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Marketing, design, and technical resources for making your digital and print communications more effective.

Customer Level Marketing – Investing in the Bottom Up

April 27th, 2007

Earlier this week, I was engaged in a discussion with a colleague on the way corporations tend to invest their capital. The amount of wasted dollars thrown toward executive pet projects, productivity initiatives, cubical redeployments, senseless non-strategic advertising, and other non-sales generating expenditures is simply mind-boggling. It truly makes me wonder how many companies have ever taken the time to consider what the results would be if they were to redirect a portion of their SG&A expenditure to improving customer relations.

Okay, you’re probably asking “what the heck does Erik mean by customer relations?” To be honest, I’ve never worked with or for a company that has ever concentrated their resources at the customer-level of the organization; every company I know concentrates most of their salaries, bonuses, amenities, perks, and other resources at the corporate executive level. Think about it, how many large organizations pay their frontline employees, namely those who interact and serve the customer, more than keyboard jockey managers back at the office?

I remember the first time I was introduced to this concept during my undergraduate studies over in Finland. My marketing professor asked us to read a phenomenal book by Jan Carlzon titled Moments of Truth. Through the book, Carlzon focuses on his stint as CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), where he is widely renowned for resurrecting what should have been a dead dog company. The SAS Carlzon took over was destined for insolvency, yet his progressive approach to turning the organization upside down literally saved the company and made it a world force in airline transportation. His strategy was simple: slash resources and expenses at the top and invest heavily in the bottom. Within a matter of months, SAS drastically reduced corporate headcount, frivolous spending (such as corporate-level perks), and useless overhead all the while investing in customer service training, customer-focused sales strategies (in regards to ticketing, seating arrangements, and travel packages), employee bonuses based on customer satisfaction, and salary increases for frontline personnel.

Along with the reallocation of resources, SAS initiated a policy wherein all corporate-level employees were required to work at the frontline level for a designated period of time so as to gain an intimate appreciation for the ticket counter representatives and stewards/stewardesses and the customers they served. Furthermore, SAS adapted a progressive policy of promoting high-performing frontline personnel to strategic positions within the organization so as to help consult other service-oriented personnel with customer-relations. Despite the temporary moral downswing at the corporate level, the frontline employee moral shot through the roof as opportunities opened up for incentive pay and promotions. Guess who reaped the benefits of motivated frontline personnel … yep, the customer.

So as to not give too much away, I do encourage you to read Carlzon’s book and contemplate his advice on marketing to your customers through your frontline employees. In addition to the frontline, bottom-up approach, Carlzon provides great strategic insight to managing a successful firm. Here’s a link to purchase Moments of Truth through Amazon:
Moments of Truth

To conclude, it would be well worth your time to consider how your organization could reallocate its resources to building a stronger relationship with your customers. It might be time to consider how to incentivize those who deal with your customers the most.

Focus On Your Customer, Not Your Product

March 16th, 2007

I’m in the process of designing a PowerPoint presentation for a major technology firm, it’s entertaining to discover how the company’s engineers are fixated on describing every little detail about a product. To begin my design process, I researched some internally developed presentations built by the engineers so as to gain an understanding of the product virtues … let me just say the slides had more flying bullets than a war zone. These presentations were product-orientated smorgasbord of technical diarrhea.

Although I like to rag on engineers and their linear approach to life, companies often fall into the same mistake of focusing on product rather than market value, on top of over-messaging attributes rather than building a brand by emotionally captivating the customer by relating a solution to their need.

As Doug and I continue to learn and grow with our business, we’re finding out that the customer doesn’t care about how big, fancy, and powerful our product is, they only want to hear what we can do for them in terms of making their life better. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that my audience doesn’t have the time or interest in learning why I’m so great. And who could blame them? Their lives are complicated and busy, they want to cut to the chase so I better be ready with a strong, precise message that is emotionally appealing, easy to understand, and beneficial in terms of solving a problem or issue.

Going back to the technical engineers, I’ll be ingrained in a lengthy battle to shape these presentations into concise messages that actually mean something to the customer. My job is simply to communicate the three pillars customers look for in why they should consider a product; namely that it is available, easy, and affordable.

P.S. One last tip … avoid talking above your customers’ heads and boring them by using vague and uncommon terminology, your attempt to look smart will probably lose you the deal. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

Epi’s Basque Restaurant in Meridian, Idaho

March 2nd, 2007

If you have ever eaten at Epi’s Basque Restaurant in Meridian, Idaho, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the experience is like none other. The food, ambiance, and service may be down home and arguably “unsophisticated,” but the charm and simple elegance of the friendly staff in combination with delicious Pyrenees-style cuisine are enough for me to make the 40-minute trek out to suburban Meridian.

