you’ll succeed whatever the size the market may shrink to.

Halfords has never gone out of its way to make customers feel wanted.  It wasn’t that long ago that they undertook to respond customer-support e-mails …  wait for it …”within eight days”!  Communication has been a bit quicker lately, but that’s not a lot of use if they aren’t being helpful.  Someone should point out to them that making statements like “we value your custom” and “we pride ourselves on our customer service” is all very well, but until you actually resolve issues its only “lip-service”, not “customer service”!

If you drop your Tesco shopping on the way to the car, Tesco will replace any broken items.  They don’t have to, it’s just their way of making you feel good.  You may consider this as giving 110%, but, let’s face it, it costs Tesco tuppence and the value to them in customer satisfaction ratings is worth far more than that.  Yes, every little helps!  In contrast, telling you they make every effort to make you satisfied, is “job done” in Halfords book!

Last weekend I bought a four-litre plastic container of concentrated screen-wash from Halfords, along with a bunch of other stuff.  I placed it in the passenger foot-well of my car and drove home, only to discover, when I arrived, that the foot-well was now an inch-deep in screen-wash and the container was almost empty – no doubt where that had come from then!

I took it back to the store where the manager pointed out that the seal that should have prevented the cap from coming off the container, had been broken, presumably by someone in the store, which he added, was not unusual.  He replaced the purchase, but I still had a screen-wash lake in my car and thick-pile carpets that don’t come out just like that.  On his instructions I e-mailed Halfords’ customer service to seek recompense for the cost of having my car bailed.  And after a couple of days I received a reply.  Apparently, they don’t see that its anything to do with them and suggested that if I had taken proper precautions while transporting the screen-wash I wouldn’t now have an on-board swimming pool, steamed-up windows and a very smelly car.  I get the impression they think that by explaining this to me they resolved my issue.  I’m sure I just went into their customer service database as another satisfied customer, but right now I feel as though the customer service manager should personally suck the screenwash out of my carpets!

They may be making a profit, but with an attitude to customer service like this, in a shrinking market I wouldn’t put my money on this lasting long!

When profit is literally music to the ears of customers … and employees

We all know that music influences our actions.  There is endless research on the way music is used in sports psychology and there can’t be any fitness centres of gyms where music isn’t a constant feature.  There are also reams of papers by retailers revealing the impact that in-store radio has had on their business.

Retailers are old hands at this and apart from the in-store radio and TV of the larger multiples, retailers of all types and sizes have used music, in it’s simplest form, for many years to create atmosphere that entices customers to a store and creates an atmosphere where shoppers will linger longer, and we all know the longer people stay in a store the more they spend.

However, anybody who has worked in the in-store music arena will also be familiar with the complaints of shop workers who have to listen to it for the entire day, not just a few minutes that a customer spends in a store.  This is where the error of buying into cheap in-store music. with its loops, repeats and sound-alike bands, is highlighted, but it’s also an indicator of how music can be applied in other situations to`improve employee performance.

Because I have spent so many years advising retailers around the world I’m at home with the role of in-store music, ratio and TV, but I’ve also worked with businesses in corporate TV and spent time in offices like that of Sky TV in London, where music is a constant factor of office life so I have first-hand experience of the motivating power of workplace music. Like anything else, there’s good and bad in this field and while the muzac that so many stores and hotels opt for can ruin a business by frightening customers away and making an employees day a real drag, great music can make retail tills ring and boost energy levels.  However, this music thing isn’t as simple  as a lot of people think.  Anybody who really knows the subject will appreciate the psychology that goes into matching music types to audiences, moods and brand character.

In retailing there are both customer and employee profiles to consider, regional differences, business types and the variety of day-part patterns to be accommodated in any music strategy.  Fail to do this and your workplace music could literally be doing more harm than good.  There are three ways in which workplace broadcasting of one type or another can increase the profitability of a business.

In its simplest form music will create or enhance an atmosphere that strengthens a brand, provides an inviting atmosphere or increases productivity by motivating staff.  Get it right and even om this most basic level any business can achieve all three.

On the next level up, music, even by itself, can be used to prompt retail sales.  A UK supermarket played Spanish music in its wine department and significantly increased sales of Spanish wine.  However, with announcements or commercials that effect can be massively increased.  Another specialist UK retailer I know of achieved a 600% uplift in sales of one line in tests.

