Empathy Propels Marketing Past “Optimization” to Innovation
Are Personas Dead? According to a recent blog post on the Convince & Convert blog, they would have you believe they are.
Here’s why that’s wrong:
If I tell you “the king died,” that’s a single-event data point. Information, if you will.
And if I tell you “the king died and then the queen died,” that’s two data points. It’s still information.
But if I tell you that “The king died and then the queen died of a broken heart,” that’s a story.
I’ve taken the two data points and connected them with causality, which makes the data meaningful.
What does this have to do with Personas and Big Data?
All data records events. Little factual tidbits of what happened. At best, sophisticated analytics can record chronological records or patterns of events.
The website visitor did this. Then this. Then that.
Or, patterns: male customers tended to buy this instead of that.
But notice that the reported chronologies and patterns are absent causality and intention. A series of events for a Web or store visit remain nothing more than an itinerary. And a pattern remains nothing but a correlation. There is no visible cause-and-effect relationship. There is no underlying shopper intention, and no meaning recorded by the data itself. That all remains for the marketer to provide via interpretation.
Humans cannot transform data points to insight about causality, intention, and meaning. To do so they must turn the data into a story.
Stories with the buyer as the protagonist.
And “buyer as protagonist” is another way of saying “persona.”
Formal Vs. Informal Personas
Are we really saying that all marketers use personas and tell stories when interpreting data?
The data might be as straightforward as “the all-inclusive bundle is our most popular product,” combined with “A/B testing proves that a satisfaction guarantee boosted conversions by 30%”
And the story might be as simple as “this category of buyer chooses the satisfaction-guaranteed, all-inclusive bundled option because of its convenience and promise of risk reduction.”
Yet as simple as that interpretation of the data is, it still represents the creation of a story centered around a character in the form of a buyer.
Unfortunately, because the creation of the buyer’s persona was implicit and ad-hoc, it was also under-developed.
And that’s where the problems come in.
The Downside of Implicit, Informal and /or Ad-Hoc Personas
So what’s wrong with letting one’s personas remain implicit or unconscious? After all, we process intuitively as we make sense of the data?
Short answer: Our Baked-In Cognitive Glitches.
We have two cognitive biases when we rely on ad-hoc implied personas:
1) We assume everyone is like us. They value what we value, they make decisions like we make decisions, and what appeals to us also appeals to them.
2) We work off of stereotypes and then engage in the fundamental attribution error. When we see someone doing something, we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation the person might be in.
Well-designed Personas help marketers avoid these cognitive biases. They show how a different temperament might engage in a different decision-making process. They look beyond stereotypical attributions to see the context.
The most important reason to use well-designed personas is prediction.
With a well-designed persona like a TV character, you can predict how they’ll behave. Character explains a scenario better than demographic and even psychographic data.
For example, suppose a white, middle-aged, middle-classed, white-collar New Yorker found a lost wallet, stuffed with cash. What would you predict he’s likely to do?
Well, based on that, you’d have no clue, right?
There’s no way you can confidently predict behavior based on the demographics provided unless you assume that the person in question would do what you think a typical person would do. Which is to say what you’d do.
That’s exactly the situation with implicit personas that are usually drawn from demographics or based on our own intuitions of how we or typical person would behave.
Now, if instead of giving you demographics, I told you that George Costanza found that wallet…
Now you can picture exactly what Costanza would do, even though it’s probably not anywhere near what you — or even a typical person — would do in the same situation.
That’s the kind of prediction those properly designed personas bring to the table.
And when it comes to crafting and optimizing customer experiences, that’s all the difference in the world.
Increased Data = Increased Need for (Better) Personas
Data and advanced analytics don’t and can’t change our hardwired need for a story as a sense-making tool.
In fact, the more complex and unstructured our data sets become, the more robust our storytelling chops need to be to help us not only analyze, but make sense of that data.
The disadvantage of structured data is that the structure limits the answers you can pull from it. The advantage of structured data is that the structure suggests the questions the database is capable of answering.
So while unstructured Big Data presents greater opportunities for marketers, it also increases the burden of coming up with and framing the right questions to ask.
The better designed the persona, the easier it is to interpret the data as narrative. Personas help frame and ask questions about intent, motivation, and cause and effect. These questions can then be posed to the data sets for not only answers but insights.
