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Archive for the ‘BrandingWire’ Category

BrandingWire: Communicating with Customers

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 14, 2007

rainbow-glove.jpg We communicate with our customers in many ways.  In fact, customers pick up communication clues from not just our words, but also from tone of voice, demeanor (yes, a smile can be heard!), and body language.  In certain settings, the sense of smell plays a large part, even impacting long-term memory.  In written communications, words aren’t everything – pictures and color make up a large part of the story.  One of the masters of using non-verbal communication was one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock:

“Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”  Alfred Hitchcock

This brings me to the latest BrandingWire challenge about color.  Rachel is a color consultant for business and helps organizations use color as an effective tool in their marketing arsenal.  She is relatively new to the market of color consulting, and she wants to spread the word about what she can do (and keep in mind that she is moving states within the year!).  She also writes a blog about color called Hue.

The new BrandingWire model is to leave the case study open for others to share their advice, expanding it beyond our original “posse”.  There are already several comments on Rachel’s challenge, including mine today.  Here were my suggestions for Rachel:

1. Do some quick research with small businesses in your area; you can use them as a “proxy” for what small businesses in other areas might think.

Talk to those who see the inherent value in being color-conscious and those who don’t. What were the drivers and motivators behind the color decisions made by the savvy businesses? What helped them make the choice to use color in marketing?

Talk to those who don’t yet know the value using color can bring them. What are their thoughts/concerns/objections?  Understanding your customers and potential customers is a key step towards business success for you!  This will also help you with Chris Brown’s suggestion of finding the right client.

2. Your blog is potentially a very powerful tool for your business! You have a strong writing style and good insight. However, I am not convinced it will appeal to your potential customers – yet.

You can make your blog content more relevant by adding insights at the end of each post with how it can apply to small business. This would help your potential clients to see that they could use these concepts in their businesses, and by the way, Rachel seems like she really gets how I could do that!

Feel free to go to the BrandingWire site and add your own ideas for Rachel.  There are also many other great ideas in the comments, so grab a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to peruse the thoughts of some smart bloggers.  (Photo credit: nruboc)


Posted in B2B Marketing, Blogging, BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer strategy, Marketing | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

BrandingWire Gets an Overhaul

Posted by Becky Carroll on November 19, 2007

bw_logo_med.gif Many of you know that I have been part of an ongoing team of bloggers who writes monthly for BrandingWire.  Below is the list of posts I have contributed to this effort to date:

Growing the Business: Coffee House Blues about branding a small coffee company

Coming back for more in Estes Park, Colorado about helping this destination town shine up its image

Car ownership made easy about customer service in the auto sales industry (with tips!)

It’s Cool to be a Geek about making IT services more exciting

BrandingWire: Helping a Consulting Business about better serving consulting clients

This has been a lot of fun – so much fun, in fact, that we are going to start opening it up for others to join in!  There are two ways to get involved.

1) Send us your marketing or branding challenge.  We love to work on real-life examples (like the IT services company or Estes Park).  The benefit to you is gaining outside perspective on your case, with hopefully some great suggestions for improvement.  Anyone can submit a challenge or respond to a challenge.

2) Chime in on any upcoming BrandingWire challenge.  We would love to include you in the posse!

For more information, as well as examples of marketing briefs for case submittal, check out our group site.

In the meantime, tell me what you think.  Do you like the BrandingWire format we are using?  What would you want to see to improve it?  Would you be interested in participating?  Drop us your thoughts in the comments, and together, BrandingWire will keep heading down the road to more great ideas!

Here is a list of the other BrandingWire authors; you can tell them what you think, too!

Olivier Blanchard,  Derrick Daye, Lewis Green, Gavin Heaton, Martin Jelsema, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Kevin Dugan and Steve Woodruff.

Posted in B2B Marketing, BrandingWire, Marketing | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

BrandingWire: Helping a Consulting Business

Posted by Becky Carroll on October 8, 2007

last-slide.jpg For this month’s BrandingWire installment, the posse of pundits (including me) is tackling how to help a consulting firm.  Here is the challenge:

The ideal client/customer for the consulting firm looks like:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

In a nutshell: Business growth has slowed or stopped, clients are not likely to return, and the firm is being under-cut in price by larger consulting firms.  This same scenario could apply to many businesses, but there is something unique about a consulting firm.  This is a service business.  The marketing of services is often a challenge for companies, as there is not a tangible product to sell.

