Archive for June, 2007|Monthly archive page

Tell The New Delta That Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Earlier this month, I wrote about “The New Delta”. They are running some interesting innovation tests intended to “change the experience”. They are also using employee-generated videos that feature exciting destinations in an attempt to put a human face on the airline and promised to open a customer forum to really engage customers in conversations. In my post, I applauded these moves.

Too bad Delta’s Marketing team didn’t tell the Operations team that they were going to “change the experience”. This week, passenger Robert McKee was stuck on the JFK tarmac for seven hours. After two hours, he started recording the experience and posted the final product on YouTube. His post has these comments:

“Delta Flight 6499 JFK to DFW on June 25 2007 experienced more than just a routine delay.. for seven hours, four children screamed, and we were told by crew that they couldn’t feed us because Delta simply wouldn’t allow it”

The video documents multiple problems and Delta’s failure to address any of them in a truthful way or with respect to their customers. Examples:

  • Passengers were told a new captain “is making his way through the terminal”, when in reality, he was coming in from Newark.
  • Delta told Mr. McKee’s wife that the plane was in the air. This was right after she spoke with him by cellphone and they were still on the ground.

Lots of bloggers are picking up this story this evening and I suspect more will over the coming days. Companies need to take note:

Talk is cheap. Telling customers that you are changing the experience when your actions say otherwise, is more damaging that not promising anything. Your customer’s have the power to create compelling stories about their experiences and social media makes it very easy to have those stories broadcast to a wide audience.

The Thinking Blogger Award: Who, Me?

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I began writing this blog a little over a year ago as an outlet for my passion for subjects like customer experience and innovation.  Like a parrot, I found people who spoke about these things and I attempted to do what they do, although typically without the same level of authority.  Through this experience, I have made friends with many of those people who I look up to and have had the opportunity to engage in some very rich, thoughtful and entertaining conversations, which after all, is the main reason for getting involved with social media, is it not.  I see myself as a student and many of them, my teachers.

This past weekend, I was honored to be given The Thinking Blogger Award by one of my favorite teachers, Becky Carroll.  Becky is a Customer Experience passionista with some serious credibility.  She also pens a fantastic blog on CX called Customers Rock.  It’s at the top of my blogroll and should be on yours as well. 

Back in February, 2007, Ilker Yoldas started the ball rolling by highlighting blogs that he felt were truly “meaty” with great content.  He started the Thinking Blogs Award to help publicize great blogs.  In keeping with the rules of the meme, I will now share five of my favorites with you.  Following the path back from Becky, I see that many of my favorites have already received the award, so I’m going to attempt to throw some new content into the mix.

Dominic Basulto – Endless Innovation: Dominic’s aptly named blog covers innovation on all fronts.  He brings stories of great innovation  to the conversation and consistently challenges readers to think about approaching innovation as an evolutionary process.

Michael Urlocker - On Disruption: Disruptive shifts within industries are frequently followed by a changing of the guard in terms of industry leaders.  Businesses that aren’t sensing and responding to disruptions that impact them will invariably find themselves struggling.  Michael’s blog is one of the best sources out there for analysis of the disruptions that are occurring right now.

Greg Verdino – Greg Verdino’s Marketing Blog:  Greg has his finger on the pulse of new media channels and is a great source of information about their evolution.  He always shares his perspective and opinion on a story and consistently challenges readers do the same.

Katie Konrath - getFreshMinds:  I just met Katie (virtually) last week.  She visited NextUp after seeing Becky’s award to me in her feed reader.  I’m glad she did, because it allowed me to discover her blog about “Ideas so fresh….  they should be slapped”.  Really great stuff. 

Matt Haverkamp – The Digital Perm: Matt covers advertising and goes a great job of highlighting innovative campaigns and suggesting missed opportunities.  He’s also a bit obsessed with Roger Federer.

So there you go.  If you aren’t already familiar with these great blogs, do yourself a favor and check them out. 

How Will We Live in 30 Years?

