Principle 6: “That’s Interesting, Tell Me More.”

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We reached Principle 6 of Miller’s book “Sticky Branding” called “That’s Interesting. Tell Me More.” The words every small business owner loves to hear, but, according to Miller, pose one of the greatest obstacles in the sales process. I couldn’t agree more. Indifference is our enemy. This is partly due to the overwhelming amount of information in the marketplace, but partly because […] customers will primarily choose what they already know.” […] They select options they are already comfortable with.” (page 94) So the big question now is: how do we get not-yet-buyers to know us and, ultimately, feel comfortable doing business with us? The short answer is: by engaging them, by standing out, and by giving them a good reason to stick with us.

To better understand what this could look like, let’s take one of Miller’s examples: Muldoon’s Coffee . I find it’s a brilliant example. Let’s go. 

Muldoon’s coffee is a coffee roastery and corporate coffee service, delivering high quality coffee with an environmentally friendly brewing system. In the early 2000s they noticed a tremendous growth in specialty coffee houses such as Starbucks. Muldoon’s conclusion: people crave a good cup of coffee. Taking this a step further, they noticed that many professionals left their offices just to buy a good cup of coffee. Further research revealed that each employee spends approximately 125 hours per year buying their good cup of coffee from a coffee place vs. drinking the coffee in their office. Armed with this insight, Muldoon’s developed a single-serve environmentally friendly brewing system and coffee pouches.

Now let’s see how they translated this into a storyline that would attract and also engage their prospective customers. Instead of bragging about their coffee, they chose to talk about the “corporate productivity drain,” and that “6% of [business] payroll is walking out of the door for coffee” (page 97), and they then posed the question “Why go out for coffee?” These phrases struck a nerve with business owners and employees alike and created a water-cooler moment. For the latter to lament about their office coffee and for business owners to question whether it’s worth losing employee productivity and money over a cup of coffee. A situation that could easily be fixed with Muldoon’s environmentally friendly brewing system. 

The point I’m trying to make is that the “conversation” Muldoon’s started wasn’t about their coffee, but related to coffee and coffee breaks. It resonated with their prospective customers and allowed for a conversation. Do you remember the headline of this blog? “That’s Interesting. Tell Me More.” With a conversation you draw your prospective customer in. You give them something to talk about. You let them know that you understand them and their problems. And along the way they get to know you. What kind of product or service do you sell? What is important to your customers? What conversation could you start to convince prospective customers? 

Miller distinguishes between three elements that are equally important to start and keep this conversation going. You need: 

  1. A topic that you know well and that draws from your company’s core skills and assets. (Expertise) 
  2. A topic you’re passionate about and can take a stance on. (Strong Opinion)
  3. A topic that resonates with your market and encourages others to participate. (Point of Sharing) 

Here is how Muldoon’s are doing it. They exploit the fact that many office coffee makers brew inferior coffee and, in doing so, show that they understand their market and pain point of their prospective customers; employees who leave the office to get a good cup of coffee and business owners who lose employee productivity and money because of it. 

Based on their research and insights they take a strong stance and use it to their advantage. Why leave the office to get a good cup of coffee… if we have a great solution for you. But they don’t say it, they only imply it. 

And if that wouldn’t convince a prospective customer or business owner, Muldoon’s add that their brewing system is environmentally friendly. A value and world view many can relate to. “Shared values are broad topics and usually revolve around the environment, religion, equality, human rights, or preventing poverty. […] People not only love to talk about their values, they like to work with others to act on them.” (page 103)

Muldoon’s pulls all three elements together beautifully. They show their expertise and understanding for their customers, they are passionate about it and did research that could lead to a win-win-situation for both employees and business owners, and their topics resonated with their audience. Talking or, better, lamenting about the poor taste of coffee in the office kitchen is a water-cooler moment. 

There is another example in the book worth mentioning. It’s about a three-minute video titled “Real Beauty Sketches” that was created by Dove in 2013. It is about how women perceive themselves vs. how others see them. The first day, an FBI-trained forensic sketch artist draws pictures of women based on their self-perception and description, the second day the forensic sketch artist creates a drawing of the same women described by a stranger. Referring back to the three elements described above, this video fulfilled all three. It was bold, defying the common beauty paradigm and used normal women for a beauty campaign instead of models. In an homage to women and every woman’s beauty, Dove took a stance by putting this message into pictures. And the fact that it was viewed over thirty million times and shared over 660,000 times is a clear indicator that it resonated with their audience and was worth sharing and talking about.    

On a little side note: If you need a little boost–and who doesn’t right now?–watch the video LINK. I hope it will make you pause for a moment and consider how you look at your reflection in the mirror and how someone else may see you. Look at the women in the video and their reaction. I feel it speaks volumes. 

