Seinfeld on Marketing: Expectations

I am really excited about today’s Seinfeld on Marketing because it is one of my favorite interactions on Seinfeld. So that you can experience the subtleties of this interaction and the hilarity that ensues, I am going to only offer the video segment (RSS readers, please click here).

In this episode, Elaine tags along with Jerry who is picking up his reserved rental car at the rental agency:

When you think about it, a reservation is nothing more than an expectation. And quite simply, this is also the definition of a brand. A brand is a perceived expectation in an exchange of value. In other words, if I give you something that I value (my time or my money), than I expect something of value in return from you. The stronger the brand is, the greater the expectation that I have. But this expectation of mine goes much deeper than just your products or services. It is an expectation of anything and everything relating to your business.

For example, my expectation of Apple is “uncluttered and stylish innovation”. Yes, I expect sleek, intuitive new products that are designed with my present and future needs in mind. But I also expect innovative solutions from its employees, understated packaging, simple setup, an uncluttered Apple Store and maybe most importantly I expect some of this unclutteredness and style to “rub off” onto me to help me unclutter my life and bring a sense of style to who I am.

You see, a brand is not just what I expect from your company; it is also what I expect of myself by choosing your company. If I have an iPod, I expect to be (and probably see myself as) a stylish person. If I buy a safe Volvo car, I expect to be a safe person. If I buy high-class jewelry from Tiffany & Co., I expect to be a high-class person. In other words, I expect to be what I expect of the brand.

That is why, in essence, a commodity will never be a brand. There is no expectation of a commodity – other than maybe convenience or price. But these are hardly the building blocks of a strong brand. The thing is, with a commodity just as soon as something else comes along that is more convenient or better priced, your commodity will be replaced. And it’s sad, really, when this switch happens because it is not even a conscious decision. Conversely, if I were to switch from Coke to Pepsi (because of repeated unmet expectations), than I would mentally make a note not to purchase a Coke ever again. However, if my local grocery store switches the kind of celery it sells, I may not even notice (unless I happen to buy a particular brand).

Happy Friday everyone!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

What is your customer’s cowbell?

cowbell.pngYou may remember the Saturday Night Live skit “More Cowbell”. In this skit (below if you have not seen it), Bruce Dickenson, a band manager, tries to persuade the band members that their song should include the playing of “more cowbell”. Exasperated, he finally states:

“I’ve got a fever…and the only prescription is more cowbell!”

Every one of your customers and potential customers also has a “fever.” They have something that is causing them pain. It could be caused by a feeling of not fitting “in” amongst a desired crowd, by wanting to look smart or have fun, by a desire to have meaningful experiences with others, by craving to have more time to spend on enjoyable activities, by wishing to save money or many, many other possible causes. Whatever the cause, each one of your customers and potential customers lack something of perceived value to them that they are willing to exchange their time and/or money to find a potential cure.

Your goal is to find out what their fever is and provide them with an easy to understand and valuable prescription (the cowbell). But how do you found out what is the fever or pain for your customers? Just like a doctor, you:

  1. Ask questions to try to get to the heart of the problem.
  2. Listen empathically to the answers.
  3. Offer prescriptions so that they can cure their own fever.

What’s the best way that you have found to cure your customer’s fevers? What are their cowbells?

Marketers are like elected officials

vote3.pngOkay, not exactly. A dictatorship (the company) initially imposes its authority and elects (hires) the marketer.

After this brief breach in power, a marketer must quickly gain the votes from her real source of power, her constituents (customers). These votes can only be secured by her actions of trust and demonstrating time and again that she knows and defends the will of her constituents. If not, just like an elected official that goes against her constituents, she can be ousted by her constituents for not properly representing them.

Never forget who your real constituents are!

Seinfeld on Marketing: Returns

Welcome to Seinfeld on Marketing! In this episode, Jerry trys to return a suit that he recently purchased:

Jerry: Excuse me I’d like to return this jacket.
Teller: Certainly. May I ask why?
Jerry: For spite.
Teller: Spite?
Jerry: That’s right. I don’t care for the salesman that sold it to me.
Teller: I don’t think you can return an item for spite.
Jerry: What do you mean?
Teller: Well if there was some problem with the garment. If it were unsatisfactory in some way,then we could do it for you, but I’m afraid spite doesn’t fit into any of our conditions for a refund.
Jerry: That’s ridiculous, I want to return it. What’s the difference what the reason is.
Teller: Let me speak with the manager…excuse me …Bob!
[The Teller walks over to Bob the manager and whispers. Bob the manager then walks over to talk to Jerry]
Bob: What seems to be the problem?
Jerry: Well I want to return this jacket and she asked me why and I said for spite and now she won’t take it back.
Bob: That’s true. You can’t return an item based purely on spite.
Jerry: Well, so fine then ..then I don’t want it and then that’s why I’m returning it.
Bob: Well you already said spite so…
Jerry: But I changed my mind.
Bob: No…you said spite…too late.

