Category Archives: loyalty

The real price of discount retailing

With markets as tough as they are it’s not surprising that more businesses than ever are weighing up whether to adopt a short-term tactical approach or hang tough with the longer-term strategic thing.  Retailers are right at the centre of this dilemma and you only have to glance at your local high street or shopping mall to see the choice that many have made.  Stores with perpetual sales or cut-price offers have become a feature of the retail landscape in pretty well every country around the world.

Even though they know that the path to instant gratification has an inevitable pay-off, cake today is becoming an irresistable proposition for idea and cash-strapped marketers, who can only be aiming to be somewhere else when the bill arrives.  So, what is the price of this kind of short-termism?

In this context there are two types of retailer – those who sell branded goods and those whose offer comprises mainly own brand.  The first group can be further divided into premium and mass-market.  The premium retailers, by and large, are chasing margin with high prices.  They are usually the last to have to make the short-term/long-term choice because their clientele are well-heeled and unfamiliar with the financial reality most of us live with.  On the other, far more popular side of the street, mass-market sellers of branded product are “champions of the consumer”.  We rely on them to negotiate with manufacturers on our behalf to deliver the branded products we all hanker after at advantageous prices.

The own brand retailers come from a different direction.  The value of their proposition is entirely their own making.  Customers recognise own-branders as an authority in the things they sell and trust them to use their knowledge and experience  to produce great value product of their own.  Retailers like this that come to mind would be Ikea and Marks and Spencer.

Now consider for a moment discount promotions as a concept.  Again, you could say they come in two kinds.  The first is the seasonal event that we have come to expect.  This is legitimate.  We understand that these promotions are the retailer’s way of clearing slow-moving stock or ends of lines and as long as it remains occasional it and the retailer will retain credibility.

The other kind of discount promotions are those run by struggling retailers to generate sort-term business.  These usually achieve their immediate objective.  The problems arise with repetition.  You must have heard people dismissing retailers as “the place with the sale on all the time”.  The perpetual sale isn’t credible, so let’s not kid ourselves that consumers are buying this line.  If a product appears to always be reduced to 99p then that’s all its worth to the consumer and no amount of double pricing is going to convince them otherwise.  We’ve all witnessed the Pierre Cardin brand get pulped in markets around the world.  Once a respectable, desirable brand, constant deep discounting has reduced it to a bargain basement brand.  Nobody pays full-price for a Pierre Cardin suit because we all know that it will be 70% off next week!

So, when do you start heading into the mire of perpetual discounts?  The answer is the minute you abandon the accepted seasonal event norm.  Then its just a matter of how far you venture in this direction and how quickly you get back to firm ground that determines whether your business is irreversibly damaged.  Discounting is like a drug habit.  Initially the hit is rewarding – you make a load of cash quickly, but as you stick with it your dependency increases and the reward diminishes.  You lie awake at night racking your brains for new superlatives to up the anti in your advertising, margin disappears and eventually your turnover will too.

Your hard-won brand community will dwindle.  We wear the products we buy and carry branded shopping bags with pride as badges of belonging.  Where’s the cudos in belonging to to the cheap shop community?  Customers will feel betrayed.  The brand that you have devalued to junk had defined their status.  Now you’ve pulled the plug.  Your authority disappears over night and whatever you say to try to re-establish value in your offer is futile.  You are just a cheapskate discounter and there’s no way back!

If your regular customers don’t abandon you they’ll do something even worse –   they’ll only turn up for the deals that you make no money on and the only new customers you can expect are all broke like you.  When The Full Effect Company went into one well-know organisation a few years back, we discovered that a third of their customers were actually costing them money because they only bought the bargains with little or no margin.  There was no spoon-full of sugar to help the medicine go down in this case, we just had to loose 30% of their customer base.  However, there are few shareholders who would stomach this kind of treatment unless, as we did, you manage to get back on track very quickly.  We replaced those customers with new, profitable ones within twelve months and met the company’s growth targets.

So, before you launch your umpteenth BoGoF this year give some thought to where this road is leading.  You may not be planning to be around when this chicken comes home to roost, but there aren’t that many juicy retail marketing jobs around, so you might want to think again.

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!

Building a brand like Fender

The attention of anyone who is even vaguely interested in music and many more who wouldn’t know their crotchet from their elbow, has been drawn this week to the news that Fender, who have been making guitars for musicians around the world since 1946, is going public.

