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Manifest Customer Destiny

Late last year I stumbled upon a thought-provoking ebook from Michael Schrage that has upended how I look at business innovation.

Michael Schrage is a research fellow at the MIT Sloan School Center for Digital Business. His ebook attempts to redefine how companies should approach innovation by focusing on this question: Who do you want your customers to become?

He refers to this question as THE ASK and in the ebook, Who Do you Want your Customers to Become?, he makes the case for why this question is important to focus on because it “offers a lightweight but high-impact methodology for aligning strategic, marketing, brand, and innovation leadership around customer transformation.”

Look at any successful innovation from the Amana Microwave Oven to the Ford Model T to Microsoft Windows XP to the Southwest Airlines business model. These innovations didn’t just transform the companies that introduced them; they transformed the lives of customers who use them.

Schrage writes, “Customers don’t just adopt innovations; they alter them, adapt to them, and are changed by them. Like economic Charles Darwins, successful innovators strive to observe and understand how their customers evolve.”

The key idea behind Schrage’s thinking is: “Successful innovators don’t just ask customers and clients to do something different; they ask them to become someone different.”

I recently spoke at a gathering of Community Managers and Social Media Managers and used Schrage’s thinking as the basis for my talk titled, MANIFEST CUSTOMER DESTINY: Helping Your Best Customers Become Better People.

My hope was to get these marketers to go beyond connecting with their customers on social media to helping their customers become better people.

I’ve recreated the talk as a 13-minute narrated video. Consider this a first look into a topic I plan to explore much deeper in 2014. Enjoy…

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If so, sign-up to receive the monthly Brand Autopsy newsletter and you would’ve already read this. As a bonus for anyone signing up for the newsletter, you’ll receive a two-page tip sheet for encouraging customer advocacy.

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Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away and it’s a time when passion conversations happen.

At Brains on Fire we know something about love and how it applies to business. We’ve written the book on how to get people to fall passionately and madly in love with your business.

Now we’re putting our money where our heart is with a lovely offer that supports Love146, an amazing charity dedicated to ending child sex slavery.

We’ll donate* 14.6% of the retail price for each copy sold of THE PASSION CONVERSATION during the month of February. *Donation capped at $1k.

Wanna play along?

(Cool. That makes us happy.)

Snap a photo of your copy of THE PASSION CONVERSATION (along with your receipt) and share it on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #iLove146.

Perhaps you’re old school. If so, email your photo to:

MarySusan at BrainsonFire dot com

Needing a primer on Love146? Watch below. (Tissues recommended.)

Love146 Overview from Love146 on Vimeo.

What Great Brands Do

It’s not easy building a great brand. Many businesses try. Few succeed.

Denise Lee Yohn has been part of the brand-building game for the past 25 years. Her experience began first with insider positions at great brands like Sony and Jack in the Box. Second, as a consultant with Frito-Lay, New Balance, Oakley and other well-known brands. And third, as a lifelong student of the brand-building game.

She’s finally written down the advice she has followed and given on how businesses can achieve rarified air in her first book, WHAT GREAT BRANDS DO.

This one line sums up Denise’s smart “brand as business” advice: “Your brand can’t just be a promise; it must be a promise delivered.

Her book goes deeper by sharing seven principles that brands follow to become great. When businesses follow each of these principles they start to build a great brand because you cannot build a great brand before you build a great business—the process is simultaneous. It’s “brand as business.”

Here’s how Denise explains what “brand as business” means…

Every great brand defines its brand as its business. It puts its brand at the core of its business and goes to great lengths to make sure there is no daylight between managing the brand and managing the business.

In an email exchange with Denise I asked her to cite a brand that follows her “brand as business” approach. She cites Amazon.

DENISE: Amazon’s mission is “to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online” and Bezos talks about its commitment to three things: the best selection, the lowest prices, and the cheapest and most convenient delivery.

Amazon really lives up to those ideals.

It’s the first place that most people go to look for products, read reviews, and check prices. It has set the standard by which other e-tailers are judged and its footprint continues to grow. At the same time, Amazon is clear about what it offers and doesn’t try to be what it’s not. The shopping experience is streamlined and straightforward, not particularly stylish or fancy. As such, people who are looking for the kind of experience Amazon offers are drawn to the brand and have developed a real sense of trust in it.

One of the more provocative brand-building principles Denise shares is great brands avoid selling products. Obviously, this begs the question if great brand don’t sell products, what do they sell? Denise has something to say about that…

DENISE: Great brands offer emotional connections by meeting emotional needs or through an identity that it helps its customers experience or express. They know that a product is merely a means to an end – a way of fulfilling a desire, doing a job, fixing a problem – and customers care mostly about the end.

Nike isn’t in the business of selling shoes – although it sells plenty of them. It’s in the business of inspiring and helping people feel like athletes. Its long-standing success as a business and a brand is due to the way it connects with people through aspiration and achievement.

