Category Archives: Sweat the Small Stuff

Customer Insights Mean Everything

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 2.18.36 PMI had a great time hanging with Leslie Westbrook for a couple weeks earlier this month.

Leslie is an Ole Miss graduate who went on to a phenomenal career in market research and consumer perceptions.

She started with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, and then worked for New Product Insights in Kansas City before starting her own company in Maryland.

She’s helped position and launch so many products over the years: Pampers. Pringles. Duncan Donuts coffee. Dairy Queen Blizzard. Quaker Granola Bars. And the brands on her resume are incredible: Hallmark. Purina. Coke. Kraft. Johnson & Johnson. Sara Lee. General Foods. Nestle. Max Factor. Ragu. Del Monte. Arm & Hammer. Kimberly Clark. The list is endless.

In the early 1980s when I was in college and just reading about the Tylenol poisonings, she was working with McNeil Consumer Healthcare (the brand’s owner at the time) to develop new tamper resistant packaging and to position the new caplets which replaced the capsules.

We both love research and knowing what customers think, and hit it off well. She talked to a variety of classes, helped my classes with a focus group project, met students, shared ideas and more.

One of the many things that jumped out though is a theme that’s near and dear to me: That in marketing, it’s the little things – the tiniest of details – that can make or break a customer relationship and set the tone for a brand.

pringles1970Leslie talked about Pringles. When she was testing the product, it was assumed customers would pour the chips into a bowl or on a napkin before eating. No one anticipated they’d stick their hand into the container to get the chips. So P&G redesigned the packaging to remove the sharp edges around the opening of the tube so people wouldn’t cut themselves when they reached inside.

Pampers was an interesting challenge. At the time, many women were appalled at the idea of wrapping their babies in plastic – most said good mothers would never do such a thing.   Understanding this nuance, Pampers wasn’t positioned as a convenience. Instead, it was marketed as being good for the baby because it wicked moisture away from the skin, meaning less chance of diaper rash. This messaging did the trick and sales took off.

In the early days of granola bars, there was only kind: dry and crunchy. They crumbled easily and were a mess to eat. Understanding this, Quaker realized the appeal of a bar that held together when eaten. Thus, the success of a soft “chewy” product that became a hit.

Call me crazy, but I love this stuff, and it was fun to spend time with someone else who loves it too!  I look forward to Leslie’s next visit.

Click here, here and here to see some of my previous posts on how little things are the big things in marketing.


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Filed under Branding, Customers, Market Research, Sweat the Small Stuff

Outdated Packaging

photo 2Here’s the packaging from an ironing board holder that was purchased at Target last week.  Nobody looks closely at stuff like this, right?

Apparently not even the manufacturer or the stores.

Take a close look at the photo to the left.  See anything strange????

See the zoomed photo below if you’re not sure.

What’s the deal with the rotary land line photo 1phone hanging on the wall?  I haven’t seen one of those since, oh, about 1975!

Remember, packaging is an essential part of your brand.  Little things like this can taint how customers feel.   Is the product itself antiquated too?  Is the company so cheap they can’t update an old photo?  Or are they careless? Clueless?

Sweat the small stuff.  As I’ve said before, sometimes these little things are the big things.

Thanks to my neighbor Lynda Rogers for sharing this packaging.

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“Welcome” to Ole Miss

photo copyIt’s game day weekend here at Ole Miss.  We host LSU tomorrow.  As always, it promises to be a great time with thousands of students, visitors, alums, tents, beverages, portable toilets and much more.  It’s a tailgating atmosphere like no other, and it seems to start the Thursday prior.

But unfortunately the campus doesn’t look very welcoming because there are also thousands of signs:  No parking, stay off the grass, no tents, cars will be towed, you will be arrested…

photo copy 2Driving to work this morning, I kept thinking of that 1970s song, “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign.”

We’re hosting a party, yet we’re screaming negative messages to our visitors.

First impressions are everything.  I tell my students that every single touch a customer has with a product or an organization sends a signal.  Yesterday, I heard Mike Glenn, executive vice president at FedEx, reiterate that a brand is the sum total of everything a customer experiences.

photo(2)And our customers here at Ole Miss are experiencing:  NO.

This isn’t a diatribe on the parking situation here on campus – it is what it is.  And honestly, I don’t know how parking policies would be enforced without proper signage.  I’m just saying seemingly little things like signage can have big impact on brand perceptions.  Perhaps they could at least remove the Ole Miss name/logo from the signs themselves so our identity isn’t displayed right next to the negative message.

photo copy 3I doubt the police or the parking staff think about this, it’s not their job to worry about it I guess.  But yet I believe that the decisions and actions of each and every employee can affect a brand.  This is proof.