This is the only way to move from having data to being able to use that data to increase sales, market share, customer loyalty, etc.
Personas Increase Empathy and Move Marketing Past “Optimization” to Innovation
Without personas, marketers can certainly optimize what already exists to a local maximum. You don’t have to generate deep insight into the customer to run multivariate tests on different alternatives to the established patterns. Different color buttons. Slightly different calls to actions, hero images, page layouts, etc.
But you also can’t move past optimization to true innovation without thinking seriously about customer drives, frustrations, motivations, etc. Great customer experience design requires empathy.
And for empathy to be predictive, it requires fully fleshed out characters with which to work, just like you experienced with the Costanza example.
You can’t do customer design with just data alone and advanced analytical methods alone. In fact, neuroscientists have proven that analytical thinking inhibits empathy.
Your mind can do either one of these things, but it can only do one of them well at any given time. A marketers ability to generate customer insights come to live while in emotional storytelling mode, but fall dead while in number crunching analytics mode. And vice versa of course.
The point is, good marketers need both sets of skills, as well as advanced, rigorous processes for supporting and exercising those skill sets.
No one would ever argue that marketers don’t need or benefit from accurate and advanced customer data. Or sophisticated methods of statistical analysis aimed at sifting and sorting through that data, looking for patterns.
But that same level of rigor and defined tool sets also need to be brought to the storytelling side of the equation. Meaning that implicit and ad hoc personas just aren’t good enough.
And the more context-sensitive the situation, the more important simulation through storytelling and the use of formally developed personas becomes.
In other words, personas aren’t in opposition to data, they are the other half of the coin. Personas are a contextual tool for making data relevant and actionable. They are a bridge to understanding customers at a human level.
Without this, marketers are doomed. Without well-designed personas, it’s difficult to focus on customer experiences, rather than just products, price points, placement, and promotions.
So are personas still relevant in an age of data-driven companies?
Not only are they “relevant,” they’re becoming increasingly necessary for survival.
What to believe about SEO in 2018 and beyond?
Search Engine Optimizers (#SEO) and Search Engine Marketers (#SEM) like to throw around industry jargon. Ever feel like they are trying to make your head spin? Penguin, Panda, Possum, Hawk, these are names used for Google updates. Latent Semantic Indexing, Quality Score algorithms, schema, canonical, sitemaps, snippets, etc. It sure is easy to lose track of what really matters.
It is no surprise, we get a lot of questions about SEO. People ask us if something truly influences rankings after some SEO specializing in FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) gets them worried. Large companies often have skilled SEO practitioners in-house but SMBs usually don’t.
We are not SEO practitioners. Jeffrey and I have always tried to optimize for the end searcher (relevance) not the search engine spiders. After all, search engine spiders don’t have credit cards. Our focus remains primarily on conversion rate optimization (#CRO) and customer experience since the late 1990s.
A few weeks ago I presented at my first search conference in several years, SMX Milan. The topic of relevance is again top of mind.
What do we know about relevance? A few years ago Ping Jen, the head of Bing’s Quality Score team asked me to explain relevance to his team on a webinar. Google has also been a client, we helped their own SMB Adwords team to optimize what they do.
A new era in search engine history
Google has been working their way through the hierarchy of optimization since their founding in 1998. Any optimization hierarchy must prioritize visitors’ needs as they approach your site or Google you. You must do the same prioritization of your sales/ conversion goals:
I am going to keep this explanation as simple as possible.
Google made search Functional
Before Google, the search engine space was a mess. You would have to look through pages and pages of garbage results to find anything remotely relevant. Google launched with their PageRank algorithm that ranked results based on the links flowing to and from the page. That signal was used to make search engines truly functional for organizing the world’s information. It didn’t take long for SEO’s to start finding ways to game those results. Yet Google continued to enhance and optimize their algorithm.
Search becomes Accessible to the masses
As news of Google’s search quality spread more and more people started to use the search engine making content that was invisible previously more accessible. Google also wanted to index content that was largely unreachable and unreadable. Over time they enhanced their spiders to access different types of content (dynamic content, video, PDFs, scripts, etc.). Today you can use software like DeepCrawl to audit your site. That will determine what technical issues may be holding back your rankings.