After this little detour, let’s get back and wrap this principle up. Do you have other suggestions on how to overcome the indifference trap? What are you doing to persuade prospective clients to become customers? How do you get them to listen? 

I can’t wait to read about your suggestions and thoughts in the comments below. 

Talk to you next week.

Principle 5: Total Customer Experience

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Are you ready for Principle 5 about “Total Customer Experience”? If you haven’t read my previous blogs and would like to catch up, just start here.

Ready? Off to Principle 5. What does Miller mean by “Total Customer Experience”? The following sentence covers it in a few words: “It doesn’t matter what the company promotes, it’s what the customer experiences that counts. […] Sticky Brands provide their customers [with] compelling experiences that keep them coming back.” (page 82)

By now, I believe it is abundantly clear that emotions are a main driver in our customers’ decision process. It is not enough for us to tell them how great our product or service is, our customers have to feel the difference between you and your competition. Do you only say you care, or do you really care?

Having a sweet tooth and loving Belgian chocolate, Miller’s example really resonated with me. The words he used in describing his experience with the Canadian Chocolatier Purdys speak volumes.

Miller went to one of Purdys’s retail stores, “a chocolate lover’s paradise,” (page 84) located in a busy train station late on a Friday afternoon. Entering the store he felt that “the chocolates engage [his] sense of taste and smell,” (page 85) but he was very “surprised that a retail associate, her name is Nora, would spark a conversation in such a busy environment” and ask him about his favorite chocolate. (page 85) In response he was given two samples, and their conversation continued about the chocolates.

The simple gesture and genuine curiosity “What is your favorite?” […] “may seem a little mundane” because “any retailer can ask [this] question. But the fact is, most don’t.” (page 86) The “authentic curiosity” that Miller felt is “an anomaly” (page 87) and transformed his chocolate purchase into a compelling experience. Very simple, but extremely powerful.

Don’t we often say: “The devil lies in the detail?” So often it’s the little things that can make all the difference and, in this case, they don’t even cost a dime. I frequently hear that businesses should strive to delight their customers and exceed their expectations; most don’t. And most of the time it’s, as mentioned above, the little things that are missing. One of my favorite examples is the difference between going shopping at Trader Joe’s and ShopRite. Just to be clear, I don’t get any commission for writing this, but at Trader Joe’s the staff goes out of their way to help me find a product; they even check their new deliveries if it’s not on the shelf. At ShopRite I’m lucky if the employee doesn’t walk away when I approach.

You, as a small business owner or entrepreneur, have it in your hands to make your customer feel special and important. There are a million different ways to do it. Listen to your customers and be proactive. They’ll tell you what they want. Or ask them what they miss or what they struggle with, help them, and you are well on your way. As mentioned in my previous blog , humans are hard-wired to notice differences. Use it to your advantage.

How does Purdys manage their customer experience? They sell their premium chocolates only in Purdys stores and online. They hire the right people and train them to be Purdys chocolate ambassadors. I don’t know Purdys or their chocolate, but I’m pretty certain that their sales staff loves chocolate as much as their customers.

Enough about chocolate (at least for now). Let’s look at some other companies that have a great reputation with their customers. How about Apple, Virgin, Tesla or Starbucks? How about Trader Joe’s and Mini Cooper? Each adds their own flavor to an excellent customer experience. And that is exactly what makes them Sticky Brands, brands their customers come back to over and over again. They are by no means perfect, and they don’t have to be. But they add their personality at each customer touchpoint, and their customers talk about them.

Coming back to my introductory sentence, it’s not about what a company says, it’s about what they do and how they make you, the customer, feel. What is your special skill that makes you better than anybody else in your industry? What do you do better than anybody else? Let’s sum it up with Miller’s own words: “Each place your customers engage with your brand is an opportunity to create a compelling experience. Look at all your customer touchpoints: website, apps, your facilities, salespeople, customer service, your products, marketing material, and any other place your customer may come in contact with your brand. Each of these points is an opportunity to engage your customers and enhance their experience.” (page 91)

Over to you now. Where can you engage with your customer? What can you do to support them in a more meaningful way or make it easier for them? Let me hear what you have learned and what you are planning to do in the comments below.

If you’d like to read more about this topic you should check out the article “Branding Through Customer Service” by Carole Mancuso of Brand Building for Small Business.

Until next week

Principle 4: Engage the Eye

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Continuing our reading journey of Sticky Branding, we reached Principle 4. In case you missed the first three principles, you can find them on my website. It starts with a brief Introduction to the book and continues on a weekly basis with Principle 1, 2 and 3.

Let’s dive into Principle 4 and the law of attraction. 

