Founder Vicky Walker has been helping scientific businesses and institutions navigate complex sales processes for over 30 years. With Empor Consulting, she brings her extensive experience and knowledge to new clients. Her goal is to help her clients find their way through the maze of scientific equipment vendors and the procurement process.
This post at 37signals about how cutting corners can affect your brand—even if your customers don’t notice—is spot-on.
I’ve long felt that for most companies, the strongest influence on the brand is the employees. Employees deliver the richest experiences, with the highest fidelity. We form our perceptions about the brand so much more from our experiences with the brand’s workforce than through any other touchpoint. Marketing, advertising, and collateral don’t tell us nearly as much as does our interaction with the staff representing the brand.
The post (which is really worth the read) also includes this anecdote from a former employee of an Apple store:
I used to work at one of Apple’s retail stores and can totally affirm this. They do an excellent job of marketing to their own people, which just keeps the enthusiasm for the company at a constant high. And as I learned working at the store, enthusiasm is contagious; if the employees are excited about the product, the customers are going to be excited about the product as well.
You know what? I really get that vibe from Apple store employees. You can tell they’ve really bought into the products they’re selling, and that feeling rubs off onto customers. The story above contrasts quite nicely with this one about GM:
Similarly, many years ago I worked at GM headquarters. Walking into the office and trudging my way up to the cube farm—even in my daily tasks—you’d never know that GM made cars. I’ve always considered it the primary reason the American auto industry is falling apart.
If your employees aren’t enthusiastic about your product, experience, or brand, how can you expect your customers to be?
Five seconds into this video, you’ll be staring in slack-jawed wonder.
I’ve worked with several new businesses that don’t seem to understand the value of this kind of presentation. There are three reasons this video works really well:
Companies that have products like this are really easy to market.
Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.”
I love this quote, as it sums up my approach to communication perfectly. It can be found in this video from Adweek, along with many more David Ogilvy sound bites.
A printer I’ve used a few times over the years has been working hard lately to drum up new business. Someone there has heard of the rule that it’s easier to get money from people who already know you than it is to convert new customers. The company has been on a real blitz lately. Over the past month I’ve received multiple copies of the same email, and last week I received a letter—all with the exact same content.
I’ve reproduced the content of this marketing effort below, with some of the identifying information removed.
Good Afternoon Taylor Garries,
My name is [sales rep], assistant manager from [well-known printing company]. How is business going? I noticed that you haven’t ordered with us for a while and would like to do some more work with you.
I would like to update you on the following summer specials going on at [well-known printing company]:
Although price is important, we know that service is much more valuable when it comes to printing. I would like to work with you on any print projects that you have coming up and I will be your dedicated rep and provide you with fast, reliable and high quality printing.
Taylor Garries, let me know when your next print job and let me quote you on it. You can contact me at [phone number] or email me at [email address].
Talk to you soon,
This type of marketing is all about illusion. While I expect the advertiser to use a mail-merge form letter, I also expect the company to do a better job of creating an illusion that we genuinely enjoy a personal relationship.
The printer wanted the letter to sound like it really came from this person and was written specifically for me:
However, the vendor did a poor job with this mail merge and the actual content of the letter (grammatical errors notwithstanding). If you’re going to write a letter to sound like you’re personally sending it to me, take the time to make it sound like you’re personally sending it to me. When you get this wrong, you end up sounding like a Nigerian prince trying to get some help with money transfer.
The sloppy work spoiled the illusion, instead reminding me that we don’t have a personal relationship and that I’m being sold to as one of thousands.
People generally don’t write letters that start with “Good Afternoon Taylor Garries.” People also rarely specify the time of day in an opening greeting of the email: you wouldn’t know when the recipient might read it. The author should have used “Dear,” the less formal “Hello,” or “Hi.”
Using the recipient’s full name also sounds awkward. The advertiser should have used either “Mr. Garries” or “Taylor.” If you’re trying to build on the fact that a relationship exists—and presumably it is a good relationship—then you should go for the less formal option. Vendors that I get along with would usually write something like, “Hi Taylor.”
And then there’s one of the closing lines: “Taylor Garries, let me know when your next print job and let me quote you on it.” Again, did no one stop to ask how this would sound?
These small but telling gaffes conflict with the tone of the letter and become glaring errors in the eyes of the reader. The vendor should have polished up the content to ensure that it reads well after the mail merge.
But then, I received this exact form letter at least three times—from three different people. Even if the content was perfect, this would have ruined the illusion of any personal communication. The company should have scrubbed its distribution list to remove duplicates. This is the biggest chore, but it would yield the biggest payoff.