Pieter Ardinois visited NextUp today and, as I always do, I went to his blog to check it out.   He has some really great posts about imagination, creativity and new media and I recommend that you read some of them.  He also pointed me to a short film that was made in 1967 by PhilCo-Ford simply entitled “1999 AD”.  It provided an imaginative view of how the “instant society of tomorrow” would live.  They got the basic concepts right: e-commerce, e-mail, e-banking; but some of the tools used are based on the way things were done at the time (letters were generally handwritten so no QWERTY keyboard, just knobs and a handwriting digitizer). Interesting that they did envision flat panel monitors and fast personal printers.  

What stikes me the most about this film is the realization that people in 1999 would be connected and that connectivity would be a major factor in how we would live our lives.  Pieter makes this great observation about the implications for today:

To understand where we’re heading to, it’s really important not to focus on the techniques. We can’t get past short term imagination. It’s important to abstract the possibilities and imagine the impact those possibilities could have on our lives. Imagine that people back in 1967 started to think what impact the global connectivity could have on their daily lives. Not the fact that they could pay bills online, not the fact that they could by a nice shirt, but the abstraction of that all: the fact that they could share knowledge.  When we’re trying to get a grip on the future, I think we need to abstract the habits from their material context and focus on the possibilities. When using those possibilities to design a solution instead of creating a product to a known solution, we’re creating the future.

How will we live in 30 years?? Given my age, I only hope to be living comfortably and healthy with my mind still sharp.  But what about my daughter and her children?  In a world of rapidly accelerating, discontinuous change, we are so busy trying to keep up that we can hardly image what things will be like in 30 years.  How will we live, work, get from place to place, be entertained, conduct commerce, communicate?  How will “local” be defined (actually, thats a good question for today). 

What are your abstract ideas on what the future will look like in 30 years???

Bonus trivia question: do you know who is playing the part of the dad??

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 3

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I’ll be picking up my wife and daughter at the airport this evening.  They wrapped up their marathon 9-day Disney vacation today and I’m sure they will have lots of stories to tell about all the things I missed.  Some I’ve already heard about, like the characters in the latest Castle Court show have mouths and eyes that move.  My daughter said it was “a little freaky”, but to me, adding animation to the typically static character costumes, makes them seem more expressive, more real, especially to the younger guests.   People like to talk about their experiences, both good and bad.  It’s the sharing of these experiences that can make or break a brand over time.  If people tend to talk negatively about their experience with you, you better listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly.  Disney Guests generally have very positive things to say and that reflects the fact that they are externally focused on the customer and their experience.

In this third and final note on my recent Disney experience is going to be a bit of a meandering catch-all, but hopefully you will like it.  The first topic on the agenda is:

Make It Easy For Me

disney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgThere is nothing relaxing about spending a week at Disney.  You are on the go from the minute you wake up (early if you going to that character breakfast at another resort), to the minute you crash following Extra Magic Hours.  Disney has been quite innovative at designing and implementing programs that make it easier for me to get the most out of my experience and gives Disney more opportunities to generate more revenue.  I already mentioned the Magical Express program which, when it works well, makes it really easy to get to and from Orlando airport and saves me lots of cash.  My 40 minutes on the bus each way also gives Disney the chance to market the cruise line or the vaction club to me (in an entertaining way, of course).   

fastpass2.jpgfastpass1.jpgDisney’s Fastpass system is one of the best innovations I have ever seen in an themepark.  If you aren’t familiar with , it is a system introduced in 1999, that allows guests to avoid long lines at Disney theme parks. At an attraction featuring FASTPASS, guests can use their park admission ticket to obtain a FASTPASS ticket (essentially a reservation) with a return time later that day (an hour-long window) printed on it. If the guest comes back to the attraction during the specified return times, the guest can wait in a special line called “FASTPASS Return” and be able to ride on the attraction with a much shorter wait time than normal queue.  This is a “win-win” for both you and Disney.  A guest standing in line is a guest not spending money in the giftshops or restaurants.  By giving me a reservation. I can go do other things, which Disney hopes will involve spending money.