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Filed under Branding, Integrated Marketing Communications, Sweat the Small Stuff

The Last Three Feet

McDonalds-LogoI had the great pleasure of visiting with Dick Starmann last week.  He’s an Ole Miss graduate, served in Vietnam, then joined McDonald’s where over nearly three decades he rose from adverting manager to senior vice president of global communications before retiring.

He traveled to more than 100 countries for McDonald’s to promote the company, better understand customers, deal with crises and other things, and became close personal friends of Ray and Joan Kroc.  After Ray died, he helped Joan with her investments (for example, the San Diego Padres), and managed her estate after she passed away.

He’s a big deal, but a very down to earth guy.  I always enjoy our conversations.  He not only shares insights into the triumphs and challenges of the world’s largest fast food restaurant, but talks about his dinners with Pierre Salinger, visits with Richard Nixon in George Steinbrenner’s box at Yankee Stadium, conversations with Margaret Thatcher….

And each time we talk, there’s something that sticks in my mind.  This time, it was:

The last three feet.

You see, for all the billions of dollars McDonald’s spends on building their brand (which was just ranked #7 in terms of global brand equity; estimates are the company spends about $2 billion annually on advertising)….for all the focus on product innovation and quality….for all the work that is going in to their recent restaurant redesign and other things….the customer experience comes down to…

The last three feet.

That’s the space it takes for a customer to step up to the counter (or lean through their window at the drive thru) to place an order.  And that is where the McDonald’s brand is really delivered.

If something goes wrong in that last three feet – if the employees aren’t engaged, if the transaction isn’t smooth, if the order isn’t correct, if the atmosphere isn’t pleasing, if the counter isn’t clean – then all of the other marketing efforts are for naught.

I continually remind my students – and tell anyone else who will listen – that Integrated Marketing Communications isn’t just about good advertising or public relations.  It is the sum of each and every customer touch, be it a sign, a building, an employee, a scent, a sound, a survey, a website, an app, a phone call.  It is the little things, it is all things, it is everything.

I learned this back in my days in the financial services industry, where we realized our brand was just as much about the monthly statements and payment envelopes our company sent as it was the beautiful ads and promotions we created.

And it makes sense that for fast food restaurants, if you mess up the last three feet, you mess up the brand.  That’s so very powerful.

This is a crazy thing to be passionate about, but I just am.  And I it love it when others, such as Dick Starman, talk about it too.

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Filed under Branding, Integrated Marketing Communications, Retailing, Sweat the Small Stuff

The Ice Cream Delimma

My graduate students and I are consulting with several retail businesses to analyze customer behaviors, shopping patterns, marketing efforts and more.  Like many things in marketing, sometimes the most effective solutions are the simple ones.

Case in point:  A store sells single serve ice cream bars – a big hit on warm summer days.  A problem we observed?  The cooler where the bars are kept is quite a distance from the cash register.  When the store is busy, the lines to check out are long.  Are sales thwarted because customers think their ice cream will melt while they’re standing in line to pay?

An obvious solution would be to move the coolers closer to the register, allowing customers to pick up the product right before they pay.  But that would make the display less visible to people who are browsing the store, and would require remodeling.  And it’s hard to test without a lot of effort and expense.

Another idea is signage to encourage customers to eat the ice cream while they wait to pay.  It sounds good in theory, but who wants to enjoy their treat while standing in line?  And most customers wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it.

The easiest idea to test would be an “honor pay” system, with a box for depositing the correct change.  Standing in line would be eliminated.  But there are problems with this scenario too:  Customers would need exact change, they couldn’t pay with debit or credit, and some might cheat or steal.  But sales might increase enough to offset the losses.

Coffee shops and other small retailers have experimented with honor system payment concepts with some degree of success.  It’s hard to say if it would work in this situation but perhaps it’s worth a try.  It would be easy to test, easy to monitor and easy to stop if it didn’t work.  We don’t know what the fix is yet, we”ll see.

I’m a passionate believer that in marketing, the little things count – sometimes more than the big things.  That same holds true for consumer behaviors too.

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Filed under Integrated Marketing Communications, Strategy, Sweat the Small Stuff

When Self Service Means No Service

I ate lunch at a burger joint a few weeks ago.  It was nothing fancy, just an order-at-the-counter kind of place.  But I experienced something so remarkably insane I knew right away I’d be writing about it here.

Regular readers know that I passionately champion the belief that great marketing isn’t just about products, prices, promotions or places – but also about the little thing that make the customer experience great.  Or not.

This place had no overhead menus like is typically found in a fast food restaurant.  Instead, there were a couple of touch-screen kiosks that greeted patrons as they approached the counter.