Interested in learning more about Denise Lee Yohn’s book WHAT GREAT BRANDS DO? Visit these blogs, they’re part of the Post2Post Book Tour for Denise’s book:

Monday | Jackie Huba
Tuesday | Phil Gerbyshak
Wednesday | Paul Williams
Thursday | John Moore … (hey, that’s me)
Friday | Jay Ehret

Beyond Thinking Different to Doing Different

Originally posted on December 31, 2004

Bruce Mau, a designer, thinker, articulator, and massive change provocateur, has a lot of ideas on a lot of things. His Incomplete Manifesto for Growth is a list, an incomplete one at that, of 43 ideas to get you beyond thinking differently but doing differently.

As 2013 turns to 2014, the message of doing differently is one we should all heed. The first incomplete ideal is featured below. Heed and enjoy.

For all us marketing types, December is an interesting time of the year. It’s a time where we are busy finishing projects for this year while at the same time visioning projects for next year.

Earlier this year I spent time committing to paper various exercises business teams can do to better vision who they are and why they exist.

These exercises were designed to help businesses find THE PASSION CONVERSATION that can spark long-lasting word of mouth from customers and employees about a brand, organization or cause.

If you find yourself in need of better understanding what your business stands for, why it deserves to exist and what exactly appeals most to your customers then these three “Passion Exploration” exercises might help.

You game for playing?

If so, here’s my suggestion. Gather together a small team of no more than 16 people, but no less than eight. Be sure to go outside of your department and include people from other areas of your business. (Bonus points for including people who interact directly with your customers.) Pick one, two or do all three of the following Passion Explorations.

Passion Exploration #1 | WHAT’S OUR CAUSE?

Gather a group of employees together and split them into smaller groups of three-to-four people. Find markers, index cards and large poster paper. Have each small group work together to draw a picture of your brand as a superhero. Make sure they assign their superhero a superpower. Then, ask the following questions to spark a meaningful discussion:

  • What injustice(s) is our hero’s fighting against?
  • Who does she protect?
  • Why do people admire her?
  • Who are the arch villains?
  • What is our hero’s kryptonite? (What can render her powerless?)
  • How might this cause stand-alone from our brand? (How is it about far more than just us?)
  • What are some stories that tell us that this fight is something people care a lot about?
  • How might we invite people (customers) to join our superhero’s fight

  • Passion Exploration #2 | JUST ONE THING

    Again, gather together some employees. For this exercise consider keeping the group small, no more than eight people. Set the scene by having everyone imagine that your business can only do ONE THING for your customers. Yep. ONE THING. Have people write that ONE THING down on a note card and then, one-by-one, have people share what they’ve written down. Next, use the following questions to spark a group discussion:

  • What should our ONE THING be?
  • How could we do it really, really well?
  • What would make us remarkable at that ONE THING?
  • What would make it amazing and fun?
  • What is stopping us from focusing on that ONE THING?
  • How might we overcome those obstacles to better focus on that ONE THING?

  • Passion Exploration #3 | WOULD YOU BE MISSED?

    It’s easy in the midst of our never-ending workload to forget about the value we add to others’ lives. But that’s the very reason we’re in business in the first place. This exercise explores just that, the passions that people have for why we do what we do. Gather a small group together and for 30 minutes answer the following questions:

  • Who would miss us if our business ceased to exist?
  • Would our customers be able to find another business that treats them as well as we do?
  • Would our employees be able to find another employer that respects them as much as your business does?
  • It might be nice to also do this same exercise with your customers, adapting the questions a bit. Listen for and discuss the possible shared hidden passion conversations inside the answers to why customers and employees would miss your business. If you happen to discover that your business wouldn’t be missed, then you’ve got some serious matters to address in what’s left of 2013 to make the most out of what’s possible in 2014.

    Did you like this post?

    If so, sign-up to receive the monthly Brand Autopsy newsletter and you would’ve already read this. As a bonus for anyone signing up for the newsletter, you’ll receive a two-page tip sheet for encouraging customer advocacy.

    The Passion Conversation playing in the Idea Sandbox

    Paul Williams from the Idea Sandbox is a freak. He knows it. I know it. And if you didn’t know it, you’ll certainly know it after listening to the “podcast” he did with me to highlight tidbits from THE PASSION CONVERSATION book.

    Yes, it’s true. I skipped out on doing the podcast with Paul. Instead, I was at the Trappe Door enjoying some tasty Belgian beers. Good thing Paul found a replacement for me. And, the replacement did a great job weaving in references to Preparation H, One Wipe Charlies, and Whole Foods Market. I’m still wondering how Stephen Hawking was able to join the podcast. Paul must have connections.


    Paul also shares the transcript. Here’s a snippet:

    PAUL: Please elaborate on the idea of products having a “soul.” A soul for a product is an interesting idea. Please use the words “consortium” and “palette” somewhere in your answer?

    johnmoore:Hmmm. Okay, let me see what I can do. Products that are much more than merely palatable have a seemingly broad combination, or consortium, of attributes that lends itself to making people feel better about themselves. The other day at Brains on Fire, Geno Church went around our offices sharing with us how much he enjoys using Ursa Major’s face tonic. Clearly, using this product makes Geno feel better and the ladies here would chime in that his skin looks more supple than ever.”