The third Make It Easy For Me innovation is called PhotoPass.  If you’ve been to virtually any big theme park, you know about the gauntlet of park photographers that you have to get past to get into the park.  Disney wasn’t any different until a couple of years ago, as described by Deb Wills on her excellent AllEarsNet website:

Prior to December 2004, Disney photographers were easy to spot and eager to take your photo as you entered the theme park. In fact, their eagerness and zeal could be found quite annoying after a while. I know that some folks really did like this photo opportunity, but to me, there was something about this process that just wasn’t “magical.” Once they took your photograph, you were given a paper card with a number on it. You were instructed to return to the Photo Center in a few hours for the viewing and purchase of your photo. At each location where you had a photo taken, you received yet another paper card. If you were like most people, and waited until the afternoon or, worse, closing time to get your mementos, you found yourself crowded into a small store with the anticipation of a long wait.

Theme Park Photo Pass MachineWith Disney’s PhotoPass system a Disney photographer gives you a plastic PhotoPass card with a magnetic strip and an ID number on the back. Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card — they’ll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go.  When you’re ready to view your pictures, you can either go to the Photo Center at the park or wait until you can get online at your resort or back home.

These guys are really good and will often get you in creative poses.  While I enjoy taking my own pictures, we hardly ever get shots of the whole family.  PhotoPass makes it easy to get great family pictures.  The cost per print is a little high for me, but there is no obligation to buy any of them. 

I should point out that Disney has been listening to their customers and has made several significant improvements to the program over the last 2 years including integrating the system into the several major attractions like TestTrack.

No Negative Surprises

We experienced two of these on this trip.  First, we went to MGM Studios of Father’s Day because I am totally addicted to Rockin Rollercoaster.  I have been known to ride it back to back for hours on a slow day.  We came through security, ran our passes through the scanner and entered the park.  Once we were inside there was a sign posted saying that Rockin Rollercoaster would be closed all day…….  on Father’s Day……. when dads should be able to do what they want like ride Rockin Rollercoaster!  I later found out why it was closed, but they really picked the wrong day for it.  What’s worse is that they didn’t have the notice posted outside of the park.  I’m sure there were people who used up a day on their pass only to be disappointed.  The reason it was closed was that they were adding a single rider line.  I came back the next day and was able to ride it 6 times in an hour – w00t.

Second, Disney notified us the night before we left that they would not be able to honor our reservations for the second half of the week at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Althought the reservations were made months ago, the construction of the new Vacation Club villas has closed parts of the resort.  Disney offered to put us in villa accomodations in the Downtown Disney area, but having a kitchen is not the same experience as having giraffes outside your balcony.  They eventually upgraded us to a better room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we didn’t have this resolved until the day we were supposed to move.

Be True To Your Brand

I was in the Magic Kingdom and had just watched a stage show at the castle.  All of these shows follow a similar formula:  The good guys vs. the bad guys with Mickey saving the day plus a princess or two thrown in for good measure.  Like the show format, the musical style for these productions hasn’t changed much from what was typical when Disneyland opened in 1955.  While there have been a number of attractions replaced or updated through the years, the feel is still the same.  Disney has built some pretty intense attractions in the other Disney World parks, but not in the Magic Kingdom.  Traditionally, the Disney brand begins to fall off for boys at about 9 or 10 years old and girls a bit older. This is a hole in Disney’s guest demographics that they would love to fill.   I was Twittering pretty much through the trip and posed the question:

Would putting a hyper-coaster in the magic kingdom make it more attractive for teens or would it be inconsistent with the park’s brand?

I got a couple of responses with opinions on both sides, but in general, the feeling was that it would fundamentally change the park and that would not be a good thing (can you say “New Coke”).  As Tim Siedell pointed out, “Universal caters to that age and crowd (thrill coasters) and the Magic Kingdom pounds them in attendance.” 

So a couple of takaways from this final post on Disney World:

  1. Look for opportunities to make it easier for your customers to enjoy their experience.  Don’t assume these will add costs to you operation.  As Disney has shown, “Make It Easy” innovations can be win-wins.
  2. While Surprise and Delight is good, Negative Surprises are not.  Be vigilant about identifying and addressing potential negative surprises before the customer encounters them and when they do happen, have alternatives and solutions ready that will meet or exceed the customers needs.
  3. Be careful about introducing changes that fundamentally change your brand.  You may be able to attract some new customers, but you may also lose some of what makes your experience special in the first place.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Walt Disney World is a great case study for people passionate about customer experience design.  I’d love to hear your thought on Disney World.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 2

Disney’s parks and resorts have a well deserved reputation for delivering great experiences. In tonight’s installment, I’ll give you a few more examples from my recent trip and also examine some experiences that don’t measure up to the Disney standard.