If you are thinking of taking a stake, you’ll be buying into a true icon, not just of twentieth century music, but of branding, because whatever else Fender may be, this is what a great brand looks like.  What Fender have done, of course, is create that most illusive, yet essential ingredient of any brand – a community.  And what a community!  When I was a would-be pop star the Fender Stratocaster (or Strat to its friends) was the six-string of choice for greats like Jimmy Hendrix.  The musicians around me were readily defined as either Fender or Gibson guys (although Eric Clapton somehow managed to straddle the two quite successfully for some years).  But it wasn’t and isn’t just about the Fender corporate brand.  What gave the business its sustainability was the way it catered for a widening range of musical genres and cultural sub-groups with a range of products that, whilst sharing the same DNA, each enjoyed its own dedicated following –  Stratocaster, the original Precision (which probably was more of a revolution even than the Telecaster) and Jazz basses, catered for clearly defined musical types, giving, what could easily have become a niche brand, essential breadth.  The business was also smart enough to listen to and watch its customers (Oh, how I wish a few more businesses could say the same!).  Musos were increasingly customising their guitars and Fender responded by creating its custom division where pros and enthusiasts to this day can specify their unique Fender incorporating all Fender assets – the tremolo bridge, solid state, pick-ups etc. crafted for them.

The trick of broadening your appeal (and thereby both increasing your customer base and deepening the relationships you have with them) by applying your core brand values to a range of niche products is one every business needs to practice.  In recent months I have been working with a perfume manufacturer and retailer where the principal equally applies.  In our case the corporate brand is built on ethnicity and high quality, but each of the range of perfumes and other products if played correctly has niche appeal and personality that we are building communities around.

But while you can’t afford to be a one-trick pony these days and innovation is definitely what it’s all about, it’s equally essential to approach your product and offer development  in a structured fashion.  I’ve highlighted before in these pages the need for every business to not only define their brand and have a clear strategy, but to support that with a methodology that ensures every new initiative contributes rather than detracts from the objective.  Businesses go off-track and waste fortunes every day on initiatives that either don’t contribute or even have a detrimental effect on their business, don’t be one of them.  My Brand Discovery program me has a built-in briefing process that comes into play with every new initiative, forcing those in the driving seat to justify the project against pre-defined criteria.  If you haven’t adopted a tool like this you need to get onto the programme.  Get it right and in a few years you could be floating your business for $200million!

Matalan – Sometimes, all it takes is the basics.

I’m subscribed to more on-line retailers and loyalty programmes that I can remember these days, but I never cease to be amazed at how badly these companies manage their data.  Its been years (I mean more than twenty) since I started getting my clients to build relationships with their customers by acknowledging dates like birthdays that are important to them, but I can’t remember ever receiving a birthday reward from anybody other than MoonPig and then, of course, it was someone else’s birthday they were reminding me of.

I was reassured therefore by my mother’s delight at having received a £5 shopping voucher for her birthday this week from, of all people, Matalan.  I’ve always wondered why the retailer didn’t appear to do anything much with the data they collect when they register their customers.  Especially as you are strong-armed into subscribing to their loyalty programme at your first visit to one of their stores.  It seems that having hit rock bottom in recent years the retailer has addressed issues well beyond their dowdy stores and stock.  Well done Matalan for showing UK retailers how its done!

Customer Loyalty – Stop trying to buy it and start earning it!

Yesterday I came across a great piece by Luca Paderni on iMedia Connection entitled “Why Your Brand Loyalty is Failing”.  Luca covers pretty well all the angles and raises many important issues, but there’s no escaping the underlying truth that kept surfacing among the other well-made points – customer loyalty is simply a product of customer satisfaction.

I run many workshops on this subject with businesses around the world and I’m used to receiving a torrent of ideas from delegates for programmes and initiatives designed to reward loyalty.  Sadly I get fewer ideas for ensuring that the brand promise that brought customers to the point of purchase in the first place is delivered. If my delegates are indicative of the people driving marketing these days, its hardly surprising that the focus of so many businesses appear to be trying to buy rather than earn customer love.  And they do this regardless of the fact that it’s a ludicrously expensive and extremely short-term way to run a business.

These days loyalty is the dominant business driver.  With most customers already claimed/assigned to vendors (apart from in emerging markets there are few emerging customers) the return you’ll get on acquisition investment is always going to be limited and its hard work.  The future lies in selling more stuff to your existing customers and they’ll only buy if they love you.  The problem is there seems to be confusion among marketers over what drives these brandships.

Sure customers will appreciate add-ons and freebies, They’ll add to the customer experience, but they only have value if you have already given your customers what they came for and simply will never be an alternative to simply delivering your brand promise.  My advice to any business that asks me about customer loyalty is to start by measuring customer satisfaction.  There’s only one way to do this and that’s by measuring your performance against your brand promise and the pillars that support it. (see the tab for Brand Discovery above for definitions.

Yes, there is no escaping it.  It’s back to my old favourite, the Brand Model again, because that’s where everything in any successful organisation has to start and it’s why my Brand Discovery programme places so much up-front emphasis on this vital business tool.  If you have set about creating your Brand Model correctly and placed the appropriate emphasis on marketing it internally, if you have developed the right briefing processes and checks to back it up, everyone (and I do mean everyone) in your organisation will be focussed on delivering your Brand Promise and none of your customers will be disappointed.  THEN the rewards that everyone seems so keen to give away can make sense.