On the third level, in-store radio is already being used by many businesses not only to motivate employees, but to train them with product information, procedural updates and training modules transmitted out of retail opening or during office hours.

No business can afford to ignore or take this music thing lightly. It’s a legitimate business tool and increasingly scientific in its approach.  You are unlikely to get it right without help.  On the most basic level there are business out there playing radios, CDs and MP3s, oblivious to the fact that to do so in the UK requires licenses that costs upwards of £350 every year.  Avoidance could cost a whole lot more – I saw a post on a forum last week by a Chinese restaurant owner who was facing a bill for thousands of pounds!  My advice, don’t risk it and don’t try to avoid the fees by using non-licensed music – everyone hates it so it won’t bring any benefits. Bring in experts instead and profit from a well, thought out and executed workplace music strategy.

Blue may be the new green, but does it suit your business?

So, the debate is pretty well done and dusted – the Green movement is dead. A victim of the same monarchical culture that has buried so many other great ideas and business over the years.  Adam Werbach pointed all this out to us in his speech “Eulogy for the Green Movement” at the Commonwealth Institute in San Francisco way back in 2004.  The mistake he made then was not to offer an alternative and as a result he was vilified by old Greenies, the press and a bunch of other people with no imagination or brains to work it out for themselves.  As he said, people don’t like being called “dead”!  So, he returned to the same venue in 2009 with the missing pieces, which he has called “The Birth of Blue“. Yes, without a doubt, Blue is the new Green, so start adapting your wardrobe.

In fact, Blue isn’t anything new.  Just as the demise of Green followed the familiar path beaten by Communism, a few religions and other movements that relied on compliance under threat rather than a voluntary embrace.  Adam isn’t alone in what has done, but where he scores the bonus is in introducing an imaginative and practical solution, in this case, by adapting a proven approach to a different problem.  I say proven with the certainly of first-hand knowledge, because along with all the other initiatives, cultures and institutions that have successfully adopted this kind of strategy, I have been following it for years with my programme of brand transformation that I call Brand Discovery.

History couldn’t possibly give us more conclusive proof that a culture based on strict rules will fail, yet its not surprising that governments worldwide have adopted a heavy-handed approach to getting us all in line behind the sustainability thing.  When you throw old ladies in jail for putting paper in her rubbish, or stick tracking devices and chips in wheely-bins you really can’t expect anything, but resistance from folks.  The same applies to any community, brand or organisation.  If you make a community welcoming, comfortable and rewarding enough people will want to be a part of it.  Conversely, if you want to drive people away from a place you make it threatening and unpleasant.  Maybe if we gave less thought to prisoner’s rights and conditions incarceration might represent more of a disincentive to criminals?  However, I digress.

Green failed because it didn’t welcome people to its community and brands fail for the same reason.  What constitutes “welcoming” is another discussion and will vary from one brand or community to another, but what I want to do now is focus on the process involved. Its simple really.  You firstly need to lay out all the facts and associated issues in a clear and unbiased way (something that governments just don’t seem capable of).  You then fuel debate and discussion and LISTEN (something that few organisations of any kind find natural). People will work out their own relationships with the problem or issue at hand and if you really are listening, you’ll discover that they are writing your strategy for you.

Sustainability, affects us all.  It influences communication, travel, jobs, in fact pretty well everything in everybody’s life.  As our schoolkids are learing (and these future customers are way ahead of us on this see Graeme Codrington’s Hanna’s Rules) nobody can avoid it, so its really just a matter of helping people understand how it affects them individually.  Then you can start to offer them suggestions of things that they can do to help, if not themselves, their kids, avoid a future that’s far less inviting than that which we have today.

Brand Discovery encourages brand stakeholders to nominate things that they can each do to ensure that they are contributing to a bigger shared objective – the delivery of a brand promise.  Blue takes the same approach by asking people to nominate a DOT – Do One Thing – that will bring them closer to living a sustainable life.  What Blue also realises is that entire national populations are too large to work with successfully, so it relies on dividing nations into smaller work-groups.  They, cleverly chose businesses … large ones.  Their first candidate was Wal-mart, a community of almost two-million employees, not to mention partners and suppliers (I’ve visited countries with smaller populations!) where the approach has proven to be a great success.  More including Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in the UK are following their lead.