Extend the Experience

wdw_magical_express.jpgI have written about Disney’s Magical Express before. This is the service that basically extends your Disney experience all the way back to your home airport. It’s absolutely great when it works, but on the inbound leg of this trip, it did not live up to the Disney standard. I think the problems can be traced back to the fact that Disney does not operate this service. It is outsourced to a local transportation company and therefore is not directly managed by Disney. It’s not unusual for companies to outsource parts of their operation, but they need to be very careful about ensuring that the service provider is consistently delivering an experience that lives up to your brand. My wife and I came in on different flights. English was apparently a second language for my driver and so he was silent for most of the trip. The buses have TV screens and on previous trips, there has been either a movie like Snow White or a video marketing the Disney Vacation Club. On this trip, there was nothing. It was just a bus ride.

My wife and daughter arrived around 3:00pm. While their trip seemed to measure up to the Disney Experience, trouble was just around the corner. Knowing that their luggage was tagged and would be delivered to the room, we went to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. When we returned to the room at 1:00am, we discovered that our daughter’s suitcase was missing. With her in tears, we called the Magical Express people who were able to locate the bag at the airport in about 5 minutes. They brought it to the room around 3:00am.

There are controls built into this system that should have prevented this from happening. The bag had the Magical Express tag on it indicating who it belonged to and what resort we were staying at. It should not have taken a phone call for them to recognize and resolve the problem. Disney needs to do a much better job of ensuring that their service providers are consistently delivering an experience worthy of the Disney brand. On the positive side, my return trip to the airport was wonderful. The driver was one of the better entertainers that I had seen all week. Oh, and about the lack of movies on the inbound trip, the driver explained that it was a brand new bus (styled for the Disney Cruise Line), and the video gear had not been installed yet. Setting expectations is a good thing!

Let Me Co-Create the Experience

monsters-inc-laugh-floor-co.jpgIn recent years, Disney has incorporated more and more interactivity into their attractions. EPCOT’s Mission Space, for example, assigns roles and tasks to each of the riders on “the mission”. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in Disneyland allows you to not only rack up the points when you’re riding it in person, but also to participate through an online component. The Turtle Talk with Crush attraction uses digital puppetry to create a verbally and visually interactive animated character. A new attraction in Orlando’s Tomorrowland is Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Like TurtleTalk but on a much larger scale, the Laugh Floor features interactive animated characters, but in this attraction, Disney has gone one step further by integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you wait in line for the next show, you are asked to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. I saw lots of people, mostly kids, texting jokes while waiting for the show. We did it; they used our joke and gave credit to our daughter. What’s really different here is the use of an independent, guest-owned electronic input device to influence the content of an attraction.

I’ll post the rest of my observations tomorrow, but in the meantime, think about how these points might apply to your business. If you are in the business of delivering experiences (hint… you are!), what are you doing to extend the brand experience beyond the boundaries of your physical or digital space. If you are using partners to deliver some of you brand’s experience, are they executing consistently and at a level that your customers expect? Are you engaging your customers by allowing them to help you co-create the experience? You should be.

Part 3 of this series is here.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 1

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I’ve been computer-free for the last week spending time with the family at Walt Disney World, hence the absence of new posts. I was Twittering throughout the trip, much to the dismay of my wife and daughter, and even raised the ire of our waitress at the Prime Time Cafe (more on that later). You can go to my Twitter page (see link in the sidebar) if you want to relive my vacation tweet by tweet.

Disney is one of the world’s greatest marketers and their parks and resorts make great case studies in a number of areas including engagement and customer experience design, marketing and new media. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to discuss some of my recent experiences, both good and bad.

Surprise & Delight

Every year, Disney selects a theme and aligns all of their park and resort operations around it. This year, is”The Year of A Million Dreams” and to help “make your dreams come true”, Disney is having their cast members randomly give out over a million “dreams” including chances to spend the night in Cinderella’s castle, “Dream Fastpass” badges which gives you unlimited access to all major attractions bypassing the waiting line and a Grand Marshall Tour of Disney parks around the world.