Making 10 blue links more Usable
By the year 2000, Adwords launched and Google found a way to monetize the incredible value delivered to the public. Many of the signals they used to rank Adwords ads with their Quality Score algorithm evolved to be similar to those used to rank their SEO rankings. However, as Google kept on diving deeper into their results, they realized that 10 blue links were not a truly usable experience. So to enhance their usability, they added smarter widgets to their results pages.
The era of Intuitive search
By 2010, Google was already working on personalized search ranking. This is where the results based on personalization factors related to the individual. This was in an effort to make results more intuitive for the individual. Last time I checked, the largest set of Column Families in Google’s BigTable are related to Personalized Search (93 columns) versus only 18 column families for website crawling information. That is nearly 5x the amount of data used to personalize the experience.
Of course, you can see a similar pattern of optimization in the way Google leveraged their paid search Quality Score algorithm. When Adwords first launched it was whoever paid most, got ranked highest. By 2005, they realized this wasn’t the best experience for searchers so they added in Quality Score as a factor and it was initially based on click-through rate of the ads. How many searchers saw your ad and clicked on it? By 2007, they made Quality Score smarter by incorporating searchers behavior on Google’s own search engine results page. Did the user click and bounce right back to the result (assuming the ad was not of great quality)? Did the user come back and refine their query. Over the next few years they kept adding more and more searcher behavior signals. They had data from all the websites using Google Analytics, Android, and Chrome to leverage as additional “online” signals. They would know how your site performed for others based on all those signals and could rank it in organic and paid search based on those user experience signals. Over the last few years, they have encouraged “customers” to share and upload offline conversion data, and other data sources as well, to close the loop.
Search Intent and Persuasiveness go hand and hand
Former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt said that Google needs to replicate results from the real world. Basically indicating that links alone are not a great ranking signal because they can be gamed online. Over the last few years, searcher behavior has evolved dramatically. We are now seeing more mobile and voice searches. Searches need to be more contextual and intuitive. Today we are finally seeing the next era of search results as Google enters the Persuasive phase of optimization. Recent reports from Wordstream and SEMRush confirm it.
These reports were so controversial, that they shocked the groups studying them. Wordstream who services over a million PPC advertisers and SEMrush, which is a must-have tool for search marketers, were actually surprised by their findings. They were trying to correlate what factors lead to higher rankings in the search engines. You should read the latest search engine ranking reports from SEMrush and Wordstream.
“What we are seeing here is that people with stronger brand affinity have higher conversion rates than people without any, because people tend to buy from the companies they already heard of and begun to trust.” – Larry Kim, WordStream
“Direct visits are fueled by your brand awareness, so building a strong brand image should be an essential part of your promotion strategy.” – SEMrush, page 42 of 55
Amazon optimized retail product search before Google did. They focused early on how to leverage the “user” data and all their purchase history to bring them a better product search result than Google would. They have been focused on this for years.
This is why over 55% of retail product searches start on Amazon today. And they captured 55% percent of Black Friday online sales. You too can be like Amazon, even if you are a lemonade stand. All you have to do is consistently deliver the experience your customer wants.
SEO is simple if you understand the cognitive science behind it
If you recognize that what the SEMrush and WordStream reports mean by “strong brand image” and “affinity” means the same thing as “Reputation” and includes being “Remarkable” today, that we have used to explain the 5 Rs of SEO for many years.
The 5 Rs of SEO are: (1) Relevant, (2) build your Reputation, (3) Remarkable, (4) Readable, and (5) of sufficient Reach.
How search engines try to enhance Relevance:
Providing relevance to the individual is the #1 priority to the search engines. After all, they want to deliver a consistently excellent customer experience to searchers. If searchers are unhappy, traffic drops and then advertiser revenues will fall.
Want some deep insights into Google’s Quality score calculations so that your ads show up higher and you pay a lower cost per click?
“Google has tons of additional data to help them decide which ad is most likely to elicit a click from that particular user based on the time of day, previous searches and many other factors. It’s a “Big Data” prediction algorithm and advertisers would do well to apply some of these same methodologies for picking successful ads to ensure users get value from their ads, Google is kept happy, and more sales are generated.” ~ Frederick Vallaeys, Co-founder Optymyzr Former Adwords Evangelist at Google
Google claims that they use over 200 different signals for their ranking factors. I don’t doubt that, do you? I took the liberty, with Frederick’s permission to bold a couple of phrases in his quote that highlight the secret to great rankings. What he is talking about is massive personalization and leveraging multiple data sets and signals in real time to deliver what Google thinks will be the best results.