As a native to the Treasure Valley, I have grown up surrounded by the Basque culture so Epi’s appeals to me from an emotional, nostalgic standpoint. However, Epi’s offers those unfamiliar with Basque culture and cuisine a fantastic venue to try exotic entrees of fish, mutton, beef, and pork along with a large selection of complementary wines that will certainly keep the curious and adventurous giddy with culinary excitement. Oh yeah, no Basque meal is complete without a generous appetizer serving of fried croquettes, absolutely delightful!

Although I’d love to continue on in regards to the wonderful attributes of Epi’s food, I’d like to devote the remainder of this post to how the restaurant thrives without having to advertise on television, radio, or print media.

In this day and age, just about everyone knows about word-of-mouth, referral, and guerilla marketing … but what so few achieve to comprehend is the fuel that drives these concepts. Although I could exercise my theoretical MBA brain and rattle off a litany of fancy words to impress you as to how Epi’s is conquering the universe through a 15-step approach, I will spare you the pain and narrow it down to these three simple principals:

1) Hard Work – Epi’s staff, from owner to line cook, go the extra mile to ensure the customer enjoys the ultimate Basque dining experience. This is accomplished by serving top quality food, complimented by outstanding staff members who bend over backwards to make sure you’re happy. On a side note, the restaurant is spotless in the sanitary department, which scores points with the wife.

2) Being Different – As I mentioned earlier, there is no dining experience quite like Epi’s. Not only is the customer treated to a unique and tasty menu, but the ambiance of the venue can only be described as comfortable and inviting. The facility and décor rush you back to a different Idaho era that existed long before Flying-Wyes, Cheesecake Factories, and sky-rise condominium projects. Without a doubt, Epi’s has become a one-of-a-kind Idaho establishment.

3) Making Meaning – Along with being different, it’s easy to tell within minutes of entering the establishment that owners, Chris Ansotegui and Gina Urquidi, sisters by the way, truly desire the opportunity to serve you not as a customer, but as a family member or a close friend. Entering Epi’s is like going back to your grandmother’s home where she always had that wonderful food prepared on the table, waiting there just the way you liked it. It’s not uncommon to be waited on by either Ansotequi or Urquidi, and if you’re blessed to meet their acquaintance, you will be treated to an evening you won’t soon forget.

It is my best estimation that Epi’s has established itself as a successful restaurant simply by employing these three principals; which in turn fuel customer loyalty and testimonial activity like this blog. Over the past six years, I would guess that I’ve referred at least 50 people to Epi’s as a premier Boise-area eatery. I know I’m not alone in this referral effort, as it is a good idea to call ahead and/or make reservations to secure a table before driving to downtown Meridian.

In conclusion, Epi’s has succeeded where so many have failed and they haven’t had to rely on gimmicks, promotions, advertising, or compromise to do so. As business owners, we must continually strive to work hard, differentiate, and make meaning so as to build a fortress around the heart of our customers. If you own a startup or a small to medium sized business, please take these principals to heart … and don’t forget to try the croquettes!

Congratulations Boise State!

January 2nd, 2007

BSU, Hollywood aint got nothing on you. Surreal is a word that probably gets overused, but there’s nothing else that comes close to describing the iconic American-dream spectacle that BSU put on for us in their defeat of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl last night. Action, suspense, horror, and drama…it had it all—and then some. They say that truth is stranger than fiction, in the case of the Fiesta Bowl truth is exponentially more exhilarating than any screenplay that could ever be imagined.

If for some reason you missed the Fiesta bowl, stop what your doing and take a look at the amazing highlights of this game. Whether you’re a football fan or not has no relevance. If you’ve got a pulse, just a brief skim of the highlights will be guaranteed to quicken it. Here are few quotes from the sports world to give you a flavor:

“It’ll go down as one of the best college football games in history…an instant classic” – FOX News

“…it gives the game a legitimate case for being considered the greatest game of all-time … not just the greatest bowl game. As far as sheer excitement goes, it’s hard to vote against it. And 20 years from now this could be seen as one of the most important games ever…”
»Read full article
Pete Fiutak, CollegeFootballNews.com

“How do you sum up one of the most remarkable endings any of us will ever be fortunate enough to see? How do you sum up one of the most exciting bowl games ever contested? And how do you sum up what will one day be viewed as one of the most significant moments in the history of college football?”
»Read full article
– Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated

“…a dizzying, riveting, back-and-forth game that will be remembered as one of the most exciting in college football history.”
»Read full article
– Pete Thamel, New York Times

“At the end of a game unlike any college football has ever witnessed, two of the great female icons in American culture staged a harmonic, hypnotic, borderline hallucinogenic convergence. Boise State introduced Cinderella to Lady Liberty.”
»Read full article -Pat Forde, ESPN

So what does Boise State winning the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, a revered bastion of college football, have to do with marketing? Plenty, but I’ll let RisingLine principal, and BSU fan extraordinaire, Erik Warilia comment on that when he returns from Phoenix later this week. Until then, let me just say thank you Broncos for one of the most inspiring demonstrations of dedication and passion that have ever been seen in the history of sports.

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