There are no contests to enter, or disclosing of contact information. Someone just walks up to you and makes you a winner. You just need to be in the right place at the right time and even the cast members don’t know the when, where or what of the giveaway until just before it happens. I met several people who were given dream Fastpass badges and they were ecstatic about it. The really enjoyed telling their stories to anyone who would listen. And consider how much fun it is for the cast members to be able to execute the giveaways. That has to help with cast member engagement. Surprising & Delighting your customers is an important ingredient in the creating great experiences that your customers will tell others about.

Make Individuals Feel Special

Speaking of engagement, Disney cast members are almost universally programmed to react to badges that special guests wear, My daughter had her 13th birthday while we were there and so we went to the City hall in the Magic Kingdom to get a birthday badge. From that moment on, virtually every cast member that we encountered made it a point to wish her a happy birthday. Every table service restaurant that we went to, brought out a birthday cupcake without us having to ask. Of course, my daughter loved the attention so much that she continued to wear the badge long after her birthday. This is a great example of how to make a customer feel special without having to spend a lot of financial capital.

Reward Me For My Patronage

At Disney, different levels of commitment come with different perks. For example, purchasing an annual pass (which is roughly the cost of 8 days in the parks), gets you some serious discounts on Disney Resort hotels. Staying at Disney resort hotels comes with their own set of rewards, not the least of which is convenience. A couple of years ago, Disney started offering Extra Magic Hours at the parks for guests staying at Disney hotels. The program gets you into the parks an hour earlier and allows you to stay up to 2 hours after closing. Disney gets 3 additional hours of access to your wallet and you get a couple of extra rides on your favorite attraction. To the uninitiated, this is a pretty good reason to stay on Disney property. If you are a regular guest like I am, you know the real secret is to stay away from the park that has early entry because that’s where the crowds are going to be. With this program, Disney rewards their Resort guests with a tangible benefit.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into some other topics like how Disney is involving the customer in co-creating the experience. In the meantime, think about the experiences you create for your customers. Do you Surprise & Delight? Do you make your customers feel special? Do you reward them for their patronage? If you do, great. If you don’t, perhaps you should take a trip to Disney World and learn a few lessons from Walt and Mickey.

Part 2 of this series is here.

Check Out BrandingWire

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Ironically, I have not had as much time to blog now that I am back in the job market. I do; however, have time to refer you to a great new collaborative blog called BrandingWire.   The team that writes BrandingWire is made up of 12 marketing experts with a wide variety of branding, marketing, PR and communications skills. The pundits of BrandingWire not only maintain individual content-loaded blogs, but also have banded together to collaboratively offer perspectives and commentary on a variety of branding themes. Several of their personal blogs are listed in my blogroll.

Each month, they will focus their creative bandwidth on a particular branding challenge or topic, and collectively give their perspectives on how they would apply best branding practices.

Check them out!

Brand Engagement – LOST

I love ABC’s LOST.  The characters are full of flaws (human) and maybe that’s why its easy to get attached to them.  The show’s production is excellent and the storyline carefully allows the mysteries to age before revealing the truth (which often comes with another mystery).  I’ve written before about the many channels used by the producers to extend the Lost experience and the amazing amount of user-generated content related to the series.  OK, hold that thought.

My daughter will be 13 next week.  As someone who loves to observe marketing and consumers, it’s been fascinating to watch her develop as a consumer.  Like most young girls, Disney princesses were a big part of her young life.  She had the costumes and pretended to be them (Snow White was her favorite).  As she grew up, she moved through other branded entertainment properties, many of which got the same high level of engagement.  She practiced singing Britney Spears and Michelle Branch songs, learned all the lines and songs from Wicked, and with each brand that she became engaged with, her friends usually got engaged too. 

Last year, I got her to watch the LOST series premier on DVD.  After ten minutes, she was hooked and we proceeded to watch the first 2 seasons at a clip of 3-4 shows a night.  This season, LOST is her obsession.  She reads the blogs and Wikis, buys magazines with LOST stories, and has uncovered connections in the plot that I was not aware of.  As with everything in her life, she has shared her obsession with her friends and many of them are now hooked.

