Let me whisper in your ear

In 1963, the Beatles released their hit single ‘Please Please Me’. It rocketed to No.1 and went on to rock the world. Stunned by this instant success, the ‘Fab Four’ rushed out a debut album and ‘Do you know a Secret?’ became not only one of its top tracks but also one of the most popular ballads ever written.

However, it’s taken over 40 years for this chart-topping hit to impact the Boardroom. Only now have the lyrics ‘Closer, let me whisper in your ear’ become an anthem for corporate success…

Listen, do you want to hear a secret?

Ear-21I am constantly amazed by the reluctance of many companies to listen to their customers. Most would prefer to spend a fortune on so-called ‘consumer gurus’ rather than ask their own customers some very direct questions. What can we do better and differently? Where can we add real value? How can we win and keep your loyalty?

In recent months, I have visited several well-known companies where staff are expressly forbidden from reaching out to their customers. Whether this is because management is afraid of raising customer expectations or frightened of what it might learn is unclear. It’s certainly strange. It’s obtuse. And it’s curiously contradictory…

These same companies avidly follow their customers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Flickr and a raft of other channels. Every tweet and comment is monitored with painstaking care. In the distorted goldfish bowl of social media – where people are hard-wired to carp and complain – this can be a deeply depressing and often misguided exercise.
And it’s all so unnecessary…

The surprising truth is that your loyal customers genuinely want to help. They would love to share their thoughts and opinions. They would welcome the chance to develop your thinking, products and services. Indeed, there is real potential for turning customers into an extension of your sales force. Let me give you an example…

The Simple Way

Simple is a British skincare brand specialising in sensitive skin. Although now a Unilever brand it was, for many years, owned by Solihull‐based Accantia – a ten year‐old company and a minnow compared to global rivals such as Nivea and P&G’s Olay.

To counter the huge marketing muscle of these rivals, Simple focused on finding a truly cost-effective way to:

  • Acquire new customers
  • Increase trialling of its extensive product portfolio ‐ 80% of customers used only one of Simple’s 104 products
  • Launch new products successfully
  • Increase advocacy levels so that consumers actively recommended Simple products to their friends and family.

In their search for a competitive solution, Accantia approached one of our Clustre member firms. The brief was simple: develop a strategy that delivers all four of these goals. The result was an award‐winning, breakthrough initiative in consumer engagement. A solution that surpassed all expectations…

The process started with a customer engagement survey to check that Simple really was a word-of-mouth (WoM) brand. The results revealed an impressive Net Promoter Score (NPS) and proof that most of the brand’s Promoter customers arrived through personal recommendation.

To capitalise on this strong WoM appeal and to leverage Web 2.0 consumer engagement principles, our firm’s next priority was to create a special environment for engaging brand fans. ‘Simply VIP’ treats selected customers as valued advisers ‐ bringing them ‘on the inside’, giving them ‘Brand VIP’ status and actively seeking their opinion on brand & business development.

With this special status came special privileges. VIPs were given voting powers on critical brand initiatives, including:

  • Product packaging
  • Marketing and advertising campaigns
  • New product development and launches
  • Website design and content.

This bold strategy was underpinned by some pretty compelling psychological research. In the 1950s, Henry Landsberger looked at some pioneering studies into work productivity conducted at the Hawthorne Electric Company. He discovered a striking tendency for people to work harder and to perform much better through closer participation. He then developed this thinking into the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ – the psychological trigger that creates advocacy through involvement.

Simple took this thinking to a new level. It asked VIP customers for feedback on products and other brand-related issues BEFORE any business resolutions were taken. Effectively, this gave customers a key voice and a very direct influence over business-critical decisions.

This empowerment dramatically stimulated online and offline conversations amongst brand fans. Research shows that offline product chats outnumbers online ones by a ratio of 9:1. As a consequence, the strategy was used to feed brand fans with privileged content online so that they could go on to share it offline.

No business can control customer conversations. That dream is the height of delusional arrogance. But, as Simple proved, they can stimulate dialogue and inspire brand advocacy by feeding the imagination. And this is precisely what Simple achieved with its VIP privileged content programme.

But possibly the greatest achievement has been the way Simple has sustained and expanded upon this success. From the start, the key to generating genuine advocacy was to show that adviser feedback has a real impact… that it’s acted upon. This deep and vital bond with customer advisors was stage-managed every step of the way by our member firm…

  • First, the customer engagement survey created the invitation list for the VIP advisers.
  • Then, at launch, each person on this list was sent a personal invitation – over 1000 people signed up.
  • Our Clustre firm then managed the direct engagement process between Simple and its brand advisers. Each month an e‐mail newsletter was sent out announcing the latest quick and easy survey to be completed. This newsletter also closed the loop on how the business was listening to its VIP advisers and gave them access to privileged information and rewards.

In the first few months the VIP advisers provided Simple with invaluable advice on:

  • Which face/icon best represented the brand. This feedback directly influenced the ‘look’ and styling of the Simple brand. It also saved £millions in ineffective design, development and marketing
  • Packaging for a new product
  • The values that best define the brand
  • Messages that should be applied to the products.

Over the next nine months, the results exceeded client targets and expectations at every level:

  • Simple grew a powerful adviser panel of over 60,000 VIP members – providing it with the ‘wisdom of the masses’ to direct and de‐risk its marketing initiatives
  • It created a powerful word-of-mouth machine that primed the market ahead of product launches
  • It slashed its customer acquisition costs. For the panel customers alone these fell from £75 for direct mail to approximately £2.50 – a saving of over £4.5 million
  • The first product launch direct to the VIP advisers, Simple Derma, saw it become the most successful product launch in Simple’s 50-year history. What’s more, it was achieved with no above-the-line support
  • Customer advocacy levels rose progressively, highlighting that customers who arrived through a recommendation go on to be persuasive recommenders themselves. A virtuous circle of positive reinforcement
  • At the start, Simple advisers had a NPS of 35, with new arrivals a score of 15. One year later, this had leapt to a world-class NPS of 65 for existing advisers and an NPS of 44 for new advisers
  • Research via the panel showed that 92% of users had tried one or more additional Simple products and 48% had tried two or more.

And if you want to know the bottom-line value of listening to customers, here is the conclusive evidence…
☺ Simple increased market share. This minnow in the cosmetics market eclipsed Nivea and rose to become the No 2 brand in the facial skincare market.
☺ Simple out‐performed the market by 2.5 times. It’s little wonder that Simple soon became a prime target for acquisition. The brand was acquired by Unilever who are now using these very same techniques to grow consumer interest in a variety of its brands.

Coming Soon…

In my next blog, I will focus on ‘selfies’ and reveal how video is capturing customer attitudes at critical moments of truth.

Honest, emotive and deeply personal, video reveals inner feelings that are closed to conventional market analysis tools. Tone of voice, facial expressions, physical surroundings also provide non-verbal clues that take research to a whole new level. For the first time, senior executives can see real, raw responses rather than hygienically-processed research.

The next article will show you how one company – another member of Clustre’s innovation community – is setting standards that set the ‘selfie’ apart. Don’t miss it!

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