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When worlds collide, the customer is usually caught in the middle

Omnichannel or omnishambles? Time to join up the dots.

 

[Image courtesy of Dave Gray at Flickr Creative Commons]

Life used to be so simple. You wanted something, so you went to a shop. Either they had what you wanted, or they ordered it in. Maybe you phoned ahead, or maybe you just took a chance.

And then came the internet.

You could have anything you wanted, whenever you wanted it. Or almost. Because if you had to have it right now, you still had to go to a store. But the good thing was that most had an online presence, so you could check what they had in stock and save yourself a wasted trip. 

Well so goes the theory. The practice is quite another matter, as I found out last week. Not once, but twice.

Sweet surprise

I checked the website of Boots the chemist to see if they had a box of strips for glucose testing kits at my local store. They had not only one, but lots. So off I went.

When I got there, I scoured the shelves but couldn’t find what I was looking for. No problem, I thought – it’ll be behind the counter. So I asked the assistant, and she went to check with the pharmacist. The confab lasted longer than it should have, and she came back with that look on her face. You know the one. 

No, they didn’t have what I was looking for. They had bigger boxes of the strips, but only on prescription. So I’d have to go to a doctor – for something that in theory was available over the counter.

Just not that counter. 

Or I could order on Boots.com, said the assistant. But she said it as if it was a separate company to the one she worked for. When I pointed out that I’d specifically checked that store’s stock online, she gave me a look of blank incomprehension and said, “I don’t know anything about that”.

So much for joined-up service.

Computer says no

The second experience didn’t happen to me, but to a friend of mine.

Here’s the quick version: PC World, a monitor, stock levels that looked fine, a reservation number and confirmation email, and a wasted trip to the store, when they told him that the monitor he’d reserved was actually on display, and so obviously not for sale. 

Add in an assistant who was new and didn’t know what he was doing, a call to his manager that wasn’t returned while my friend waited in store and much confusion, and you get the picture. My friend couldn’t wait any longer, so he asked the assistant to call him once he’d heard from his manager. 

He got the call – six hours later. By which time, he’d bought the monitor on the PC World website and paid £10 for next-day delivery.

Customer care everywhere

You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you? It shows how complicated it is in practice to link the online and offline world. And how it should work in theory: integrated systems, trained staff and a consistent message.

Not to mention a consistent customer experience.

As part of the humungous project on customer care I’ve been working on recently (nearly there) I’ve found out lots about how companies are trying to pull together the disparate strands of their service into something coherent and consistent.

It’s not easy, but it is possible. 

Automation and artificial intelligence have made great strides in recent years, and systems have been simplified to deliver a similar experience whether you’re on a website, social media, chat or a voice call. But somewhere, somehow, that all needs to be linked to the offline experience. 

And that’s not just systems but training too. Put a monitor on display, tick it off the system. Customer complains about glucose strip shortage? Report it to the online team. 

None of this requires artificial intelligence. Just a little bit of old fashioned human intelligence, basic initiative and common sense. Because that’s what will make the omnichannel truly omni.

And keep blood sugar levels down. 

Five counter-intuitive marketing moves

Forget what you’ve always done. Do what you’ve never done. 

Let’s face it: we’re all more comfortable in our comfort zones. So that means we usually just carry on doing what we’ve always done, and we usually follow the crowd. Because it’s easier that way. 

But you know what they say: do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.

And as for following the crowd, well somebody somewhere was at the head of that crowd, and inspired the followers. What if they’re wrong? And even if they’re right, it still took a leap of faith on their part to be the first. Wouldn’t you like to be in their place? 

Here are five ideas that might just put you there. 

1. Raise your prices

Yes, we all know it’s dog-eat-dog out there, but cutting your price is like pulling up the nose of your plane when you’re stalling. It doesn’t stretch the glide, but just makes the rate of descent faster.

I was recently chatting to a friend who bumped up her prices quite significantly, which seems like commercial suicide in a cash-strapped market. But she did two clever things.

First, she positioned it clearly – and research shows that if you explain something clearly, people are far more likely to accept it. Second, she decided to up her game – and that meant going after higher-end clients who expected to pay more, and avoided offers that seemed too cheap.

2. Don’t try to make everybody happy

In classic boiling-frog style, over the last few years the idea has taken hold that you should go the extra mile for everybody, every time. And nobody’s questioned it. But as I mentioned last time, that’s both exhausting and expensive, and rarely makes an appreciable difference.