A few months ago, she made a movie about the Apple store and I wrote about it here.   Yesterday, she made another movie.  This time its short montage about a character from LOST named Charlie Pace who died in the season finale.  I’m sure that there is a fair amount of parental pride influencing my assessment of her work, but I think it’s really good.  She has mixed music, images, words, and footage from the series together to tell a story about Charlie as if he were a real person.  After she loaded it up to YouTube, I did a search to find it and was astonished to see that there were over 6400 user generated videos tagged with “Charlie Pace”! 

To me this is real brand engagement.  It’s one thing to have original user generated content, but for entertainment brands to have their consumers turning out content about their content, something special is going on.

Is this just me or do you see examples of this too?  If it’s a real phenomenon, what should the entertainment brands be doing with that content and it’s creators?  Can they drive the engagement even higher by interacting with these mavens?  How much could the brand grow if these people were encouraged to be advocates for the brand? 

Trust Lost – Round 2

best_buy_logo_svg.pngOn the heels of their problems in Connecticut, Best Buy is now facing another scandal that could cost them tens of millions of dollars, and more importantly, further damage their credibility in the eyes of the consumer.  The problem stems from a lawsuit, filed in 2003, which accused Best Buy of signing up at least 100,000 customers for trial subscriptions to Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Internet service from 1999 to 2003, in many cases without their knowledge. Once the trial period ended, the customers began incurring credit card charges they had not approved.

Today, it was reported that a lawyer for Best Buy Co. has acknowledged that he falsified e-mails and a memo before turning them over to plaintiffs in the nationwide class-action lawsuit.

Trust is a key ingredient in Loyalty.  If you act against the best interest of your customer for you own internal gain, you run the risk of losing both.

Niche Marketing: Narrow, Not Small

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An article published today in Advertising Age really resonated with me. It makes the case that the maturing marketplace, combined with the hyper-connected, in-control consumer “has created a seismic shift from one-size-fits-all mass markets to millions of markets of self interest.” That assessment carries huge implications for retailers who are trying to move product that was once a specialty, but is now a commodity. Strategy consultants Booz Allen Hamilton explain it this way:

As every market matures, choice increases. Then competition drives up quality and convenience to the point at which offerings become commoditized. The only businesses that then thrive are those that move beyond “me-too” or incremental offerings to marketing more-relevant and more-differentiated products and services. The only way to accomplish this is to focus on a narrower target.

Technology & The Long Tail

Technology has played a major role in facilitating this shift. Marketers are now able to micro-target specific groups, engage customers with more frequency and intimacy, and customize to consumer specs. Moreover, technology has enabled consumers with the tools to seek out suppliers that offer just the thing they want.

Think about it. If you are a retailer focused on selling lots of stuff to lots of very different people, you are probably fighting a loosing war of diminishing margins, market share and profitability. On the other hand, brands that have figured out how to excel at attracting and keeping loyal a narrowly focused niche will probably continue to do well. And why is that? Once you, the customer, has experienced having your ever-increasing levels of self-interests met by a niche provider, you have a hard time going back. For example, why would I continue to go back to a retailer for accessories that I know from previous experience, they probably will not have (not even on their website).

As even a senior Wal-Mart official recently said, “no customer today will stand to be treated as part of a mass market anymore.”
This is a major disruption and marketers who fail to respond to it quickly will suffer. According to Advertising Age, the value propositions of those who ignore niche marketing…

“…will be less relevant than those of competitors. For those slow to adopt niche marketing, the future also is bleak. Attempts to recoup share will be difficult because competitors will have preemptively established closer customer relationships.’

A number of brands and marketers have embraced niche marketing. Names like Target, Crocs, Red Bull and American Girl. The all have the same objectives as any other marketer, but they have sensed the disruption and have responded by finding a new way of going to market.

Narrow, not Small

The other thing that has changed is what niche marketing really means in today’s environment. It’s still “the targeting of a more narrowly defined customer group seeking a distinctive mix of benefits”, but niche markets are not the “marginal opportunity” that they were once viewed to be. Today, niches are viewed much more positively.