In this month’s case, marketing may not solve the problem up front.  There looks to be more legwork to do before we attempt any slick re-branding or marketing campaigns.  We need to understand what has gone wrong.

Here are some suggestions on how this ABC Consulting could proceed at this point.

  • Talk to current clients about existing projects.  We want to make sure the firm’s current clients are completely satisfied with the work being done for them.  Are they satisfied with the work done so far?  Is there anything that could be done to better meet their needs?  Would they consider continuing with this consulting firm for follow-on work?  If not, why not?
  • Build relationships with the clients on multiple levels.  People come and go, both from clients as well as from consulting firms.  Building relationships at many levels helps insulate the consulting firm from being ousted when the “new guy” comes along.  Additionally, a strong client/consultant relationship will help keep those lower-priced competitors at bay!
  • Make sure all project work is adding value for the client.  Do we truly understand each client’s needs?  Do we know how the results of this work will be used after we leave?  Binders full of research and “consulting speak” that sit on a shelf or complicated marketing plans that no one buys into will never see the light of day.  Often times, consultants are not re-hired to do follow-on work because the last “consulting deliverable” wasn’t something that the client could use to take action and make a difference for their company.  Every work product delivered to a client needs to count!
  • Look for the next project from this client before the current one is finished.  It is always easier and more cost effective to get business from an existing client than from a new one.  Consultants should keep their eyes open for others areas where the consulting firm’s services can help the client.  It could be to assist the client in taking further action from this project.  It could be in a completely different area. 
  • Quickly put a process in place to capture end-of-project results.  A good project manager always does a “post mortem review” on the project.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What could have been done differently?  Be sure to get feedback from the client during this review process!  Take what is learned from the review and immediately apply it to other existing projects; immediate action is required to keep from making the same mistakes.
  • Talk to former clients, if possible, to find out why they did not continue working with the firm.  Too many firms that lose the sale don’t go back and ask why.  Many times, clients are willing to share what their issues are, if any.  By doing this, the firm may find out that the way they are approaching their projects doesn’t leave room for future work.  Of course, this should only be done with clients that the firm is still on good terms with! 

Putting some of these suggestions into play will help this consulting firm to understand their mistakes, and it will also help set them up for the future.  Now go talk to those clients!

Check out these other posts from the BrandingWire posse for more insight and perspective!

Lewis Green

Drew McLellan

Martin Jelsema

Patrick Schaber

Olivier Blanchard

Steve Woodruff

Valeria Maltoni

Kevin Dugan

Gavin Heaton

Posted in B2B Marketing, BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer strategy, Marketing | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

It’s Cool to be a Geek

Posted by Becky Carroll on September 9, 2007

laptop-gold.jpg In this month’s installment of BrandingWire, the BrandingWire team focuses on a small IT services company.  Here is a snippet of this company’s cry for help:

Would you say branding coffee and shoes and beer and other “lifestyle” products is easier than branding… say, a small high tech services company? I’ve been working in marketing for this sort of company for a short while, and have found it to be quite a challenge to really get a grasp of our brand.

How can providing IT services be cool, let alone sexy? 

Background: This company is a small IT company based in Canada.  They offer IT services which range from proactive work, such as maintaining a network, emergency services (when things go down), and consulting services (various projects, such as help upgrading all office PCs to Macs).  They are also beginning to offer a new service called Green IT.  This service helps companies learn how to cut down on both energy use and waste through the optimization of IT. 

The company asked for BrandingWire’s assistance in two key areas:

  1. Ideas to get current clients to see them as more than just “fix-it” services, perhaps even partners for business.
  2. Ideas to help bring in new clients who already understand the value of IT services and who will choose them over competitors.

(Note: You can find the full branding brief at BrandingWire.)

Branding Services

Branding and marketing services can be difficult, as the buyer doesn’t have a product to touch or to see.  IT services in particular are somewhat complex and difficult to explain.  Most aspects of IT services can only be assessed after the service has been performed, and even then, explaining what was fixed may not be straightforward.