So keep your valuable customers happy – and that means focusing on high-value, low-maintenance customers first. Low-value, high-maintenance ones can go elsewhere. Write for the perfect customer, market to the perfect customer, and sell to the perfect customer. Forget the others. Because they won’t stay with you anyway.

3. Analyse your failures, not your successes

When you do well, there’s often a temptation to see what you did right and replicate it. But often, sales are down to good timing or even just dumb luck. As long as you’ve got the basics right, and do it well and often enough, you should see the benefits.

It’s when things go wrong that you can really learn something.

When a client has checked you out and gone elsewhere. When you’ve lost a client you didn’t want to lose (as opposed to one you did). When you’ve had a string of losing pitches against a competitor who keeps eating your lunch. So analyse your failures, see if they matter  – some don’t, so you should move on – and see what you can learn. You might be surprised. And humbled (I certainly was).

4. Forget about quality

Well not totally. What I really mean here is that quality is all fine and dandy, but quantity is not to be underestimated.

I did an e-mailshot earlier this year, and had some hits and lots of misses. And yes, before you ask, I did eat my own dogfood and analyse my failures.

But I was also realistic, and accepted that quantity often beats quality.

So a couple of months later, I sent out a slightly modified version of the e-mailshot to the people who hadn’t replied. And when I say slight, I mean slight. I referred to my previous email and said I know that timing is everything and quoted that Woody Allen line about how 80% of success is showing up.

And guess what? It worked. Maybe because the humour appealed, or maybe because Allen had a point. 

5. Don’t obsess about growth

The ancients used to say that there was an optimal size for a city. If it was any bigger, it lacked human scale. And you have only to look at mega-cities like Tokyo or Cairo to see that they were probably right.

Companies are the same, especially if they’re small or medium-sized.

They provide a quality service and a personal touch to a select bunch of people, and they’re very good at what they do. But scale that up and the personal becomes impersonal. Doers become managers (and not everybody’s cut out to be a manager), quality drops and customers become faceless. People spend more time on admin than on doing what they love. Passion wanes and duty fills the gap. So growth has come, but at a price that’s probably not worth paying.

* * *

Questioning received wisdom on marketing is always refreshing. Swimming against the prevailing current may feel like hard work to begin with, but you’ll soon get used to it. You’ll get some fascinating insights and come up with some great ideas.

And you may just one day be the person at the head of that crowd.

Apple and the art of simplicity

Saying more with less, and cutting your prose to the core

[Image courtesy of TechStage at Flickr Creative Commons]

Following my recent (re-)introduction to the wonderful world of Apple, I’ve become something of a fanboy. From the free iPad I got a few weeks back, I’ve graduated to a (purchased) iPad mini 2 with retina display: a slick, state-of-the-art ‘fondleslab’ if ever there was one.

But what’s really struck me is not the build quality, or the display, or the ease of use – though all three are pretty impressive.

No, it’s the clarity of the message. The instructions are crystal-clear, the language pared-down and precise, and the tone friendly and engaging. From the very first screen (Hola! Hello! it says) the iPad setup and configuration process is like a chat with your best new friend.

We all know the story of Apple design: it’s all about eliminating complexity. So the iPod was a marvel of minimalism, an example that was followed through by the iPhone and iPad. But for me, the interesting thing is that they also eliminated complexity from all their written materials.

As a closet geek, I like to really get to know things inside out. So I’m actually reading all 300-odd pages of the iPad user guide to get the lowdown on all those hidden features that most people never discover.

The manual is a shining example of how to get it right.

Simple language, logical steps, bulleted and numbered points. All of the information is presented in bite-sized chunks, with just enough detail to find out what you need to know. Hyperlinks take you to cross-referenced sections, and screen captures illustrate a feature at exactly the right point.

But here’s the thing: this simplicity is deceptive. I’m sure they started out with lots more detail, and just like the iPod, iPad and iPhone, they designed out the complexity. It’s a lesson we should all learn from. It’s a lesson that some of us already have.

Anker, for example, who produce a range of accessories for Apple products.

Simple is as simple does

I was looking for a second lightning cable, so I could set up a juice point for my iPad downstairs as well as up. But all third-party lightning cables are not equal, it seems. Some are certified by Apple, and others aren’t.

Anker is. And they appear to have taken a leaf out of Apple’s style guide, as I saw as soon as the cable arrived and I took the box out of the wrapping.

Anker: smart just got easier, it said. Already, I was beginning to like these people. Inside, the story got better: we hope you never have the need, but if you do, our service is friendly and hassle free.

