Pure Delight

I was thumbing through a French car magazine last week and was interested by a regular feature they do on levels of customer satisfaction for various car models. The methodology was clearly explained – a decent sample of owners were asked to evaluate their cars based on 10 questions covering most aspects of quality, reliability and economy. The results are aggregated and an overall percentage given for some 40-50 cars.

Two things struck me. Firstly, all the cars scored more than 70%. Yes, modern cars are all pretty good these days, not like the 70’s when some cars – sadly the British and Italian ones for the most part – were so poor they would have got scores similar to the approval rating for an outgoing Italian or British Prime Minister. But the second thing that stood out from the tables was that no car got more than 78%. Not much of a spread. That is largely due to the methodology – aggregating lots of views over lots of criteria will give flat results. So would you change your choice of car based on this survey because it scored 3-5% less than an alternative model but both scored between  70% and 80%? I doubt it.

But what if they had asked a different question, just one question? How many of the owners are absolutely delighted, thrilled, over-the-moon about their car after a year or more of driving it?  If you saw that an alternative car was scoring over 5% and your preferred choice 1% or less I think it would give you cause to reconsider. You’d certainly want to find out more, maybe test drive it.

Customer delight is what we should all be chasing – for anything, not just cars. Forget “Pretty good, I’m overall fairly satisfied and would consider buying again”. We want “Bloody brilliant, I had no idea it would be this good, I’m definitely sticking with this and will tell all my friends”.

Now this is not a new thought. I recall reading an article in the HBR some years ago that gave the case study of a Car Hire company that had changed the way they looked at customer satisfaction. They focused single-mindedly on customer delight. They knew the figure would always be single digit but had proved that just small movements, literally decimal points, made a significant difference to their bottom line. (I have searched for this article but could not find it otherwise you’d have the link but no matter – you’ve got the gist).

Why is delight so important? Recall and repeat purchase are obviously two key benefits. I’m not sure you remember being satisfied or will make an effort to seek out the brand that satisfied you. You do remember being delighted. But the real value of delight is word of mouth. People talk about their delight and other people listen. It goes something like this.

“How was that new restaurant? Very nice you say? I must give it a try some time”.

As opposed to:-

“I’ve got to tell you about this new restaurant, we were blown away! Yes, I’ve got the number here. I’d book fast if I were you, before everyone catches on”.

Delight gives you ambassadors and they give you momentum, and momentum gives you more momentum. I’ve used the analogy before that avalanches start with the movement of one or two snowflakes. In marketing, those first few happy consumer snowflakes who get the momentum going should be highly prized. If they are delighted snowflakes they are positively kicking the avalanche down the mountain (apologies to the skiers, perhaps I need to come up with a better analogy).

So is this anything more than a nice reminder that customer delight – not a new concept – is important? Yes it is and here’s why. Social Media. The article in the HBR was written years ago (which is why I can’t find it) at a time when word of mouth meant just that  – the influence the delighted customer would have on the relatively few number of people they might talk to. We live in an age when word of keyboard can reach thousands. Analysis has shown only a very low % of Tweets relate to brands and most of those are internet or technology brands (e.g. Apple). Only 1 or 2% relate to Coke, Dove, BMW or those kinds of brands but of course we are talking 1 or 2% of millions and millions of Tweets every hour so the absolute numbers are very high.

What is likely to get you in to that 1 or 2% or to push the percentage higher? Customer Delight – if not with the actual product (there is only so much delight I can get from a mouthful of Coke) then at least with something the brand has done.

So go on then – go delight somebody, make them ecstatic. Better still, make this your key performance measure. The results might delight you.

How Brands Grow – A Higher Form Of Ignorance?

I came across a quote by Theodore Dalrymple recently. It referred to the increasingly common – and understandable – use of the internet to obtain information on medical conditions.

“Information without perspective is just a higher form of ignorance”

Theodore Dalrymple is the nom de plume of Anthony Daniels, a retired doctor (and the most wonderful writer as any Spectator magazine loyal will know). I can see where he’s coming from. The doctors have years of experience and that gives them the perspective to make the best use of information, both old and new.

It made me think about the increasing amount of information available to marketers. This comes not just in the form of “big data” about the market and the target audience, their profile and their precise behavior in different contexts, but also in the form of new models and theories. The information coming from the latter that interests me most is the information derived from social sciences and an increasing, although admittedly still very limited, understanding of how the brain actually works. And like any rational person I become more interested if it is supported by empirical data.

The ones that interest me less are things like “How brands grow” by Byron Sharp that I have been hearing a lot about. I am not uninterested, just less interested. I understand that Mr. Sharp is quite defensive about his work and any doubters or critics, like my good friend David Taylor, are accused of being luddites, typical marketers who believe in logic with magic and not just ‘scientific evidence’. Well let me help Mr. Sharp brush off any comments I may have to make by declaring right up front that I have not yet read his book, only some of the critiques including those from David. I did however have the privilege of knowing Andrew Ehrenberg and hearing him explain first hand his findings on the relationship between category penetration and average weight of purchase for a large, statistically robust sample of FMCG brands. I am given to understand “How brands grow” is a continuation of Andrew Ehrenberg’s work.

I remember at the time thinking the findings were challenging and profound but, in Andrew’s own words, they really only explained why some brands are bigger. He explained to me that his findings were like Boyle’s Law (pressure of a given mass of gas moves in a constant relationship with volume). It is an immutable law of physics. So I asked Andrew what he thought might be the immutable laws in marketing that would, in effect, compress the volume and raise the pressure (if you follow the analogy). He laughed and said, “I am just a statistician, that is for you clever marketers to figure out!”

What was clear to me then, and is just as clear to me now, is that Ehrenberg’s work was not a theory of how brands grow but an observation about what happens when they do – useful but only up to a point. I suspect Mr. sharp’s book is more of the same – useful but only up to a point.

What concerns me is that in the hands of inexperienced marketers and business people it runs the risk of being a higher form of ignorance.

That said, let me defend the use of information about medical conditions by the general public – I have to for no other reason than the best practitioner of this (or worst offender) is my wife. She would argue, and I will not argue with her, that, at the very least, it enables you to have a better conversation with the doctors. But I support the idea that without perspective and experience it is well short of great insight, which is to say an insight that solves a problem or presents an opportunity – like how to grow your brand.

Let me illustrate what I mean with this old riddle. A man lives in a high-rise block of flats. Every morning he gets up to go to work and takes the lift to the ground floor. When he returns in the evening he takes the lift to the 7th floor and walks up the remaining flights of stairs to the 14th. Why does he do this?

Here are some of the most common explanations offered:-

  • He wants to keep fit
  • He knows someone who lives on the 7th floor and visits them before going back to his flat.
  • The lift is faulty

All are plausible theories (although each can be challenged – if he wants to get fit why doesn’t he walk all 14 floors every other day or indeed every day, if wants to get really fit?).

The answer is that he is a dwarf and he can’t reach the button for the 14th floor in the lift. That is something you would know immediately if you lived in the same building, would have figured out pretty quickly if you were a dwarf and perhaps eventually if you had any experience of dwarves. I would further argue – but have no statistical proof – that a curious, creative, lateral thinker is more likely to solve the riddle.

I will read Mr. Sharp’s book and I am sure I will find it interesting but I doubt it will give me a comprehensive, foolproof scientific model for how to grow brands. Hopefully, it will improve the conversation.

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