Whether we want it or not, there is something about the first couple of seconds that shapes our opinion of someone or something that we can’t deny. 

I still remember the first time I consciously saw a Mini Cooper. I fell in love with this cute, colorful, and spirited little car. Each time I saw one I got all excited. I associated a lot of positive feelings with it even before I had driven one. 

When Miller writes “Attraction is magic” (page 67) his words exactly describe my emotional experience with the Mini. Attraction plays to our primal instincts and our lizard brain. In other words, we can’t avoid its grasp. If we find something attractive we notice it, we’re drawn to it. We like to associate ourselves with these products or groups or persons because they reflect who we are, they are part of our identity. Miller writes: “We also choose products and brands to enhance our own sense of self-worth.” (page 67) Guilty as charged. Here’s a little example from my world: 

I’m sure you’ll agree that a Mini Cooper is mostly a fun car. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you intend to drive kids to soccer practice or if you need to go grocery shopping the car quickly reaches its limits. Knowing this full well, I still couldn’t resist its charms and bought one. I loved it because I could customize it to my liking, when I ordered it (yes, I had to wait eight excruciating weeks before I could pick it up), the sales rep made a couple of great suggestions that I incorporated (no, it didn’t cost more money), but most importantly, each time I drove my little Mini, it was pure joy for me. I loved every moment of it, and getting into the car and driving it made my day. 

My favorite car, my cinnamon and black Mini Cooper

Why is this so important, especially if we’re thinking about prospective customers? Because we judge products or services at every visual touch point. In a blink of an eye, we decide if we like a product and find it worth a second look. This very first impression guides our next move: are we interested, or are we not interested? Did the visual presentation catch our attention or not? Did it tell the right story? And for our purpose: how do I tell my visual brand story. It’s not just about the logo or color; it’s about all visual aspects of your product or service. It’s about the font on your website, images, icons, the overall design of your website or printed material, the navigation of your website, and all your marketing material such as brochures, flyers, newsletters… you name it.

Every one of these components tells a story, and, when combined, they tell your (prospective) customer your story. What you stand for, what you are like and what your product is like. The more unique you are, the easier it will be for customers to distinguish you from the crowd. To pick you or your service for a reason.

In order to find your uniqueness you have to dig deep. Miller recommends to work with metaphors. They are universally known and easily understood. They help us make sense of the world and our experiences and guide our actions. One of the best known ones is the hero story: Harry Potter, Star Wars and the like. But don’t drift into clichés. Dig deep, and find what really matters to you and your customers. Miller quotes Gerald Zaltman from his book “How Customers Think”: “Marketers who wish to influence the stories that consumers create must build stories around archetypes, not stereotypes. A story built around an archetype involves a universal theme, that is, a core or deep metaphor simultaneously embedded in a unique setting.” Zaltman distinguishes between seven deep metaphors which he labels: balance (or imbalance), transformation, journey, container, connection, resource, and control. (page 74) 

LEAPJob, Miller’s own company, researched where career transition and job-hunting fit in with these seven metaphors. His team often heard words like “I’m stuck” or “change directions” or “go down a new path” and realized that a career transition or job change is a journey. The next step for LEAPJob was to determine how they could help their clients on this journey. They found that they often used the words “We don’t just guide salespeople to find their next job, we help them leapfrog to the next stage in their career.” (page 74) The words “leap” and “leapfrog” became the basis for their visual identity, and Leapy the Frog, their mascot, was born.

To make the point here, a strong visual identity tells your story and speaks to your customers on an emotional level. It attracts their eyes and tells them without words what experience your company will deliver. Like in Principle 1 “Simple Clarity,” simplicity is queen. Pay close attention to any feedback, especially when testing different versions. Ask industry outsiders what they see, what they feel, and what story your images tell them. 

Did I mention that Sticky Branding is an ongoing process? That’s also true for your visual brand identity. Like fashion, it has a shelf life. Not only because styles change over time, but also because you, your company or your offering may have changed. You want your brand identity to look fresh, inviting and up-to-date. Miller says: “Make your business stand out by really working to enhance the visual appeal of your brand. Look to each customer touch point – website, marketing materials, your products, your office, and any other areas your customer engages with regularly – and consider how you can deliver a compelling visual experience.” (page 78)

Before I close this chapter, let’s have a final look at the questions you should ask yourself when creating your visual brand identity. They are mainly the headlines from Miller’s exercise section: 

  1. Pick a story
  2. Select pictures
  3. Share your story
  4. Listen to the feedback
  5. Find common phrases
  6. Identify your deep metaphors
  7. Pick your metaphors

Now it’s your turn. How did you come up with the pictures, colors, font, etc. for your brand? Do you find Miller’s approach helpful or did you take a different approach for your visual presentation? Please let me know in the comments below. 