Alternatively, the vendor could have dropped the concept of sending a personalised letter altogether, rewriting the letter to be less personal instead. Don’t ask me how my business is going. Don’t write in the first person. Just send out a creative piece that engages me without tricking me. I’d much rather have received that three times.
Below is my favourite short story about systems that encourage us to act irrationally. This actually happened, so it is completely true.
It was 2006, I think. The economy, especially in Edmonton, was booming. I was at a party as my wife’s guest, so I didn’t know a lot of people. The host had invited a few friends from her work in the accounting department of a large and well-known local business.
As is typical whenever people from work get together outside of work, they eventually started talking about work. These people hated their jobs. I listened to them complain about their horrible work environment for twenty minutes.
Then I interjected, “Things can’t be too bad there, if you all still work there.”
They paused for a moment, and one of the women turned to me and said: “You don’t understand how bad it is. It’s so bad that our job causes miscarriages. Okay? There have been like three miscarriages this year alone!” And off they went again, talking about how their employer kills unborn babies.
“So why don’t you leave?” I asked. “Everyone in this city—every employer—is dying to get people to work for them. Why don’t you just walk across the street and work there?”
They all shook their heads. “No, I couldn’t do that,” explained the woman. “You see, I took a continuing education course a few months ago, and [my employer] paid for it. If I left, I would have to pay them back for the course. It’s in my contract.”
“How much was the course?” I inquired.
“About $500,” she replied.
So, this woman was willing to work at a job that she hated, in an environment so stressful that it causes miscarriages, because she might have to pay back $500.
Setting aside the likelihood that the workplace is truly that bad (it only matters that employees perceive it to be horrible), it’s astounding that people would forgo legitimate employment alternatives because of that amount of money. It reminds me of indentured servitude—but for what is really a small sum, or at least an amount that could be overcome relatively easily, considering the ultimate prize of having a comfortable work environment.
Such notions seem to short-circuit all reasonable thought. They’re like optical illusions that work on a much grander scale; they create blind spots in our thinking.
This is a pretty funny sendup of the TV spots auto manufacturers use to sell pickup trucks. These things start as satire, but they inevitably end up in the actual commercials.
Trucktober. Coming to a dealership near you.
Hey every other single beer brand ever, how does your commercial playing tired male sexual stereotypes against female ones feel now? Pretty inadequate, huh?
It kind of reminds me of DQ’s latest spots, which use a similar concept.
I stole this image from someone’s Facebook profile. Attached to it was the dubious claim that Mattel had sent a cease-and-desist order (possibly true) and had the posters removed from all Body Shop locations (unlikely). Whether this image bears enough resemblance to the Barbie doll to constitute trademark infringement warrants a whole separate legal discussion. For the sake of this discussion, I will assume that the story is true—because if so, it marks a tremendous blunder for both brands.
For Mattel, the company’s alleged demand to remove this poster does more damage than it prevents. The doll clearly isn’t an actual Barbie, but Mattel is now (even more) associated with perpetuating unhealthy attitudes in young women. I’ve seen this story passed around virally among the very audience Mattel needs to connect with the most—mothers.
For the Body Shop, any sign of capitulation would send a weak and dispirited message. Actually, the company probably has a pretty good case to fight for fair use of the image. But even if it loses, the fight is still worth fighting—especially if the Body Shop really wants to present a positive body-image message (a la Dove). When you give up without a fight, it says that you’re disingenuous about your branding efforts. You end up looking phoney, which is probably the worst thing you could do when trying to make money off an earnest message like this.
Of course, all of this assumes that the story is true, which I doubt—especially the part about Mattel “banning” the posters. A few minutes of Google-fu didn’t turn up much, except this New York Times article about the campaign from 1997. Aside from that, I could only find a multitude of blog posts, each one parroting the same story. I remain skeptical.
Let me get this out there right away: I hate mission statements.
Whether we’re talking about mission statements, vision, or some other business-school textbook buzzword, they’re all pretty similar. These statements should define the brand. In other words, they should provide a nice little explanation of the brand.
I hate them because they are almost always immense letdowns.
I recognize how these things are tackled: by a committee. Since such entities are intrinsically political, you end up with equivocal blocks of copy that don’t communicate anything. They don’t read well, and so they don’t affect the organization.
Noteworthy: Here’s a random mission statement generator.
Language aside, I hate mission statements because they’re often ignored—or at least stepped around when convenient. I think that the most powerful thing a brand can do is be genuine. Whatever you decide the brand stands for, do that. Live and breathe those qualities in every way you can. And most of all, be genuine at the cost of a dollar.
I’m not arguing for the abandonment of economics. I’m saying that when a brand is confronted with making a choice between being genuine or making a profit, it pays off to be genuine.
Your mission statement doesn’t mean anything until it costs you money.