What makes a story stick around? Why do we enjoy hearing some stories again and again? More importantly, how do you turn your brand into a story? And how do you make your story tweetable, i.e., told in 140 characters or less? Let’s look at the ancient story of “David and Goliath.” It’s remarkably sticky. Having been around for more than 10,000 years, it continues to find its way into TV shows, movies, the news, and media ads. It’s easy to remember because it’s simple: brave little guy uses pebble and slingshot to take down giant (61 characters). This story sticks because of the emotions it arouses in us. We feel both anger and fear toward Goliath, the bully, and we cheer for the brave and wily David. David is who we hope we will be if we ever encounter a giant.
Americans are said to love underdogs—in the form of horses with long odds, sports franchises that upset favorites, and nimble brands that unseat lumbering giants. Apple understands this, and its 30-second media ads (http://www.apple.com/getamac/ads/) reflect Apple’s view of itself as a David up against Microsoft’s Goliath. At number 71 on the 2009 Fortune 500 list compared to Microsoft’s number 35, Apple is hardly a David, but its ads are entertaining because almost everyone wants to throw a virtual punch at Microsoft. Who hasn’t experienced Microsoft as a Goliath? If your brand comes across as a David, you will be cheered in the marketplace. What you don’t want to be seen as is a Goliath.
But there’s a problem. Thanks to social media, you no longer own your story—or your brand. Your customers have taken over managing your brand, and they’re having a great time (and drawing a crowd) on YouTube. If your customers cast you as Goliath, it’s going to hurt. If you think I’m exaggerating, watch United Breaks Guitars on YouTube. It’s a four-minute song written and performed by a professional musician whose guitar was broken by United baggage handlers while he was on his way to a gig. Posted in July 2009, it got over 24,000 hits in the first 24 hours and to date, has been watched more than 6 million times.
You can’t buy that much media exposure. Furthermore, you—as vendor/marketer—aren’t the best storyteller for your brand. As marketers, we think we have to tell our stories, but we rarely seem to do it in a way that spreads naturally and easily. Only customers can tell your story with the emotional underpinnings that attract other customers. What makes a customer eager to tweet their friends about your brand? Having an emotionally satisfying experience in your store or your restaurant.
How do you deliver an emotionally engaging customer experience? You make your customer’s experience your primary business goal. You learn to frame what you do in terms of the outcome most important to your customer. Think about what a customer is really seeking when he walks into your store to buy a new shirt. He needs shirts. What he wants is to feel great at work. When your frontline employees really understand this, then act to deliver a buying experience and not just another sale, and practice aligning with customers’ desired emotional outcomes every day in every store, you will have all the word-of-mouth advertising you could ever hope for.
Consider Apple’s approach to the customer experience. We know from its ads that Apple is targeting PC users. Recently, I purchased a new Mac after an 11-year hiatus without any Apple product. The experience of going to the Apple store was as equally enticing as using the products. The Apple sales support staff knows the store’s products inside and out, and if a customer wants more training, it’s for sale: $100 for 50 hours, or $2 per hour. The training happens in the store, and it obviously represents a significant cost to the company in terms of the employee expense, overhead, and missed opportunity for traditional training revenue. But, by offering training on an as-much-as-you-can-learn basis makes perfect sense in the context of Apple’s well-designed customer experience. Apple competes on customer satisfaction, and the faster a customer gets up to speed, the more satisfied s/he is. What’s really important to a customer buying a laptop? Personal productivity. What might cause a customer to hesitate about switching from a PC to a Mac? Anxiety about the loss of productivity. The customer wants an anxiety-free transition, and Apple delivers it (by phone, in-store, or online) at a price that represents an incremental charge of less than 5% on top of the computer purchase price.
Apple’s investment in retail has paid off phenomenally in revenue and shareholder value. Here is a revenue comparison, from 2006, across four major brands, expressed in dollars ($) per square foot:
Kroger* Neiman Marcus Best Buy Tiffany & Co. Apple
~$475 $611 $930 $2,666 $4,032
Between 2008 and 2009, Apple jumped 32 places on the Fortune 500 list as its capitalization increased from $157 billion to $184 billion. Moreover, according to company documents, for the fiscal quarter ending September 26, 2009, Apple posted revenue of $9.87 billion and a net quarterly profit of $1.67 billion, or $1.82 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $7.9 billion and a net quarterly profit of $1.14 billion, or $1.26 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. I believe coupling great products with a great customer experience have something to do with these very strong shareholder returns.
In fact, Apple is so good at retail customer experience that it has been hired by Disney to put the magic back into its retail encounters. Editor James Bickers first reported on this on October 13, 2009, at http://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/article.php?id=1421.
In my next article, I’ll be diving a little deeper into experience design. In the meantime, practice translating your products and services into the outcomes that are important to your customers. Remember to include the emotional effects. These are as important to your customers as the tangible product or service you provide.
May all your customers tweet happily ever after.
*Data for Kroger’s revenue per square foot is from 2008.