Touch the screen to get started, then select your burger type (quarter pound, third pound, etc.).  Next screen:  Choose how you want it cooked (medium, well done, etc.).  Then another screen:  Choose your bun.  Then another:  Choose condiments.  And so on.  It took a minute or so to navigate through the options.  Then I wanted some fries, so had to go back to the first screen and select from the list of sides.

I was buying for another guy, so when I finished my selections, he stepped up to the kiosk and took a turn.  (I kept my fingers crossed that his order was recognized as an additional burger with my order, not a “do over” for what I had selected.)  Upon finishing, we both realized we needed drinks, but couldn’t find the screen for that.  The worker at the counter (who was just milling about) said if we wanted drinks we should have ordered as a combo meal on the very first screen.  Who knew?

I asked if she could please just add the drinks to our order, which she did.  But when I approached to pay (the kiosk was for ordering, not paying), she informed me we hadn’t completed the order yet, so I stepped back to press “finish.”  Then she said I needed to give her the ticket the kiosk printed – I hadn’t noticed there was one.

This whole process just dumbfounded me.  It didn’t save time, it took extra time.  It doesn’t seem like it saved labor costs, because a worker was standing idle at the cash register through the entire debacle.  And my food didn’t arrive any sooner than it would have someplace else.

So what exactly is the customer benefit?  It seems like a goofy use of technology to me.

A lot of retailers today – grocery stores, home improvement centers, bank branches – push customers toward the self serve options.  Sure, it saves them money, but often frustrates the heck out of customers.  And those negative experiences can give otherwise good brands a black eye.

But what these companies also don’t realize is that often, the only thing they have to distinguish themselves from the competition is personal service.  And when things are commoditized with self-service kiosks, checkouts and such, that edge is lost.  I’m also thinking that if I’m serving myself, I’m a less costly customer – so shouldn’t I pay less than someone using the full service option?

Of course, retailers mask this self-service ambiance as a way to serve customers better and faster.  But in most cases it’s just a way to put the needs of the company above the needs of the customer.

Sure, the burger place might save money in the short run if a machine takes the order instead of a real person.  That’s an easy thing to quantify.  But when it makes the experience so bizarre that customers don’t return for another visit – well, that’s when the technology costs money.  That’s much harder to measure.  And therein lies a big problem.

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Filed under Customers, Sweat the Small Stuff

This Promotion Didn’t “Nail It”

I read an article in the newspaper this morning about an Iowa City law firm that received an envelope containing a “white powdery substance.”  Police and postal inspectors were called, tests were run, and it turns out the powder was crushed mint candy mailed from an insurance company.  Who knows what this was all about – the article didn’t explain further but maybe it was some kind of promotional campaign that went awry.  I’ve been there.

I’d been thinking about such things anyway the past few days because Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the notorious “Unabomber,” is back in the news after all these years.  He’s the kook that mailed homemade bombs to people in the mid-1990s, killing 3 people and injuring about a dozen others.  His reappearance in the news is because some investigators think he might be linked to the 1982 Tylenol killings in Chicago – a crime that remains unresolved.

So what’s any of this got to do with marketing and why in the world is it on my mind now?  It’s because at exactly the same time that Ted’s bombings first hit the news in the 1990’s, I had just launched a direct mail campaign for a mortgage company.  It was a national promotion to home builders and Realtors touting a new construction financing program, and unfortunately (in hindsight) the theme was “Nail It.”  (Copy was along the lines of “nail down your financing with this great new construction program…” bla bla bla).

The package was a small cardboard box designed to look like a block of wood, and when opened, it contained a couple real galvanized nails inserted through another faux chunk of wood.  I was proud of the concept and if I remember correctly it later won a couple design awards.

Well if one of the goals of a direct mail campaign is to get attention, this one succeeded in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  A number of post offices x-ray things (I later learned), and due to heightened awareness of the Unabomber mailings, these packages of course came under very close scrutiny.  We got calls from post offices all over the country; many of the packages were not delivered and for those that were we received a number of complaints from recipients about our insensitivity.  Some of the boxes were returned to us (smashed, as it turns out, too) along with nasty letters from the postal service.

It was a good creative campaign, just completely ill-timed.  I’d like to think we never would have launched it if the bombs had started going off before our nails hit the mail, but then I’m not sure we were smart enough to connect the dots back then.  We might have been so caught up in our zeal to promote the program that who knows, we might have sent it without thinking of the broader implications to current events at the time.

I laugh about it now but it was no laughing matter back then.  I thought for sure I’d lose my job but fortunately had a very understanding boss who realized that sometimes mistakes just happen.  It was a good early career lesson for me in many ways.

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