They are out there. Feeding on your goodwill and forcing you to behave on their terms not on yours. They are populating their purchase cycle with your goodwill. Browsing, comparison sites, picking up and dropping your product, taking test drives, trying out your free sample, queuing to ask for advice, and so on. Each and every opportunity to interact with your business used in the pursuit of a final decision to purchase. The more opportunities you give them the more opportunities they’ll take. And take they will, because they know that there are at least 20 choices for that very same product or service that you are offering. The nature of that interaction will predetermine how they carry forward your value proposition in their purchase decision-making cycle. Now you might argue for that reason you should keep advertising, keep in front of the consumer so that you stay at the forefront of their purchase decision-making process. But this simply does not work anymore because, amazingly, there are so many points of interaction that one tiny little thing can deviate that purchase decision-making cycle invariably away from you.
In 1990 Argos opened their first ‘display’ shops, putting products on shelf in a move away from the fact that they had acquired the Green Shield Stamps organisation. Prior to this point, the Argos experience involved using a catalogue and going up to a counter with a small slip of paper with a number on it and asking the man at the counter to fetch the item, often in a brown parcel box, from a warehouse behind. The new concept was to put one example product on shelf for people to come and experience that product in the flesh, so to speak, rather than see it simply as a picture in a catalogue.
A piece of research was undertaken to ask people leaving the store why they had not purchased. The reasons were many, but one stood out like a sore thumb. Ten percent of people cited they had not purchased because ‘they could never buy the last one’. Never buy the last one! There was only one on display of everything in the store. Everything. The implication of this was that 10% of people leaving the store went about telling everyone they knew that Argos didn’t have want they wanted. Why? Because they didn’t realise that as a catalogue shop all the products on show were a 3-D version of the catalogue. Toxic behaviour damaging your brand. A quite innocent initiative by a very good brand owner potentially backfiring incredibly.
‘The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife’, so David Ogilvy once said. Actually if you don’t manage your prospects, they do sometimes behave like morons and their toxic behaviour can, in one throwaway comment at the water cooler, down the pub, at a dinner party, destroy all of your business effort. Destroying your investment in a shop, your product, your staff, your suppliers, your life. And it’s not their fault.
Marmite, for years ran a love it or hate it campaign. Genius. Because it trained the prospect and the loyalist to represent the brand proposition in every conversation. A taste challenge every time Marmite is mentioned. Barnaby hates it, Chris loves it. You are in full control of the behaviour of everyone who comes into contact with your business, so if you behave badly those who come into contact you will behave badly too and as a representative of yours. You don’t even know they are doing it. But they are, and now it’s happening in a millisecond using the internet. In fact, there are whole business that thrive on it. Facebook, Trip Advisor; Money Supermarket; Compare the Stuffed Meerkats; Google; Sainsbury’s; Tesco’s; ‘I love Sainsbury’s, it keeps the riff raff out of Waitrose’, Stephen Fry, 2010 Tweet.
With so many more places that your brand can be represented, more than ever before in the history of business, the risk to your business is almost infinitesimal in that somewhere, somehow your value proposition is being misrepresented. Actually, when you think about it, this is one of the most daunting challenges for a business owner today. This challenge is not insurmountable but what it does require is entire and total diligence in everything you do, in everything you say, in everything you produce. Now when this is confined to the printed word, there is a level of due diligence built in. Experts are drawn together. Time is spent pouring over the legal and brand ramifications of anything that is written and ultimately produced on a mass scale. With the right emphasis, and with the right intellect, much of this work can direct your prospect to gravitate towards your purchase. So that’s all well and good. The purchase cycle doesn’t involve any people but the problem for most businesses is that inevitably people become involved in the sales process at some time.
Ensuring that their behaviour is at least as diligent as the printed work is one of the greatest challenges the business community faces. All of us come in different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, educational competence. And because life is happening to us all and the environment in which we operate can shape a mind long before it turns up to clock on for work, it means that there are almost no purchase decisions that are made without some degree of interaction between people. It is the single most dangerous time for your product or service. It is the point at which suddenly all of the established behavioural control protocols go out the window.
If a waiter is seen to sneeze over your meal as he enters the brightened restaurant from the kitchen, this will inevitably impact on your desire to consume that particular product. If a sales assistant is chatting whilst you are waiting, and in a hurry, this will influence your desire to make a purchase. All of these factors must now be taken into account to prevent your brand being poisoned.
Today a solid brand is defined by every interaction with it at every level. No pre sales, during sale or after sale, it is all one continuum and must be bound together into one inseparable experience. Time to wake up and not just smell the coffee , but watch it being prepared, taste good and get the cups washed up! Your business systems and processes need you now to put on marketing hat and take a buyer perspective.