Google’s Big Dataset
Google is now using more of their Chrome browser, Google Analytics, scanning Gmail and Android (location and app) data augmented with 3rd party purchase data. Purchase data is unconfirmed but we know Facebook uses that kind of data. These are becoming their primary factors because those factors cannot be gamed by SEOs. They provide a much better picture of what people do in the real world.
I encourage you to step back and think much bigger and more broadly about Big Data before taking an SEO’s advice about rankings to heart. While there are many great SEOs out there, many have not evolved since the early days of keyword stuffing and meta tags. They also count on you not keeping up with all the constant optimization tweaks Google does to their algorithms to keep you in FUD.
One of our clients, a $50+ million traditional retailer, recently realized that the agency they used for SEO were ripping them off. Martin MacDonald wrote about that time in My Secret SEO Strategy Guarantees Results… To summarize, he concluded that “If your business model requires that you hide techniques you are using to achieve results, you’re not selling SEO services, you’re selling snake-oil.”
Here is what you need to stay on top of the game:
What do you think Google knows about you from all the signals you might provide it based on your search query, map queries, click-through, Gmail account and other factors? If you think about all the types of datasets you can get access to when want to target ads on Facebook, do you think Google might have access to some of those or similar data sets? There is a lot of data available. I recommend you follow the links I’ve provided and familiarize yourself with offerings from Data.World, Enigma & Acxiom. What kind of data sources would you want to use if you were Google to deliver the best most relevant results for your searching customers?
What is Readable for a search engine?
This is one area the search engines have excelled in over the last number of years. They can now index and rank all kinds of content they could not do in the early days. In fact, they are even coming a long way in computer image recognition as well. There are still ways a good SEO can enhance complicated websites.
What traffic will you Reach?
You know those scammy SEO offers you get to rank #1 for a keyword. It is very similar to those “best selling” authors who pick a new category on Amazon and dump 20 sales through in a 3 minute period to be the best selling book of an obscure category for a moment in time. You do not need to rank #1 for keywords that no one is looking for!
Brand Reputation and being Remarkable is where it is at today & for the Future.
As Roy Williams wrote about the report’s results:
SEMrush was one of the big names in online marketing who concluded that “direct website visits” are the single most important factor in determining your SERP [Search Engine Results Page] position. In other words, they announced that Google is impressed – and will reward you with higher SERP placement – when people go directly to your web page instead of merely choosing your name from a list of search results.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Google is effectively saying, “If this is the company people think of immediately – and feel best about – in this category, then they must be the category leader.”
It seems the key is building awareness for your brand online and offline so that when they go to their browser they type in your URL. This can be done with a combination of great advertising, strong public relations, remarkable social media and an exceptional customer experience.
Advertising is a tax we pay for not being remarkable.
Many people reading the ranking reports will make the decision that they need to ramp up their advertising to type in their website directly. However. if all those people do is find a less than remarkable experience then the signals the search engines receive are that you are less than remarkable. Sorry, advertising only accelerate the inevitable.
Win the SEO game and earn the love of customers
The type of company that is going to win at the top of the search engines is one that drives a lot of people directly to their website because the search engine is detecting all these relevant signals:
- People typing in “yourdomain.com” directly into the address bar
- They’ll get there because they either heard of you from one of your offline ads or…
- They heard and have seen great reviews and shares on social media about your business or…
- Because you built such a remarkable customer experience that they heard about you from other people.
- People share their experience with your brand through PR, review sites and social media.
- People engage a whole bunch with your website and your email marketing.
We hope you will you be creating the types of experiences that enhance or detract from your being remarkable and enjoying a great reputation in the eyes of the search engines and your customers. Your customers do have credit cards, you know?
So if you are looking to get great results in 2018 and beyond, focus on building a great brand experience. Remember Be Like Amazon: a lemonade stand can do it.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
Legendary Links: worthwhile reading 9/18/16
What’s up with Legendary Links? From time-to-time, we’ll post some of the interesting articles that we found interesting and that you may have missed. Please let us know if you find them interesting or if you’d like to share other links that we may have missed.
Which Type of Voice Actor Should You Use for Your Explainer Video? [Original Research]
In this ConversionXL Institute study, we tested four different voices, which differed by gender and whether they were professional voice actors or not. Question is, did it make a different in how people perceived our video content? Yes, and the results were somewhat surprising.