The issue isn’t going to disappear by itself and the emerging generations of customers and consumers place sustainable living far higher on their list of priorities than we or our forbears have so its not difficult to see the attraction for a corporation of engaging in sustainability.  In fact, businesses that don’t embrace the cause are going to suffer big-time in the future.

However, if you think it’s just a case of flying a sustainability flag outside your corporate HQ you are wrong.  Apart from their understanding of the importance of sustainability, emerging consumers have inherited a realisation from our generation and they just mistrust pretty well anything that the corporate world tells them, so you are seriously going to have to walk the talk.  What we are talking about here represents a significant change for most organisations.  You are going to need a strategy and there are few organisations around with the perspective and in-house resources to tackle this alone, but before you even find your partner to help you with this you need to understand that blue really is your colour and be ready to trust in your chosen Gok Wan.

In the coming months I will be working on this with my clients, testing out, ideas, introducing initiatives and all the time doing all I can to live sustainably.  Next week I’m off to Marketing Week Live in London and, as I try always to do, I’ll be minimising my carbon footprint by travelling by train.  I’ll be tweeting as I go and hopefully producing a bit of audio on Twaud.io or Cinch.com from the show.  Among the questions I’ll be asking of the people I meet there will be how their organisations are rising to this challenge.  So follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet and make your own contribution.

Social Networking – a force for good

Liam Anderson just Tweeted a link to a TED talk on social networking by a very smart guy called Nicholas Christakis. You should take a look. His bottom line seems to be that, primally speaking, social networking drives the good in society.

This is a subject that I have pondered many times.  As you will probably know, I see brands as communities and this perspective drives all that I do as a marketer.  In the talks I deliver I often highlight the parallels between housing communities and brand communities.  You move into an area because you feel it reflects your standards and values, you aspire to fit in, or it is comfortable, which, by definition means that you have something in common with everyone else who lives there – even if that’s just that the place feels right.  However, every facet of your life is not replicated in every other local resident.  You have hobbies and interests, values and habits that are unique to you in that community and so in joining it you are also enriching it.

Take my son as an example.  He has an amazing network of friends.  Its a very close network of guys and their girlfriends who he has encountered at various points in his life in many different places.  Nicholas suggested in his talk that there are two distinct types of networks those where the “friends” are independent of each other and don’t know each other, their relationship being confined to the “host” and there are others where the friends are inter-connected, they know each other through the network.  The catalyst in both cases is the host who is either gregarious and introduces his friends to each other or is insular and protective of his relationships and keeps them separate.  Each type of network has its plusses and minuses as Nicholas points out and who is to say which, if either is right or wrong.  The important thing is that we recognise the difference.

It’s fair to say that my son’s friends’ lives have all been enriched by the network.  Each has shared their individual interests with the others and as a result there are sub-groups that go rock-walling, others play squash, a big group  hangs out in one guy’s big garden all summer grilling, drinking and playing volleyball.  The more they do together the stronger the community becomes and the broader its interests and the interests of the individuals.  From time to time members of the community have had a tough time and I’ve been amazed at the way the others, even the fringe members, have gathered around to offer support and practical help.  As Nicholas says, a force for good.

Because I see brand communities in the same way, its important to me that my clients provide opportunities for their community members to interact with each other and not just the host (my clients), but while most organisations these days do the social networking “talk”, very few indeed get around to the “walk”.  Brands have to be gregarious to be successful, they have to stand out, be communicative and above all confident enough to introduce their community members to each other.  Organise events like Saturn the US car-maker who each year take their customers on a tour of the factory, Harley Davidson, or the cycle manufacturer Yeti (my favourite bikes in the world) who organise events around the world for their owners to come together race, chat and party.  I blogged last week about Apple’s new dating site, which is another example.

Brand guardians should always remember that their community members will also be members of other communities (buy other brands) where their other interests and values are better represented, but the the successful brands are those that are central to their members lives and achieve the balance between keeping themselves and their products front-and-centre while maintaining a broad church.  What are you doing to build Brandships in your brand community?