Let’s go back to one important aspect of branding for a minute: associations.  I like the way it was described in this post from CIO Magazine about branding IT departments internally:

When automakers brand their product, they’re hoping to sell fun, sex and adventure, along with their cars. Similarly, if your end users’ only image of your IT staff is as the people to call when their printer isn’t working, then they’re not thinking of you to help solve strategic business problems.

For a long time, IT services have been viewed as a necessary evil rather than as a key component of successful business.  Companies see IT services as a place to go get help when something breaks with their computers or systems.  Sometimes the IT services professional is seen as just a part of the facilities – no different from the electrician or telephone guy.

Helping Customers See the Light

There is a lot of potential for marketing and branding this Canadian IT services company.   I would recommend focusing first on existing customers and their needs.  

Understand your customers’ needs and pain points.  Which part of their operations are critical?  Which depend on IT being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?  How many minutes of system down-time can be tolerated, if any?  Where could an improvement in IT make their operations more efficient?  Once these needs are understood, it is easier to frame the IT services offerings in the context of the business needs.

Take out the jargon.  Explain it simply. Enough said.

Tie results to business goals.  Rather than a report card of each minute served on the customer’s behalf, tie it back to their business issues and goals.  How does each service help them achieve their end goals (which you now understand from your customer needs research)?  Put yourself in their shoes as you write your annual report card, and then present it personally if possible.  You will appear to be more of a partner than a “service provider”.

Go for the Green.  Introducing “Green IT” to existing customers is a strong cross-sell for two reasons.  First, it is a great way for customers who want to be seen as part of something larger than just IT.  Green IT can help customers meet their stated/unstated goals of social responsibility, which is becoming very popular in the business world. 

Second, the understanding of the total cost of owning and operating a company’s technology (called Total Cost of Ownership or TCO) may get organizations to start thinking about energy consumption differently.  This is a good conversation to have with a company’s CFO or CEO.  Getting in at this level will also begin to raise the visibility of IT services, and discussions can start on the strategic nature of IT services (rather than just being “fix-it” services).

Make sure you have the right customers.  If some of your customers will never see you as anything more than emergency, fix-it now services, you may want to reconsider keeping them as customers.  If they are willing to pay the fees for this type of service and are satisfied, keep them – and see if you can grow to be a trusted advisor over time.  If there is a lot of complaining and grumbling when the bill arrives, and there is not a chance they will ever “see the light”, you might suggest they go with one of your competitors.  This strategy is not for the faint, but by aligning yourself with customers who value your services, you enable potential referrals to the right kind of customers in the future.

Grow the Business

Once you have focused on existing customers in this manner, you should be growing some true evangelists for your company.  Enlist them to help you bring in new, like-minded clients through referrals.  This could be done through an official referral program or by engaging them in relationship-building conversations such as a blog about your services, with some of  your best customers as guest authors.

You should also have a pretty good idea what your ideal customer looks and acts like by now.  Go out and prospect in the areas where you can find more customers like them! 

IT is Critical

Keep it as simple as possible.  Thanks go to Paul Wallis at CIO Magazine for a thought-provoking piece on his blog; the post is entitled IT Exists for One Reason.  This almost makes it cool to be an IT geek!  An excerpt is below:

Data flow is critical today

Today, business resources and IT assets are either providers of data, consumers of data or provide the conduit through which the data can flow.

The flow of data between business assets is the life-blood of every modern organisation.

People provide and consume data daily, as do applications and systems. Hardware and cables act as conduits through which data flows: between desks, through office and corporate networks, across the internet, through deep sea cables and via satellites.

Across all businesses, the equivalents of the pipes, valves, pumps, meters and sensors of the oil and gas industry are the people, hubs, cables, routers, servers, and desktops through which data flows.

Data flow is at the heart of 21st century business. Supporting, processing and optimising the flow of data are critical to maximising business performance.

The sole reason for IT’s existence is to manage the flow of data.

Get more high-voltage ideas at BrandingWire. 

