Principle 11 – Proud to Serve

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We almost made it. So, stick with me (pun intended), and we’ll pull it all together in the last part of the book. In Principle 11 we find the following headlines:

The first part of Principle 11 talks about: “Be brilliant at the basics” (page 164). It’s the not so glamorous, often invisible work that’s done behind the scenes. Think of a theatre production. Everyone working on a production has only one goal: creating a magical experience for the audience. But what we see on stage is only a minor part of the work that goes into it. Many hands are needed. Someone designing the costumes; someone building the stage set; someone ensuring that the restrooms are clean; someone cleaning the auditorium, …. 

Sticky Brands pay attention to everything, even the work behind the scenes. They know and take pride in the most mundane things. Every moment counts towards a great experience.  

Just imagine you had to use the bathroom in the theatre, and it was filthy? OK, the performance may have been wonderful, but, I for one, wouldn’t forget my unpleasant restroom visit. 

“Sticky Brands sweat the little things.” (page 164) Even if it means cleaning the bathroom. Miller attaches this commitment and attitude to a clear purpose. “Their attention to detail is absolute, and it radiates through their products, services, hiring practices, operations, marketing, and every customer touch point.” We talked about this and the impact on company culture and employees in the previous two blogs. The focus here is more on the inner and “technical” workings of the company. Purpose fosters enthusiasm and the desire to constantly improve to better serve clients. The attitude of employees is more that of an artisan than that of a factory worker. They continuously ask the question “How can we be just a little bit better?” 

I’d like to start the second point “Good is not enough” with a question: When do you brag about something? I can’t talk for you, but I brag about products or services after something unusual has happened. 

Do you remember my blog about buying my Mini Cooper? I still remember talking with the sales rep about details of my car and later on sitting in the dealership going over the paperwork. Buying my Mini was a fun experience and out of the ordinary. That’s why good enough won’t work for Sticky Brands. They want to be excellent or, as many feedback forms state it, “exceed expectation. This Mini dealership certainly did. […] “you have to give your customers a reason to seek you out and choose your brand first.” And that includes sweating the little things as well. 

What can you do to make your customers remember you? Pick criteria that align with your purpose and that make you unique to your customers. This way it’s not just marketing, it’s who you really are. 

The next point is, if you “love your customers, they’ll love you back.” Meaning, if you give your customers your full attention they’ll notice. Miller uses an experience he had during an interview with Muldoon’s president Jimmy Muldoon. A long-time customer had a minor complaint. This is how Miller describes the situation: […] the whole tone of the company shifted on the spot. […] the office was under DEFCON 2.” (page 169) The Muldoon team pulled all information they had about this customer, talked with the service manager, called the customer service rep and attended to the customer’s concerns with the “utmost care.” (page 170)  

Complaints are opportunities for improvement. […] In our business, our current customers come first […] and we make sure they are satisfied.” (page 170) 

And it’s not just lip service. At the Family Business Forum in April 2013 Miller heard it first-hand. A presenter, the CEO of a large retailer of designer men’s wear in Canada, praised Muldoon’s Coffee, their quality coffee and service. He, the CEO, hadn’t intended to talk about Muldoon’s. His presentation was about successful family-owned businesses. Muldoon’s just happened to have presented earlier that day, and the CEO happened to have first-hand experience with Muldoons. So he used them as an example. 

And this leads us to the next point “listen and respond.” It’s your customers who will tell you what they like or what they want. You just have to listen. It’s the perfect feedback loop and the best opportunity to learn about your customers’ needs and/or concerns. Understanding their point of view gives you valuable insights for product or service improvements. I mentioned “Muldoon’s complaint” already. Miller cites another example, the CEO of FeedBlitz who said: […] “out-servicing our clients and out-listening our competitors” is “the only way we can compete successfully against free services like Google.” (page 171) FeedBlitz’ CEO even shared that when the company was struggling with three equally viable strategic decisions they found the answer on the exhibit floor by … you guessed it, talking with their customers. 

The last part of Principle 11 is about being seen as an expert in your field. I’m sure you know that this will take time and practice. Miller compares it to a craftsman and calls it the craftsman mindset.  

Do you know Malcolm Gladwell and his book “Outliers”? He refers to research done by Andres Ericsson, researcher and professor of psychology at the Florida State University. According to his research it’ll take about 10,000 hours to reach mastery through deliberate practice. It also explains that deliberate practice […] entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all.” (page 173) 

I believe Miller emphasizes this point because “Becoming an expert is a hard and difficult road, but the process is also extremely fulfilling – it’s a source of pride.” (page 175) It takes a long-term commitment, as mentioned before approximately 10,000 hours, for your team to learn. “Do you have the purpose and pride to push your team to develop their skills and capabilities to consistently improve and serve your customers? Is your work a source of pride?” (page 175) Because if you only do it for the money, it won’t work. 

Now over to you. Are you proud to serve your customers? What are you doing to sweat the basics, be better than good, show love for your customers, listen to them and have a craftsman’s mindset? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Principle 9: Pick Your Priorities

Book discussion
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

In my last blog about Sticky Branding, Principle 8 – “Being Everywhere,” I briefly talked about focus while building and growing your brand community. In this blog we will look more closely at how to do it effectively.  