In today’s marketplace, niches are flourishing. Some niche brands are generating hundreds of millions in sales. Sometimes, narrow niches, fueled by mavens and connectors, become the next big, disruptive thing. The big point of the article is that niches should not be equated with small. Instead, think of narrow. Then target very specific groups who will relate to and find differentiation in your offering. At this point, you are no longer a commodity and you can increase your margins by charging a premium. Do this over and over with different products and services, and you can generate volume and growth that makes up for your narrow targets.

Smaller targets, larger focus
Ten years ago, the medium was still the message. Eight years ago, we could still think of the 4P’s — product, pricing, place, promotion — as essentially independent strategies. Five years ago, everyone started to buzz about customer-relationship marketing. About two years ago, we got really excited about digital-marketing tactics and started to apply them without any real strategic purpose. All this has changed.

So what’s really new about the new niche marketing? It’s realizing that while our targets have to narrow, our definition of marketing communications has to broaden. Today, everything communicates what a brand stands for, all the time.

It’s like the old saying: If you are on the wrong train to begin with, every stop along the way is the wrong stop.

The article closes with 10 principle to harness the power of niche marketing:

  1. Position your brand as narrowly as is economically possible.
  2. Become the specialist that anticipates the needs of your target.
  3. Rapidly work with the target niche to co-innovate.
  4. Set as your goal such consumer centricity that the target niche will want to co-brand their identity with yours.
  5. Live by a higher standard of ethics.
  6. Embrace a business model and metrics that grow the most valuable assets of the new niched economy.
  7. Reap first-mover advantage by learning how to identify a niche of opportunity.
  8. Re-imagine your role as that of entrepreneurial founder of a special interest group.
  9. Forget push marketing; excel at pull marketing.
  10. Realize your brand is now “media” competing against all other media

What do you think? Does this make sense to you ? Can you think of companies that could immediately benefit from leveraging niche marketing?

(Source: Advertising Age)

The New Delta

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A few weeks ago, there was considerable buzz about the Delta Airlines Twitter page. There were initial hopes that Delta might actually be behind it. In the end, it appeared to have been a Delta employee, but whether he/she was acting alone or for the company is not known. The page has been quiet for 2 weeks so one can assume that the experiment is over. That said, It looks like Delta is trying some new ways of connecting with their customers and adding value to the travel experience.

Today, I was invited to check out their new microsite: Siteseer Travelcast. It contains short video travelcasts of featured destinations presented by delta employees. Think about the air travel experience. It’s generally unpleasant. You do it for the destination. When you are traveling to an unfamiliar place, its great to get suggestions from people who have been there on what to do, where to eat, etc. Does Delta have untapped assets that they could use to provide this guidance to their customers? You bet they do! Flight attendants, pilots, ground crew live in most of Delta’s featured destinations and know the landscape. Now I am not naive enough to believe that there isn’t some “paid for” placement of advertising for the shops and restaurants presented in some of these videos. Nevertheless, I’m getting some really useful information presented with a human face, and that helps me to engage with the brand.

Siteseer is only one element of Delta’s new customer focused approach. On their website is a link to another microsite that discusses all of the innovations they are currently testing. Things like zoned seating, language lessons, RFID baggage tags, restaurant buzzers, etc. It also has a place for you to leave your ideas or travel tips and the plan is for the site to evolve into a truly collaborative forum:

Delta.com/change represents a whole new way for Delta to connect with the global community and, ultimately, redefine the travel experience. Out of the gate, this site will serve as an informative tool, tracking all the exciting changes going on with us and showcasing travel tips and ideas from people like you.

Very soon, though, it will evolve into something truly collaborative—truly revolutionary.

We envision a forum for open, honest dialogue between airline and air traveler. A place where your ideas may very well influence how we operate in the future. And a stockpile of user-generated tips that will make travel more enjoyable and sane for us all.

All of this is really good stuff and I applaud Delta on the steps they are taking. From a Sense & Respond standpoint, they are really reaching out to Sense what their customers want them to be. The challenge will be for them to consistently deliver all of these great new innovations while at the same time, getting the basics right. I have not flown on Delta in over a year. Perhaps you have. Have you noticed a difference in Delta?

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