Our posse of authors include the following regular contributors:

Martin Jelsema

Lewis Green

Kevin Dugan

Valeria Maltoni

Steve Woodruff

Drew McLellan

Patrick Schaber

Derrick Daye

Gavin Heaton

Olivier Blanchard

This month, we have three guest authors as well!  They are the following bloggers:

Matt Dickman

Chris Brown

Cam Beck

(Photo credit: LuMaxArt2D)

Posted in B2B Marketing, BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer service, Marketing, Technical support | 7 Comments »

Car ownership made easy

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 5, 2007

car-keys.jpg One of the blogs I write for monthly is called BrandingWire.  We are a force of 12 bloggers who all publish posts, once a month, on the same topic.  This month’s topic: car dealerships.  I will share with you some observations, lessons to take away, as well as examples of dealerships doing it right for their customers.

Car dealerships are not always a positive topic of conversation.  Listen in on some of the comments heard from customers at car dealerships:

“I dread the hard sell at the dealership.” 

“I don’t want to endure that kind of psychological warfare.”

“I am investing in a 5-10 year experience; who I buy from is critical.”

Once loyal to a brand, many customers come back to buy from that car manufacturer again and again over the years.  Even their children are influenced by what kind of car their parents drive.  Owner loyalty is the holy grail for car manufacturers.  But what drives it (so to speak)?  And what can car dealerships do to improve it?

Face of the Brand

Car dealers are the face of the corporate brand to customers.  They are in charge of local customer treatment and have  some flexibility in what they can offer, especially when it comes to building customer loyalty.  However, some car dealers focus so much on the short-term measures, mainly sales, that they fail to create a dealership experience that will bring customers back for more.  In addition, many dealers are located on the town’s “auto row” among competing dealerships, where the goal is to keep the customer on the lot or in the showroom. 

Customers are also turning to brokers and the internet to ease their car-buying experience.  Recently, we purchased a new truck.  Dreading the “car dealer negotiation” game, we started with the internet sales departments of the dealers where we were interested in buying.  This provided a no-haggle experience, with prices sent over email or given to us over the phone.  We had immediate response from most car dealers we contacted this way.

Lesson 1: Make it easy for customers to buy from you.  Internet sales departments are one way of creating a no-hassle method of buying (and selling) cars, thus improving the customer’s brand perception when they come in to sign the papers.

Lesson 2: Understand the buying experience from your customer’s point of view.  Map out what it looks and feels like when a customer comes in to your dealership, from the test-drive to the purchase and negotiations/financing.  Where are the snags?  When are there long waiting periods?  Customers who have a good experience are likely to come back for more.

Lesson 3: Thank your customer for buying.  Gift-after-purchase programs can surprise and delight customers.  Here are some tidbits from a customer survey after one of these programs:

  • 75% of recipients told others about the gift
  • 30% of those told 4 to 7 people
  • 98% would recommend the brand to others
  • 71% said the gift exceeded their expectations
  • (source: Incentive Central)

    Lesson 4: Make sure the first 30 days of ownership are a great experience.  Customers want reassurance they have made the right decision.  Creating a “1st 30 Days” program could include customer treatments such as the thank-you mentioned above, a DVD sent to the new owner highlighting car features with “how to use” lessons, offers for a free car wash and oil change, and whatever else your local customers would consider worthwhile to bring them back to the dealership.

    It’s All About the People 

    Forward-looking car dealers realize that most brand impressions are made in one place: the service department.  Service provides repeat business and an ongoing revenue stream for dealers.  Customers care about one thing: getting their car back, in good shape.

    J.D. Power recently conducted their annual customer satisfaction study on service at car dealerships.  Critical factors going into dealer ranking included user-friendly service, service delivery and quality, the in-dealership experience, and service initiation.  Interestingly, drop-in customers, without a scheduled appointment, were more satisfied than those customers with an already-scheduled appointment!  In many cases, customers are not really differentiated by whether they have made an appointment (unlike restaurants, where those with a reservation are taken in first).

    Lesson 5: Set customer expectations in the service department.  Make sure customers know what they can expect when they bring in their car for service – including time expected in waiting to see a service representative, time expected to perform the maintenance/repair, impact on their day, and costs.

