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Unexpected Item In Bag Area
Want people to like your brand and spend money with you?
Just a few words can make that difference.
So many interactions with businesses are either a torrent of corporate verbal sludge, or nauseating self-praise.
Companies hire professional writers to do their marketing work, but that’s where it ends.
The ads feature beaming staff saying ‘We’re the nice grocery people!’ over happy music.
The in-store experience reality is a robot barking messages like unexpected item in bag area.
This is not the language of people who want to help you. These are the words of companies who would like you to become a compliant part of their cost-control system.
Words that sound good to coder-types and admin enthusiasts who have little experience of human persuasion.
But let’s look at when it goes the other way: how brands can make you feel better with a few good words.
It really helps to get people spending money.
A Charming Toaster
Highbrow US publisher The Atlantic doesn’t run many stories about toasters. Let alone ones that open with:
“Last year I fell in love with a toaster.”
Yet that’s what they wrote in this story “Why A Toaster Is A Design Triumph” about an Australian-designed toaster from Breville.
The reality of toasting is: first go it’s underdone. You pop it down again, then it’s charcoal time. Eventually you get the settings dialled in, then any other type of bread puts you right back to square one.
Everyone accepted this for the first century-or-so of toasters.
Then Breville product designer Keith Hensel, who had a deep understanding of human toasting nature, thought up a new feature. A button that lets you put your toast back down a bit longer.
I used to work with those guys when I had my marketing agency, their design team is world-class and obsessed by understanding customers.
What took that feature to relatable greatness were the words on that button.
“Some people within Breville thought it was too colloquial, and other options were considered. “Extra Darkness” was one, and “10% Extra” another. These were confusing and clunky,” said Breville Design Director Richard Hoare.
“In the end ‘A Bit More’ was the clearest. We have had so many customers say, ‘I love that it’s actually called that.’”
That toaster was nearly a decade old when the story appeared in The Atlantic.
It delivered a classic user experience (UX) idea from before UX was a legit discipline.
Designs that last that long are very profitable, and Breville’s ‘user empathy’ approach — as they call it in-house — pays off. Their share price was around $2 when that toaster came out in 2008, it’s now around $32.
Avoiding The Hell-Flight
There are a million online travel websites. How do you stand out from the others?
A good way it is to show you understand the travel experience better.
As a heavy user of travel sites – well, normally – I bow down to Hipmunk for achieving that with a single word/sort feature.
The antidote to all those sites that always suggest Sydney to Adelaide via Perth.
How could you not love Hipmunk?
The Words Become Reality
When we started Scene Change, a small detail on our vehicles really helped us.
We were opening a new business where our main competitor’s vans and uniforms were white with lime-green graphics.
AV technicians don’t like lime-green anything, so we created a very black brand.
There’s a story in my book on how an entire branch of the competitor’s staff defected to our startup, purely so they could wear black and drive black vehicles.
They didn’t even ask about pay or conditions.
Each truck and van had its own unique ‘racing’ number, and the words Audiovisual Response Unit. The cost of decking them out was about an extra 5% on the vehicle.
It wasn’t just marketing for clients.
It was to make our staff feel good. Because if they felt good, they would do a good job.
The words become reality.
We got this in an email from a new client a few months back.
“The Audio Visual Response Unit signage on your truck sums up the paramedic-style approach and problem-solving capacity of the team. I like it.”
The Reverse Focus Group
When I was an employee, I used to come up with marketing ideas, and I had a simple test to see if they were good enough.
It’s a technique you don’t hear about much: the reverse focus group of one.
There was a guy in one of our interstate offices who was a good administrator, and a staunch critic of marketing.
“I don’t like this idea, it’s not corporate. We’re a respected business,” he would huff.
I’d include him on the circulation list for new ideas, and if he didn’t complain, I took that as a sign that the campaign wasn’t interesting enough, and I’d bin it.
I’m not saying the marketing was the only reason, but that business grew from startup to a public company.
People Are Not Corporations
Sorry to have to make this obvious point but corporations can’t read, hear, or buy things.
All those things are done by people.
People don’t relate to your stiff rules’n’regulations banter.
There’s a mythology that while consumers are all emotional, instinctive buyers, B2B purchases are all cold, logical decisions using 100% objective criteria.
Not so, grasshopper.
In our industry, plenty of customers pay good money to companies with technology best described as “centre-aisle at Aldi”.
Yet those customers are OK with it. Because their purchasing habits are controlled by personal relationships, memories, risks real and imaginary, and deep changephobia.
Logic has nothing to do with it. They’ll find enough logic to post-rationalise what their reptilian brain told them to do.
And if you can build a business using that model, that’s a legitimate and profitable choice.
A side-note on UX: it’s an excellent discipline that can fall short in the physical world, because most of its practitioners are focused on digital.
Greatness comes from getting it right across all those contact points.
Apply The Face-To-Face Test
Obviously you can’t loosen everything your business says or you’ll come across as a clown show.
A toaster with five whimsical buttons would be a nightmare, like starting each day by watching a different Adam Sandler movie.
The secret is customers discovering the occasional sparkling jewel of humanity. It stands out better.
Here’s a quick test for the messages your business is sending out in emails, signs, documents, instructions and all the other material you crank out.
What would one person say to another if they were standing right in front of them?
Would you just walk up to someone at a supermarket checkout and say “unfamiliar item in bagging area”?
Don’t do that.
Because if that other person was me, I’d whack you over the head with an Aldi particle accelerator, they’ve got some great specials on those this week. Centre aisle next to the deep-sea diving suits.
Have you forgotten to buy something for your dad for Fathers Day? Don’t get him a discount ski suit from Aldi, get him the business book ranked #1 by customer review on Booktopia.
Yes, Undisruptable, pleaser of Dads and bringer of wholesome family times, at least for this guy.
Reader Dan, father of three, said:
“My kids ended up listening to quite a few passages because I kept laughing so much they insisted I read bits out to them”.
As a bonus, I’m doing customised video shout-outs for Dads who get the book for Fathers Day, because I’m trapped in lockdown and it’ll keep me entertained. Here’s the deal (click through to YouTube for the instructions), buy the book here.
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