    Jackie Huba and The Passion Conversation

    I’m honored to have Jackie Huba feature THE PASSION CONVERSATION on the Church of the Customer blog today. We’ve known each other for about 10 years, that’s when she published CREATING CUSTOMER EVANGELISTS. Her latest book shares customer loyalty lessons from mega pop star, Lady Gaga.

    Jackie was one of the first people to the read THE PASSION CONVERSATION and was gracious enough to give us this blurb recommendation:

    “Love is the missing ingredient in developing loyalty with customers. In THE PASSION CONVERSATION, the smart folks at Brains on Fire expertly explain how to develop deeper connections with customers who in turn sing your praises to everyone they know.” — Jackie Huba

    On her blog today, Jackie asks me to go a little on some of the ideas from the book. One question she asked had me share a story I know from Whole Foods Market early days…

    The Whole Foods Market we know today began in 1980. That’s when John Mackey and few friends opened up a health food store. At the time, the founders didn’t have dreams of building a great brand. Instead, they had dreams of selling healthy food to people. That was their passion. However, a year after the first Whole Foods Market store opened a massive flood in Austin, TX wrecked the store.

    The founders thought all was lost.

    During the long cleanup process something special happened. Customers came to help cleanup. It was at that point the founders of Whole Foods knew they were onto something special. When their customers took time out of their personal lives to assist in cleaning up all the mud and debris, the founders realized they had created something far more than a grocery store. They had fostered a passionate community of people.

    This story has become Whole Foods Market folklore. I’m sure other successful businesses have a similar story of a specific moment in time when the founders realized they were onto to something special. If you do not know the story of why your business was founded and when it knew it truly connected with customers, then I suggest you find that story. Once you find it, you’re certain to tap into a passion conversation. *** READ MORE ***

    Mack Collier features The Passion Conversation

    Mack Collier and I go back years. We’ve both been blogging long before blogging become trendy. (Anyone here remember his MoBlogsMoProblems blogspot URL? How about his on-going ranking of the Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs? I certainly do.)

    Mack is a long-time ambassador for encouraging businesses to foster brand ambassadors. Heck, he’s written a how-to book on designing social media strategies to tap into the power of brand ambassadors. He stays busy consulting, speaking, and has been gracious enough to feature THE PASSION CONVERSATION book on his blog today.

    His post is a Q&A we did and Mack came out swinging hard with questions. One of his questions wanted to know why more brands don’t create ambassador programs. My short answer included…

    Showing love to customers in order to receive love from customers is messy work. It ain’t check the box and it’s done. It’s much more than that.

    You have to treat brand ambassadors as individuals and not as customer segments. You have to be willing to let go of rigid brand guardrails and allow the ambassadors to speak in their voice and say the things they want to say in the ways they want to say them. You have to be ready to respond swiftly to the wants and needs of ambassadors. You also have to find ways to measure success because whatever results you deem as success takes time to happen.

    Loving customers over the long haul ain’t easy. It’s messy work. Not enough brands are willing to get that messy for something that takes time and isn’t easy to measure financially.”

    You can read more of Mack’s hard-hitting questions and my volley of responses on his blog. Please join us.

    Book Bites from The Passion Conversation

    Denise Lee Yohn and I go back a few years. We first connected online through our blogs and then our paths crossed at a conference. We talked marketing, branding, and business books then and today, we do the same.

    Denise keeps a top-notch marketing blog sharing lots of insights into designing better brands and delivering better customer experiences. Early next year Jossey Bass is publishing Denise’s first book, What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest.

    Today she is sharing brand book bites from THE PASSION CONVERSATION and a podcast discussion we had about core concepts from the book.

    Her post today totally nails the book’s major takeaway:

    Authenticity is such an over-used word these days but it epitomizes all the points The Passion Conversation. The authors write from a genuine place of love for what they do and they encourage that quality in others: “Life is better when you embrace loving your customers and employees, and supporting their passions…Life is better when you move from the marketing business to the business of inspiring people.”

    Don’t stop with reading the summation, spend a few minutes and listen to our podcast discussion. It’ll serve as a primer on what a passion conversation is and where to start finding it. *** LISTEN NOW ***

    The Marketing Spot meets The Passion Conversation

    Jay Ehret is The Dean of Marketing Know-How at The Marketing Spot. He’s been helping small businesses look bigger for years. Plus, he’s been sharing marketing knowledge nuggets online way before it was cool to do so.

    I’m honored he chose to be a part of The Passion Conversation online book tour. Jay asked great questions. One question was about… can a business just decide to start loving its customer in order to benefit from the passion conversation. To that, I replied with this:

    ”In order for a business to have customers fall in love with the business, the business must first fall in love with its customers. A business can’t just turn on the love switch. That’s convenient love and not unfailing love. In the book we quote a well-known bible verse from 1 Corinthians that talks about how love is patient, kind, not boastful or proud, is always hopeful, and endures through good times and bad. This is love you can’t fake.” ** READ MORE **