    One other key factor in creating great customer service is the service advisor.  If a service advisor spends time with the car owner helping to set expectations, as well as explaining the services performed after they are completed, customer satisfaction and loyalty increase.  Here are some stats from the aforementioned J.D. Powers findings:

    Of those who were delighted with how work was explained—even when their repair was not completed correctly the first time—72 percent said that they would definitely return to the dealer for service covered under warranty, compared with only 42 percent of customers who were satisfied or indifferent. Nearly one-half (47%) of delighted customers report they would definitely return to the dealer for maintenance or repairs that they would have to pay for, compared with only 17 percent of those customers who were satisfied or indifferent.

    Lesson 6: Your people make a world of difference.  Customers build up trust in a dealership when there is consistency in the people they are dealing with.  If they see the same service advisor time after time, they feel they are being valued in a relationship.   Employee retention in the service department is therefore critical to customer retention and future sales.

    Lesson 7: Create a great service experience. Customers want to have their car serviced as quickly as possible while inconvenience is minimized.  Dealerships can make the service experience easier to handle in various ways:

    – Offer rides to pick up or drop off customers or their cars.

    – Offer loaners for longer maintenance/repairs.  Be sure the loaner is clearly labeled as such (ex: Loaner car provided by Ford of San Diego). 

    – Return the customer’s car clean, both inside and out.

    – If the service is quick, offer an area where customers can make phone calls, log on to the internet, or grab a cup of coffee while they are waiting.

    Doing it Right

    One dealership who has a motto of “customers for life” is Longo Toyota in Los Angeles, California.  Nearly 80% of their sales are to repeat customers.  This huge dealership includes amenities such as free wi-fi throughout the dealership, a children’s play area, a business center, AAA and Enterprise Rent-a-Car offices on-site, as well as a Starbucks and a Subway sandwiches restaurant.  In addition, they offer a “New Owner Event” to those who have just bought a car from them including food, prizes, a gift certificate for a free oil change, valet parking, and a free car wash.  This is a great “1st 30 Days” experience!

    I also just read an article in the Ventura County Star newspaper about two dealerships who are giving their showrooms a makeover with the customer in mind.  New facilities offer free wi-fi, places to plug in laptops and work, flat-screen TV in the waiting room, free coffee, and even cookies baked fresh at the dealership.  They are striving to make customers feel welcome, feel comfortable, and be willing to tell their friends about the great service.  For these dealers, customer service is their top priority.

    Key Takeaways

    How can car dealerships create customers for life?  Focus on the customer, meet their needs, and build trust first and foremost.  Make it easy for them to do business with you.  Create a fabulous experience each time the customer steps foot on the dealership property (in person or online).  Ensure the customer is thrilled in their first 30 days of ownership, and beyond.

    The days of high-pressure sales tactics and shady car-parts are gone.  The era of customer service and convenience is here.   Wanna go car shopping?

    Get more high-voltage ideas at

    Other members of the BrandingWire team include: Olivier Blanchard,  Derrick Daye, Lewis Green, Ann Handley, Gavin Heaton, Martin Jelsema, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Kevin Dugan and Steve Woodruff.

    Posted in BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Marketing | 26 Comments »

    Coming back for more in Estes Park, Colorado

    Posted by Becky Carroll on July 9, 2007

    manonrock.jpg I am a member of the BrandingWire posse, a group of 12 bloggers who, once a month, take on one common branding challenge.  Last month, we tackled branding for a coffee house.  For this month’s BrandingWire excursion, we are taking our cup of coffee to Estes Park, Colorado.  Here is a little bit of information about Estes Park, in case you have never been there:

    Estes Park has been a tourist attraction for over 100-years, even before the founding of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes borders the RMNP and has used the slogan, “Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park” for some fifty years at least.

    It is nestled in a high-mountain valley with spectacular mountain vistas. The area teams with wildlife (deer and elk saunter through the town’s side streets summer and winter). As a tourist town, Estes has acquired a cadre of attractions other than the outdoor hiking, fishing, horseback riding and sightseeing. There are go-carts, an aerial tramway, hayrides and other family-oriented activities.  (You can read more about Estes Park in the brief for BrandingWire put together by member Martin Jelsema, former Estes Park retailer and “native”.