21 ways Amazon changed the face of retail
“Amazon is a case study in ceaseless innovation and interminable disruption,” says Artemis Berry, vice president of digital retail for Shop.org and the National Retail Federation. To toast Amazon’s 21st birthday, STORES uncovered 21 times it changed the dynamics of selling, came up with fundamental new ways of doing business and altered how customer satisfaction is measured.
What will the iPhone 8 be made of? [Quora]
Apple will create an iPhone primarily from ZrO2 – Zirconian Ceramics. The journey Apple has taken to adopt Zirconia Ceramic as their fundamental design material translates like an epic movie plot. We will begin at the end.
How Optimizely Shrunk Google’s Market Share by 92%
Then in 2010, Optimizely launched. By thinking deeply about who needed to do this job rather than just what needed to be done, then designing a tool specifically for that market, Optimizely revolutionized A/B testing on the web. And all they had to do was take out steps.
The Five Disciplines of Customer Experience Leaders
Bain & Company analysis shows that companies that excel in the customer experience grow revenues 4%–8% above their market. That’s because a superior experience helps to earn stronger loyalty among customers, turning them into promoters who tend to buy more, stay longer and make recommendations to their friends. As a result, promoters have a lifetime value that can reach 6 to 14 times that of detractors, depending on the industry.
When your boss is an algorithm
In the gig economy, companies such as Uber and Deliveroo manage workers via their phones. But is this liberating or exploitative?
What To Test First #CX #UX #CRO
We use a 3-step process as part of our Buyer Legends process.
- Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization
- Scoring Priorities
Of course, you cannot start the 3-step process without first creating actionable personas based on qualitative and quantitative data. Buyer Legends employ storytelling to optimize customer experiences.
Why do we focus on customer experience? We wrote in 2001 that conversion rates are a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. They’re a reflection of your effectiveness at satisfying customers. For you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs.
The reality is that most companies lose more sales every day than they make. If you are converting less than 15% you need to evaluate what is broken in your customer experience.
Get to the bottom of what is going wrong, and plan to get it right. That is why, hands down, the pre-mortem step is the most impactful step of our Buyer Legends process. In fact, rarely does this exercise fail to produce at least one a-ha moment for our clients. When you imagine the sale is already dead it frees up all the mental energy that you used to try and get the sale and points it at all the potential pitfalls and problems in your experience.
Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization
After you perform your pre-mortem you will likely end up with a long list of potential proof of Murphy’s law, but not everything on your list is equal. Some thing are worth your effort some are not. In my work with clients we often use Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization to separate the more pressing issues from the tinier ones.
First sort the list of problems into the follow categories:
- Functional. Does this product/service do what the prospect needs? How easy is it for a prospect to determine this?
- Accessible. Can she access it? What are the barriers to her ability to realize the need? Is it affordable, reasonable, and findable?
- Usable. Is it user-friendly? Are there obstacles?
- Intuitive. Does the sales process/Web site feel intuitive and natural based on her buying preferences? Is she forced to endure unnatural buying modalities to realize her need?
- Persuasive. Does she want it? Does she truly understand if it fills her need or solves her problem? Is her expectation reasonable? Will she be delighted?
Once they are sorted simply work your way up the pyramid. Again, remember not every problem is in search of a solution, and you should focus on the problems that are likely to impact the most customers and problems that you can actually fix. Be practical, don’t get caught up in the problems you can’t fix.
Let’s consider another simple system to enable your organization to prioritize more effectively when planning tests. The system is based on prioritizing all your planned efforts by three factors with a score from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best and 1 being the worse:
- Time – How long will it take to execute a project (a change, a test, or full scale roll-out) until its completion? This includes staff hours/days to execute and the number of calendar days until the project’s impact would be recognized. A score of 5 would be given to a project that takes the minimal amount of time to execute and to realize the impact.
- Impact – The amount of revenue potential (or reduced costs) from the execution of your project. Will the project impact all of your customers or only certain segments? Will it increase conversion rates by 1 percent or by 20 percent? A score of 5 is for projects that have the greatest lift or cost reduction potential.