Until next week

Principle 3: Function that Resonates

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Today I’d like to talk about Principle 3 of Miller’s book “Sticky Branding.” But before I do, here’s a quick recap of the previous Principles.

  • Principle 1 was about clarity and its importance for helping prospective customers in their decision-making process. If you want to refresh your memory, go here.
  • Principle 2 was about consistency in our messaging, which means saying no to opportunities that don’t fit. Here is my take on this principle.

So, let’s move on to Principle 3 and what Miller means by “Function that Resonates.” In a nutshell: products or services of sticky brands must be intuitive, easy to use, and work. And you should strive to always over-deliver and wow your customer. In Miller’s words: “Sticky Brands are positioned to win, because they have a clear understanding of how they deliver value to clients, and they invest in the operational excellence to deliver on those needs.” (page 62)    

The example that resonated with me in this chapter is about a used car dealership called Wheels and Deals. I find that buying a car is no fun. Truth be told, I don’t like it at all. In my many car-driving years I can recall only one occasion where I enjoyed shopping for and buying a car; it was when I was buying my Mini Cooper. For the first time I had the feeling the sales rep actually enjoyed what he was doing and was proud of what he was selling. He gave me the feeling I should get the best and most beautiful Mini ever. Why does this come to my mind right now? That is where Miller’s example comes into play. 

Wheels and Deals, a small local used car dealership, did well until the competitive landscape started changing. A competitor with deep pockets opened their doors nearby. Their bigger inventory attracted a lot of customers, hurting the “little guy,” Wheels and Deals. Instead of sticking his head in the proverbial sand, Jim took the time observing his competitor, noting what they did well and what they didn’t do so well. I’m not surprised by his discovery, because he noticed that their sales reps “…were aggressive, commission driven, and they didn’t care what they sold to their customers.” (page 54) 

This is exactly how I felt so many times when buying a car. Sorry, I digress. Let’s continue with the example. 

Wheels and Deals used Jim’s observations to their advantage. They started focusing on better quality cars and better service. In addition, they communicated and showed their customers how they’ll keep their promise of selling higher-quality cars. 

Here is what they started doing for higher quality: Each car they purchased for resale was inspected and serviced beyond government regulations. Before they put a car on the sales lot, they “invest, on average, between $800 and $1,200 in every car.” (page 54) It means making less money on each sold car, but making up for it in volume and customer loyalty. This customer loyalty wasn’t built overnight. It took time. They didn’t only speak of higher quality cars and better service, they lived and breathed it and earned their customers’ trust. 

And here is how they welcome new customers: Friendly staff greets them in a beautiful showroom, they get a tour of the dealership which includes a visit at the mechanics’ bays, and an introduction to the Customer Care Manager. And to top that, Wheels and Deals gives a 90-day warranty with each car. I’m sure their customers don’t think the sales rep is pushy or doesn’t care. On the contrary, by taking the time and showing their customers around they demonstrate what their customers can expect. Did I mention the word trust?

I can only attest to how important both customer service and genuine caring are for someone who is purchasing a car. It proves that “Even commoditized markets can stand out and create Function that Resonates” with their customers. (page 53) Having said that, only a company’s core skills and assets can sustain this competitive edge and make it an integral part of their value proposition. 

  • Finally, and a quick flashback to Principle 1, I quote: “The customer is working with an organization that delivers a tangible benefit, and they can see it, talk about it, and experience it.” (page 56) 

COVID 19 has changed our business landscape to an extent that I can’t fathom yet. I’m very impressed by some entrepreneurs’ and solopreneurs’ creativity and their ideas on how to provide value to their customers and keep their businesses running. I met them in virtual networking groups. We were and still are trying to help each other through brainstorming. Here are some of the examples:

  • A swim teacher creates online birthday parties for children 
  • A photographer offers an online photo shoot 
  • A realtor provides additional information relevant to people buying a house or moving 
  • Yoga studios and gyms teach online classes

To me the “Function that Resonates” or customer value is obvious. All of the above offerings are a product of today’s shelter in place situation helping people celebrate children’s birthdays, getting their exercise, or keeping in touch with their prospective clients by providing helpful information pertaining to buying a house or moving.

I believe I mentioned it in the introduction to this series, building a sticky brand isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes time, adaptability, creativity, an open ear for your customers, a lot of work, and a long-term commitment. But looking at the current situation proves to me that it is the only way, especially for small businesses, to survive. 

 “When you identify an area that can make a real impact on your clients, hold on to it. Invest in it. Make it your own.” (page 62)

And with that I would love to hear what you think about Principle 3. What is your take on it? Put your thoughts in the comments below. 

See you next week,