I decided I liked them even more. Their goal of making the smart life easier meant starting with affordable, high quality gear and ending with a commitment to 100% user satisfaction, they went on to say. After all, we’re customers too.

Don’t you just love them? Inside the box was a card that said Happy? on one side with a little sun, and Not happy? on the other with a raincloud.

You see what they’re doing here, don’t you? They’re not Apple, and yet they sound like them. They’re riding on the back of the Apple touchy-feely experience, if anything pushing it to a point that Apple hasn’t yet reached. 

They’re doing what lots of clients I speak to would like to do. We’d like to be more like Apple, they say. So what’s stopping you? I say.

The answer, of course, is nothing. Simple language doesn’t cost anything, and simple policies and procedures are easily created, implemented and followed.

What I suspect is holding them back is the thought that you can get too simple. Too pared-down. Too telegraphic. But you know what? You can’t, because that’s what people respond to in this age of reduced attention spans and digital impatience.

Next time you think I wish our brand could be more like Apple (and I suspect most companies have those moments) take a look at your written materials, and see how they could be cut down and made more reader-friendly.

It is possible. Anker have done it, and they’re reaping the rewards. You could too.

All you have to do is take the first bite.

Brand journalism, content marketing and storytelling

Why everything has changed, and nothing has. And why that’s good news.

[Image courtesy of Khalid Albaih at Flickr Creative Commons]

Unless you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon, or in a cave somewhere, you can’t have failed to notice a seismic shift in the world of marketing over the last few years.

New terms have been coined, and they’re on everybody’s lips. Have you got into native advertising yet? If not, perhaps you should, since that’s the way everybody seems to be going.

Put simply, it’s advertising that doesn’t look like advertising. So it’s not in a display box, around which everything else flows. Instead, it gets right into the flow of things, and blurs the line between fact and faction.

We should be used to that by now.

After all, every time we do a Google search, we see sponsored ads either across the top or down the side of our search results.

It’s obvious that they’re ads, say Google. But is it? Many of the people I speak to say they had no idea it was an advert that led them to me.

But at least those Adwords ads do actually have a (small, admittedly) tag that says Ads. Native advertising takes this to a whole new level, slipping incognito into mainstream copy.

Next time you take a look at any newspaper site, cast your eye to the right-hand side, or below the article you’re reading. For that’s where you’ll see native advertising. Or brand journalism, which used to be known as advertorial, but sounds an awful lot more respectable under its new title.

Now you see it

So what is this seismic shift that’s taken place in the world of marketing? Why are ads no longer working? What changed?

We did. That’s the simple answer.

Cast you mind back 20 years (if you’re old enough – if you’re not, stay with me and you’ll learn something) and we were all sitting there like empty vessels, just waiting to be filled by advertising. Two-way communication was simply impossible, and joining the conversation was unheard of.

And then it all changed. It was back in 1995 that I remember an email plopping in to my In Box – from Bill Gates. Oh my God, I thought. I’ve only been at Microsoft five minutes, and here’s an email from Him.

And it was from Him, but it wasn’t just to me.

It was to all the tens of thousands of other Microsofties, telling us that we needed to get with the programme. The Internet Tidal Wave was the title of the message. Either we rode the wave, or we drowned. So ride it we did.

And when the wave broke on the shore, it changed everything. Not instantly, though, which made it even harder to notice the change.

But change there was.

Gone was the stuck-on-transmit approach to advertising and marketing. Now, it was conversations, collaboration and Web 2.0. And marketing that didn’t look like marketing. Advertising that didn’t look like advertising. And the word content would never be the same again. Not to mention storytelling.

Back to the future

The thing is, none of this should be a surprise to us. From time immemorial, we’ve been attracted to stories and fascinated by learning new things. By finding out facts and making discoveries. By identifying with the people in the stories we read, and by feeling involved.

So it’s hardly unexpected that advertising and marketing should move in this direction. The crude, standing-on-a-soapbox, megaphone-in-hand approach no longer works when you’re selling to sophisticated consumers – or savvy businesses.

They want to be part of the process, and get involved in the discussion. They want to learn something new, and feel as if you haven’t wasted their time.

So whether it’s a thought piece lurking on the edge of a newspaper site, or a podcast discussing the latest trends, a blog post that pulls them in and entertains or an e-book they share with friends or colleagues, value, interest and quality are the cornerstones.

In the digital age, everything changes but nothing does really. Whether it’s content marketing, brand journalism or native advertising, we’re talking about telling a story and getting back to basics.