    According to the town of Estes Park, there are four types of people who come to visit:

    • Day trippers (mostly from the “front range” cities of Denver, Ft. Collins, and other close areas)
    • Travelers (just passing through, these folk stop for a day or two to gas up, replenish supplies, and camp)
    • Conventioneers (in town for a particular meeting or event, such as the many horse shows or the Scandinavian Festival)
    • Destination vacationers (usually families that come for a week-long vacation)

     The town would like to increase their tax base, which will help enhance life for both residents and visitors alike.  Tourism is the currently considered to be the best way to increase the revenues.  Now for the questions: Which visitors to focus on?  Can you please everyone?

    Oh, one last detail: repeat visitors to Estes Park tend to spend quite a bit more money than first-time visitors, as their stays are longer.  According to the town’s annual stakeholder report, repeat visitors stay 7.3 days, compared to only 3.9 days for a first-time visitor!  The Customers Rock! approach to helping Estes Park is to increase the tax base by converting more first-time visitors to loyal Estes Park vacationers.

    How do we get people to come back for more?  We make sure we are relevant in our messaging and we create a fabulous customer experience.  This applies across all visitor types!

    Relevant Messaging

    In order for Estes Park to have the most relevant messaging, we need to understand why people come back to this beautiful town.  There are key reasons why people leave their home and go somewhere else for a day or a week.  Messaging should help visitors understand how Estes Park meets their needs.  I would want to ask return visitors what brings them back.  Those who come year after year may have special insights to share!

    From my experience, these are the types of visitor “needs” that are met by places like Estes Park:

    • I need peace and quiet: I want to get away from it all and get in touch with nature.
    • I need thrills and adventure: I want to break out of my boring environment and do something exciting and maybe a bit risky!
    • I want to make a memory with my family: The kids are growing up, and I want to have special family trips they will remember for a lifetime.  Maybe they will even bring their own kids one day…
    • I am just here for business, but I want to see the area: If this place is good, maybe I will bring my family back here sometime!
    • I just need to fill up my car and my stomach: Perhaps I will come back another time, or at least recommend it to someone else.
    • I need a place to retire someday: I am thinking about where I want to spend my next years, and I want to find a place that meets my needs.

    The people in the “visitor segments” will most likely have these needs underlying their outside “behaviors”.  I would recommend looking at creating “segments” based on these visitor needs, rather than the visitor types outlined earlier.  Once Estes Park understands the needs of their return visitors, they can begin to tweak their current messaging to show how their town meets those needs. 

    The town website for visitors could be broken up into a few key areas, allowing potential and returning visitors to find experiences that help meet their vacation needs.  Here is a site for Estes Park that starts to do something similar.  In their What to Do section, they break out areas such as Be Adventurous, Take it Easy, With the Kids, helping visitors easily find the activities that are right for them.  The main Estes Park site can use the understanding of their returning visitors’ needs to craft an outstanding web experience before a new visitor even sets foot into town!

    Create a Fabulous Customer Experience

    Finally, in order to create return visitors, the customer experience must shine.  This means hiring people with great customer service skills, keeping the town maintained, and making each tourist touchpoint a great interaction.  A location on the website where visitors can share their experiences and review the businesses could help to highlight those establishments who treat their customers well – and keep customers coming back for more.

    Get more high-voltage ideas at

    Other members of the BrandingWire team include: Olivier Blanchard,  Derrick Daye, Lewis Green, Ann Handley, Gavin Heaton, Martin Jelsema, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Kevin Dugan and Steve Woodruff.

    (Photo credit: rarpia)

    Posted in BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer strategy | 14 Comments »

    Growing the Business: Coffee House Blues

    Posted by Becky Carroll on June 10, 2007

    bw_logo_no_tag-sm.gifToday is the official launch of BrandingWire.  BrandingWire is a group of 12 bloggers who will take on one business challenge per month.  Each of us will post our view of the challenge on our own blogs with a link back to the main BrandingWire page.  There is also a BrandingWire Pageflakes portal where you can see all 12 participant blogs in one view.  For the first month, we are using a fictitious company as a case study.  If you are or know of a company that would like BrandingWire to tackle a challenge, let one of us know.  Your idea may get chosen for a future BrandingWire feature!