- Resources – The associated costs (people, tools, space, etc.) needed to execute a project. Keep in mind: No matter how good a project is, it will not succeed if you do not have resources to execute an initiative. A score of 5 is given when resources needed are few and are available for the project.
Next, take each factor and multiply them (don’t add them because these factors are orthogonal) for each project. The best possible score is 125 (5x5x5). Tackle and complete the highest-ranking projects first. Meet weekly with a cross-functional group to evaluate the status of each project. Be prepared to re-prioritize regularly; once a month or at least once a quarter.
Heroes Don’t Play It Safe: A Customer-Centric Case Study
What is the difference between foolhardy and courageous? It’s like the difference between arrogance and confidence; it’s all in the results. Stewart Whitney, Brand President of Timberland, is both courageous and confident. After all, who dares to cut products, eliminate a discount pricing strategy and raise prices across an entire product line when growth is the goal?
Timberland announces a change
Timberland’s management shakeup didn’t seem extraordinary or even unusual. When Patrik Frisk, the new Coalition President of Outdoor Americas for VF (NYSE: VFC), said “To empower the significant growth ahead for the Timberland® brand, we need to connect with our end consumer from head to toe,” it sounded an awful lot like the same old same old. Appointing Stewart Whitney Brand President was part of the plan to grow revenues by $1.4 billion during the next five years. Timberland’s management expected total revenues to reach $3.1 billion by the end of 2019, representing growth of 13% per year.
The Timberland® brand, a wholly owned subsidiary of VF Corporation, is best known for it’s rugged and fashionable high top yellow leather boots. It was a successful and long established footwear and apparel company whose sales were spectacularly flat. When Whitney took the helm he might have tried to lift sales by deploying as many non-boat rocking tactics as possible. Instead, Whitney decided to blow up the brand, to cut products, eliminate a discount pricing strategy and raise prices across an entire product line.
Things are going to change around here
No department was untouched. Timberland’s product designers were ejected from their comfort zone and asked to create new ambitious product lines and styles. Marketing was tasked with revamping the company’s entire global marketing and messaging. The wholesale division had to sell jittery retailers on a leaner product line with dramatically less SKUs. Retail and ecommerce eliminated their discount pricing strategy essentially raising prices across the entire product line. Whitney was tilting full speed ahead, at the risk of becoming either a business legend or becoming an exemplary failure.
In our work we often see how difficult the smallest change can be to execute, but Whitney was making deep foundational changes to a brand that didn’t seem broken to most observers inside and outside the company.
Whitney, no doubt, had to contend with the guardians of the company’s status quo. Surely they came out in full force challenging every move, trumpeting the company’s past successes and provoking insomnia and hand wringing amongst their colleagues. He communicated with the board of directors, the executive team, employees, partners, distributors and retailers about his vision. You may imagine some calling him a maverick, while others called him nuts.
Courage and confidence are fueled by data
It wasn’t just Whitney’s courage that fueled the brand makeover, it was data. While you could point to any of the changes he was driving as radical, the most significant change Whitney made was to steer Timberland away from being a product-driven company and towards becoming a data-driven company.
Whitney bet the company on it’s customer data and with Timberland posting a 15% increase in year over year sales in 2014, the bet seems to be paying off. In the Washington Post Sarah Halzack writes about the origin of this success:
“…the cornerstone of the comeback has been a two-year customer study in which it collected data from 18,000 people across eight countries. In analyzing the trove of responses, Timberland was able to diagnose its problems and to zero in on its ideal customer — an urban dweller with a casual interest in the outdoors.”
What is just as remarkable as Whitney’s courage to lead foundational change in an already good organization was his commitment to understanding customer data rather than simply collecting and referencing it. Far too often execs and marketers cherry pick the data that reinforces their own self-inflicted perspective. Other companies collect data, yet as we wrote about in Tesco’s case , a myopic reading of the data leads to disastrous corporate decisions. Whitney and his team read the customer’s story in the data. And armed with that narrative he is transforming Timberland from a good brand to more exciting and relevant one.
Armed with a customer-centric narrative
The narrative started with their ideal customer. They named her the “outdoor lifestyler’:
“They’re definitely connected to the outdoors, but in a more casual, everyday way,” Davey said. “They care about the outdoors, but they also care about style. It was really important to them to look right for the occasion.”