None of this should surprise us. What is surprising is that we took so long to get here.

And now that we are here, as Bill said way back when, it’s time to get with the programme. So what’s your game plan?

The easy way to give your copy a makeover

First impressions count, and a little formatting can go a long way

[Image courtesy of Carlislehvac at Flickr Creative Commons]

Last weekend, I was prompted to reflect on what a difference presentation makes. And the starting point for this train of thought was a paintbrush.

But I wasn’t standing in front of an easel; instead, I was scraping, sanding and painting the window frames in my office.

In just a couple of hours, they went from dirty, cracked and unappealing to clean, smooth and pristine. And all because of a little elbow grease and a lick of paint.

To motivate myself when I do these little DIY jobs, I say to myself ‘What would a potential purchaser think?’ And in this case, they’d think ‘What great windows. I think I’ll pay the asking price for the house’.

And that’s all the motivation I need. My house isn’t for sale, but if a little work here and there can make it more saleable, and increase the value, then it’s time and effort well spent.

The same is true of copy. On this blog, I’m always saying things like cut it down, take it out and pare it back. But there is a limit to how much you can hack away. Sometimes, there’s no excess left to take out. So is the job done?

Not exactly. For copy, like windows, walls and gardens, can always do with a little primping to make it look more appealing. And more saleable.

Let’s take an example. Twice.

Now before you say ‘I’m not reading all that’, let me tell you that you don’t have to. In fact, it’s better that you don’t, as it’ll demonstrate my point more effectively.

Here are two versions of the same copy, with a few tweaks on the second pass:

Password security

It’s just crept up on us. Over the last 15-20 years, we’ve had to create passwords for everything from Amazon to Google, from Apple to our PCs and mobile devices. The trouble with a password is that you have to remember it. So you need to make it memorable.

And that’s the problem. Because often, what’s memorable is what’s most obvious. So you choose your date of birth, or your partner’s name, or your house number. It’s easy for you to remember, and for hackers to guess.

It’s not just humans you’re up against. Password-cracking software can cycle through thousands of word and number combinations a second, making cracking obvious passwords child’s play.

So what do you do? Well firstly, don’t use the same password for everything. So much for what you shouldn’t do. But how about some positive advice?

Well one easy way is to use a ‘passphrase’, where you use the first letter of each word to create your password. Alternatively, you could use a password-generator to create a strong password for you, incorporating punctuation and symbols.

Or you could create a password document, where you store all your passwords; the thing is, if you forget the password document password, then you’re in trouble. Do also remember also to change your passwords frequently, for added security.

Password security may have just crept up on us, but that’s no reason to ignore the problem. In an age of increasing hacker sophistication, doing nothing is not an option. The time to take action is now.

And again:

Password security: Top Tips to keep you safe from prying eyes!

Passwords are everywhere. They’ve just crept up on us. Over the last 15-20 years, we’ve had to create passwords for everything from Amazon to Google, from Apple to our PCs and mobile devices. The trouble with a password is that you have to remember it. So you need to make it memorable.

Don’t make the hackers’ job easier. And that’s the problem. Because often, what’s memorable is what’s most obvious. So you choose your date of birth, or your partner’s name, or your house number. It’s easy for you to remember, and for hackers to guess.

It’s not just humans you’re up against. Password-cracking software can cycle through thousands of word and number combinations a second, making cracking obvious passwords child’s play.

Here are our Top 5 tips:

  • Don’t use the same password for everything, as you could lose everything in one go.
  • Use a ‘passphrase’, where you use the first letter of each word to create your password.
  • Use a password-generator to create a strong password for you, incorporating punctuation and symbols.
  • Create a password document, where you store all your passwords. But be careful: if you forget the password document password, then you’re in trouble.
  • Change your passwords frequently for added security.

Take action NOW

Password security may have just crept up on us, but that’s no reason to ignore the problem. In an age of increasing hacker sophistication, doing nothing is not an option. The time to take action is now.

Paint your copy better

You see what I mean? When it comes to copy, a little formatting goes a long way. I’ll bet you only read the headings and the bolded text in the second one. And you know what? You picked up the message just as well as if you’d read the bits in between.

Good copywriting encourages speed-reading. It helps the reader through the text, saving them time and effort.

Just like scraping, sanding and painting does for tired window frames, a little light decorating work will transform you copy. And it’ll make readers and potential purchasers think ‘I’ll buy that’.

And you’re done.