     First Case Study – Small Coffee Company

    (Photo credit: pietus

    Situation summary: ABC Coffee Company (fictitious) is a small coffee company with a few retail stores.  They have been in business for about eight years and are reasonably profitable.  They do not carry any debt; all operations are funded from a steady cash flow.  They roast their own beans on-site, and they are very strong locally.  There is little to no recognition of their brand outside of their geographic area. 

    Family-run, the company has a basic brand name and tagline (ABC Coffee Company: Great coffee at great prices!).  Their logo is also very basic.  The family wants to grow their business, but they are not sure of the most profitable path.  Competition is increasing: Starbucks is close by, Caribou is moving in, even McDonald’s is upscaling their coffee offerings. 

    Challenge: What should be ABC Coffee Company’s strategy for growth?

    My take: Since they are local, their success so far has been most likely due to their loyal customers.  People will be the key differentiator for ABC Coffee Company as they move forward, and a focus on their customers will enable them to grow.  The goals would be as follows:

    Keep and grow existing customers = organic growth

    Use knowledge from existing customers to gather in new customers = new growth

    Step One: Talk to ABC Coffee Company customers.  This can be done through ABC Coffee Company employees as well as through surveys.  Here are some key questions to ask customers to help ABC Coffee learn about customer preferences and needs, in addition to learning about the customer experience: 

    • What do you like best about ABC Coffee Company? (Let’s build on the good things.)
    • How often do you come in?  How far do you drive/walk to get here? (Do a lot of customers come from farther away, perhaps across town?  Let’s see if it would make sense to have another outpost closer to other customers.)
    • Do you get your coffee “to-go”, or do you enjoy it on-site? (How can we make life easier for our customers?)
    • What do you dislike about ABC Coffee Company?  If you could change just one thing, what would it be? (Let’s find the dissatisfiers.)

    ABC Coffee Company can also learn about their customers by observing behaviors.  When ABC Coffee understands why customers come to their retail stores, they can begin to improve the customer experience.  This will help differentiate them from competitors, as they can use what they learn about customers and their needs to help make ABC Coffee Company the preferred place for customers to buy and drink their coffee.

    Step Two: Fix the dissatisfiers.

    What did ABC Coffee Company’s customers tell them they wanted to change?  What did they dislike?  Choose those dissatisfiers that can have the greatest impact on the customer experience and fix them.  This may not seem like the sexiest strategy, but if the customer experience is not a good one, all the great marketing in the world may not make any difference!

    This step helps meet the goal of keeping existing customers, as well as converting new customers that come in the door.

    Step Three: Look at the customer experience for different customer groups

    Different customers will have different needs.   Depending on what has been learned in the First Step (above), we want to think about how ABC Coffee Company might improve the current customer experience for different customer groups.  Here are some suggestions that will not only improve the experience for two of these groupings but could also encourage positive word of mouth to their friends.

    Group 1: Business people

    If ABC Coffee Company has a number of customers that meet and/or work at their retail stores (sometimes in lieu of being at an office!), one way to improve the customer experience is to ensure there are plenty of power outlets to plug in computers.  Providing free wireless Internet access may also be a differentiator to some (for example, Starbucks charges for theirs).  Additionally, ABC Coffee could provide branded coffee travel mugs to regular customers, especially business customers, and encourage them to take them to work to use.  This helps the environment (fewer paper/styrofoam cups used at the office) as well as advertises ABC Coffee Company to other co-workers.

    Group 2: Moms of pre-schoolers

    If ABC Coffee Company has groups of moms that bring their babies and toddlers to the retail store to meet with other young moms, there are a number of ways to improve this customer experience.  Let’s start in the bathroom!  Most coffee retail establishments are missing something in their bathroom which is critical to this customer grouping: baby changing tables.  Offering kid-friendly menu items, such as juice and animal crackers, as well as hot drinks at a kid-friendly temperature, could go a long way to giving these still-young future customers something to occupy themselves while their moms take a break and visit with each other.  The word should spread fairly quickly to other moms that ABC Coffee Company is a great place to take their little ones!

    This step helps meet the goal of increasing business from existing customers.

    Step Four: Find other ways to build on relationships.