The outdoor lifestyler, in other words, is a city dweller who goes for a casual afternoon hike or someone who leaves her house in the morning not knowing if she’s going to spend her afternoon at the park or at the movies. It’s someone who wants versatile clothes that blend in rather than stand out.”
Speaking to outdoor lifestylers would be a sizable departure from their current brand image. In the U.S. Timberland had developed hip-hop cred with rappers by naming the yellow boot “Timbs”. While in other countries Timberland’s reputation was focused mostly on durability. Abandoning these messages probably looked like a tremendous risk. I’m sure the marketers pointed that out. It was that messaging that kept the lights on yet maintained their current, albeit flat, sales.
Raising prices to save the brand?
Timberland killed their discount pricing model:
Ryan Shadrin, vice president of retail and digital commerce for North America, said it was a scary decision to make but one that has ultimately helped profit margins. At first, Shadrin said, “It’s almost like dead tide. There’s just a point of this eerie quiet where you’re like, ‘Where did everybody go?’ It’s because they’re sort of waiting,” he said, to pounce on a promotion.
Eventually though, shoppers came off the wall when they realized the old promotional cadence was not coming back.
All the changes at Timberland, Shadrin said, “lifted the brand to where we can command those higher prices. The consumer is willing to pay it.”
The result is that profit margin is up 13%.
Results determine the difference between foolhardy and courageous
In business there is a big difference between knowing the right thing to do, and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing always takes courage but knowing the right thing to do requires that you understand your customers. And the more committed you become to understanding your customer and focusing your company on delighting them the less actual courage you will need. That is the point where confidence replaces arrogance.
A legendary company must be customer-centered, practice data-driven customer experience design, and manage by narrative. That is exactly what the Buyer Legends process is designed to do.
So basic that it seems radical
So why don’t more companies actually put their customers first? We all know why. However, lets applaud the ones who do. We encourage you to read the entire Washington Post story to appreciate just how comprehensive the Timberland makeover was. Nevertheless, this strikes to the heart of why Whitney has been successful:
Timberland “could’ve followed the many brands that floundered in this changing retail environment, but if you look at all of their strategies holistically, they’re all developed with a steadfast focus on the consumer and innovation,” said Shilpa Rosenberry, senior director of consumer strategy and innovation at Daymon, a retail consultancy.
Timberland’s switch to a consumer-data-driven approach reflects a broader change in an industry where the power dynamics between retailer and customer have shifted to favor the shopper. Unprecedented access to pricing information and product reviews on the Web has made for smarter, more-informed buyers, and retailers are more focused than ever on catering to their high expectations. By letting consumers lead the way, Timberland has rebooted its brand.
Become the hero by turning your customer into the hero of your Buyer Legend
Stewart Whitney is a real-life business hero and not just because he virtually put his vital parts on a chopping block. Whitney is a hero because of his radical fairy-godfather-like commitment to delivering what his customers really want. That’s a winning combo, and one that makes for a happy ending to this story.
Do you have the courage and confidence to be this committed to your customers?
We hope you do.
We will be cheering for you.
And if you want assistance we, the Buyer Legends team, are ready to help you design and optimize a customer-centered, data-driven customer experience that is supported by narrative.
Data Takes Center Stage This Week – 5 Posts You Might Have Missed
Smartphones Browse, Tablets Buy: Smartphones will continue to lead in mobile browsing over the five-day shopping period, accounting for 29 percent of all online traffic versus 15 percent for tablets. However, IBM predicts tablets will account for twice as many mobile purchases than smartphones thanks to the larger screen size.
Those people have a vast array of thoughts, opinions, preferences, feelings, needs and motivations. The actions those people take are measurable, as evidence of that vast array of thoughts, opinions, preferences, feelings, needs and motivations. An analysis based entirely on the numbers can only take you so far.
II. On this blog we talked about Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, a trendsetting data-driven superstar whose recent fall from grace reveals more about the misuse of data than about the state of data driven business practices.
III. A research study about charitable giving prompted this post where we discuss the power of targeting your marketing at one person(a) at a time.
IV. Storytelling is such a powerful communications device that some are using it to increase their personal productivity, it is no wonder that it is so effective at improving communications, conversion, and execution in your marketing.
V. Roger Dooley at Forbes read our book Buyer Legends – The Executive Storyteller’s Guide and had some great insight into the book’s strengths and what makes the Buyer Legends process both unique and relevant. He also left us this nice review on Amazon