I like Miller’s analogy for introducing this chapter: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at time.” (page 136) This analogy gives a realistic picture of what to expect when creating a Sticky Brand. “Growing a Sticky Brand is a process. It takes an enormous amount of time, resources and work to grow your company’s brand, so it stands out above the herd and has a sustainable competitive advantage. You’re not going to do that in 90 or 180 days.” (page 136) It’s a continuous process and to keep it manageable, you need to break your branding activities into topics and focus on one topic at a time. I couldn’t agree more: “There are always hundreds of things you should be doing, but what must you do?” Miller suggests using “The 3 Vs” (page 136): Volume, Velocity, and Value to determine your focus.

  • Volume focuses on increasing customer demand and generating sales leads.
  • Velocity focuses on improving your closing rate.
  • Value focuses on price sensitivity and perceived value.

Volume solely focuses on finding new customers and growing sales. If you’re starting out or have repositioned your business, this will most likely be your focus area. You want your phone to ring. In order to make that happen you need prospective customers to know about you, your brand, and the problem you’re solving. Your ultimate goal is to have customers calling you instead of having to reach out to them. You build your brand community because you want to reach the point where your brand is doing “…the heavy lifting” for you. (page 138)

This means your focus will be on making new connections, building new relationships, and creating brand awareness. Evaluating the effectiveness of your efforts is relatively easy. You can track inquiries per day, per week, or per month. The simpler your tracking system, the better. You want to learn what worked and what didn’t. Which marketing activity brought in new leads and which ones were dead fish in the water. This information helps you adjust your course of action. Keep in mind that most of the time a combination of marketing activities is the driver of increased sales. Don’t fall into the trap of looking at them in isolation. Rather, look at all your activities related to an event, a conference, you name it.

Velocity aims at making the buying process easier, faster, and more efficient for your customer. As a company you focus on this area to optimize your business or brand. According to Miller each customer goes through three phases before buying.

It starts with Awareness. How do your customers realize they have a need of your product or service? What stimuli, situation or event trigger the process of looking for a solution?

In the next phase – Assessment – they consider their options. What products are on the market? Are there new ways to solve their problem? What are the costs? This is when they research your company and reach out to you to get more information. It’s a critical step because they may or may not move forward based on what they learn in this phase. They may find your product or service too expensive or just not right for them.

The actual Purchasephase threebegins after your customers make a commitment and decide to buy. This is when the actual sales process begins: negotiating, discussing, and defining contract terms, etc.

Looking at these three phases there is always room for improvement. What can you do to make it as easy as possible for your customers to move through them? What triggers their need? What information do they need to move from awareness to assessment? What information is important when researching their options? What keywords or key phrases are they searching for online? What concerns should you address in a conversation? How can you simplify the sales process?

In each of these phases you have the opportunity to win or lose your prospective customer. That’s why it is so important to make it as easy as possible for them. You can use customer feedback to gather information that will help you improve and ensure the best possible experience.

Last but not least is Value. Typical examples for perceived value and the willingness to pay a higher price are Apple, Tesla, or even your neighborhood electrician or plumber who charges more but does such excellent work that you don’t even look for alternatives. Miller uses the following analogy to describe the benefit: “It keeps your competition at bay like a moat around a castle,…” (page 142)

Let’s take Apple as an example and dig a little deeper. Apple is famous for its “Genius Bar” and tech support, the beautiful design of their products (and no, I’m not an Apple user), and the community they built. People line up in front of stores the moment a new product is released. Customers have a strong affinity toward Apple, they are loyal customers, and they don’t mind paying a premium price. Despite the fact that there are equally well designed and cheaper products on the market, Apple customers return and buy Apple products. “By prioritizing the value of your brand, you are choosing to grow a recognized brand and become the category leader.” (page 143) This example illustrates clearly what it means to increase the perceived value of your service or product.

For the Value category customer retention and higher profit margins are two relevant data points to measure. But depending on your product or service you may add other data points.

Nowadays, collecting data is simple but not necessarily always helpful. Keep it simple when deciding what data to collect and how to collect it. I love the example Miller mentioned. He had heard it at a conference. Here it goes: ”My dad could spot a budgeting problem or a turn in the economy before our accountants did, based on his daily inspections.” He would walk through his company every afternoon. If there was a truck in every loading bay it meant the business was doing well. Empty loading bays meant “tough times were coming.” (page 145)

It’s time to circle back to the headline of this chapter: Pick your Priorities. We’d all like to grow our business, make it easier for our customers and be the market leader. Since improving any of the three Vs means a lot of work, Miller recommends focusing on one V at a time. Ask the questions “What’s holding your business back at the moment? […] What does your business need to focus on…?” (page 148) What areas of your business are struggling and need your 

attention in order to grow? If you have determined the area that needs fixing, set a goal, make a plan, allocate resources, and focus on this goal for the next half year. Review your progress regularly to make sure you are still on track. If you make an unexpected discovery along the way, adjust your course.

Over to you now. What area of your business needs attention? What do you need to fix or improve to take the next step? Let me know in the comments below.

See you next week,