    – ABC Coffee Company should get to know their customers well and treat them like good friends.  This local, friendly attitude will continue to draw a local following that could spill over to positive word of mouth and bring in new customers.  Hold a party for customers to thank them, offering samples of coffees and treats as well as music and door prizes.  Encourage customers to bring their friends, and hand out 2-for-1 certificates for a future purchase.

    Reach out to the local community.  Look for places where existing customers are already involved (soccer leagues, business associations).  For example, many soccer leagues have 8 AM games on Saturday mornings.  Perhaps ABC Coffee Company could provide a coffee station at the fields for those parents who didn’t have time to grab their eye-opening cup of joe on their way to the game.  Offer coupons for parents to come back and order the “coffee box”, which is a large amount of coffee in a portable container.  Same could be done for baseball games, swim meets, or cricket matches!  (Tea, anyone?)  Sponsor local teams for youth sports (especially for those teams of loyal customers).  If there is space at the retail store, offer a community meeting room.  These ideas build on existing customer relationships as they get them to not only tell their friends but also to show them the great coffee off-premises.

    This step helps meet the goal of both growing existing customers as well as bringing in new customers, using existing customers as “citizen marketers”.


    ABC Coffee Company has a bright future.  They are profitable, they are well-known locally, and they have a group of loyal customers from which to build.  By taking some time to understand the needs of their best customers, as well as how they can improve their customer experience, they have the foundation necessary to keep and grow existing customers as well as bring in new customers via word of mouth and customer advocacy.

    Do you know a coffee company like ABC?  Do you have other ideas for ways they could grow their business through customers?  Leave me your ideas in a comment! 

    Also, be sure to check out the other BrandingWire posts on this case study to see how the rest of the pundits tackled areas such as PR, marketing, and SEO. 

    Get more high-voltage ideas at!  The posse is as follows:

      Olivier Blanchard
      Becky Carroll
      Derrick Daye
      Kevin Dugan
      Lewis Green
      Ann Handley
      Gavin Heaton
      Martin Jelsema
      Valeria Maltoni
      Drew McLellan
      Patrick Schaber
      Steve Woodruff (our Sheriff and chief pundit – thank you for coordinating, Steve!)
      (Photo credit: pietus)

    Posted in BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customer strategy | 21 Comments »

    The Launch of Branding Wire

    Posted by Becky Carroll on June 4, 2007

    bw_logo_no_tag-sm.gifI am proud to announce that I am part of a new resource for branding and marketing: BrandingWire.   On a monthly basis, and kicking off next Monday, June 11, this team of 12 bloggers will be pushing the limits on branding and marketing and share new ways of thinking about ordinary business issues. “Provocative Perspectives from a Posse of Pundits” is the tag line.  Let’s explore that for a minute.

    Provocative: Tending to provoke or stimulate.  We hope our discussions will be the beginnings of a new set of conversations around how branding and marketing can be done in this era of Web 2.0.

    Perspectives: A way of regarding situations or topics.  We will be taking one case study each month and sharing how we would tackle the issue from our unique points of view.

    Posse: A group of people summoned by a sheriff to aid in law enforcement.  (I think I prefer the slang definition): A group of friends or associates.  This group of 12 bloggers may have differing, strong opinions, but we have all become one team through this special task force.

    Pundits: Sources of opinion; critics.  We will each be analyzing the aforementioned case study in our own blogs, critiquing the business situation and providing potential branding and marketing solutions.

    This posse will be providing some creative ideas which, when viewed together, should provide some interesting fodder for discussion.  I am honored to have been asked to participate!

    Steve Woodruff has been our “sheriff”, calling all of us together to create BrandingWire.  You can find it on its own special blog page as well as on the blogs of these smart marketers:

      Olivier Blanchard
      Becky Carroll
      Derrick Daye
      Kevin Dugan
      Lewis Green
      Ann Handley
      Gavin Heaton
      Martin Jelsema
      Valeria Maltoni
      Drew McLellan
      Patrick Schaber
      Steve Woodruff

    We look forward to sharing our first case study with you in less than one week.  See you there!

    Posted in BrandingWire, Community, Customer experience, Marketing | 8 Comments »