A survey by KPMG LLP found that shoppers “weren’t attracted by newspaper inserts or coupons, and even fewer reacted to e-mail solicitations. In fact, some 81 percent of consumers said they shopped at the store that had their desired item in stock, and 75 percent said a simple return policy helped them decide which retailers to patronize.” (Emphasis added)

Maybe its time for all of us to rethink our returns policies. Seth Godin has said: “Marketing is the way your people answer the phone, the typesetting on your bills and your returns policy. (Emphasis added)

So what do most customers want in a return policy? I can think of at least three attributes that should be included in every returns policy:

  1. Painless. We do not want to jump through hoops by providing a receipt, a “darn good reason” for the return and our finger prints (okay this last one may be a bit of a stretch, but sometimes it sure feels that way).
  2. Seemless. We want to have a choice of returning an item bought online to a bricks and mortar store or, for that matter, to be able to pick up something ordered online at a nearby store.
  3. Guiltless. And we espically don’t want a shameful glare from the returns person or a sinking suspecion that we will not get to successfully make the return even though we have played by the “returns game” rules.

Anything else you would include in a returns policy?

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

Why customers leave

On a broad scale, there are four main reasons why customers leave. See if these look familiar:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion

“Wait!” you exclaim. “These are the outdated classic 4 P’s of marketing.” Yes, they are. And they are also the very reasons why your customers are leaving. Allow me to expound:

  1. Product. If your product does not deliver what is promised (or expected), then your customers may leave and tell others.
  2. Price. Customers leave because of price less often then you may think. That is unless, of course, you are actually attracting (intentional or not) transactional/price shoppers through your sales and clearance promotions.
  3. Place. Outdated search engines and dirty retail stores send customers straight for the nearest exit. You must also watch for cluttered isles and cluttered web pages, slow or broken web links, inconvenient retail locations, non-professional looking websites, long waiting lines and technical problems among many other things.
  4. Promotion. I think this may be the biggest reason of all because this not only includes deceptive or misleading advertising but also any problems caused by anyone in the organization who has the responsibility to promote your products. This essentially includes everyone in the company, but especially those that represent the face of the company – the front-liners. Showing indifference in the face of customer problems, offering poor customer service or under delivering on your promises will send customers scurrying faster than you can tritely say, “may I help you?”

Next time a customer of yours leaves, ask yourself which of the 4 P’s was violated and quickly remedy the situation.

Happy Monday everyone!

For better or worse

Here is my very crude mock up of what I think we’ll be seeing real soon:
(click to enlarge)

Would this be a testament to great marketing or our love for the superfluous?

Seinfeld on Marketing: Names

It’s Friday! That means it is time once again for another installment of Seinfeld on Marketing. In this scene George and Susan are eating dinner with a couple and George decides to “help” the couple pick out a name for their soon-to-be-born baby girl:

SUSAN: So, have you picked out a name yet?
CARRIE: Well, we’ve narrowed it down to a few. We like Kimberley.
GEORGE: (negative) Hu-ho, boy.
KEN: You don’t like Kimberley?
GEORGE: Ech. What else you got?
KEN: How about Joan?
GEORGE: Aw c’mon, I’m eating here.
SUSAN: (warning) George!
CARRIE: Pamela?
GEORGE: Pamela?! Awright, I tell you what. You look like nice people, I’m gonna help you out. You want a beautiful name? Soda.
KEN: What?
GEORGE: Soda. S-O-D-A. Soda.
CARRIE: I don’t know, it sounds a little strange.
GEORGE: All names sound strange the first time you hear ’em. What, you’re telling me people loved the name Blanche the first time they heard it?

(My apologizes to anyone named Kimberley, Joan, Pamela, Blanche and even Soda)

So you’re in charge of naming your soon-to-be-born product. Congrats! We’ll break out the cigars later, but for now lets talk about some naming rules. The name you choose must:

  • Fit the concept or category
  • Be easy to pronounce and spell
  • Pass the test of time (no buzzwords or fad-type words)
  • Resonate with your target market
  • Be something that is memorable

Also, you may:

  • Use made up words (like Google or iPod), but this may require more time for the name to slip into mainstream conversation.
  • Use common words used out of context (like Apple, Amazon or Soda). However, this again may require more time to allow the association (Amazon and books) to sink in.

What other naming rules can you think of?

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

The “movie” in my head

Often times you’ll finish watching a movie and remark, “that movie was good but I liked the book better.” Why is that? I think there may be a number of reasons but one reason in particular seems very fitting.

Maybe it’s just me, but the “movie” in my head that plays as I read a book blows away most movie director interpretations. As I read, I vividly capture the look and mood of each character and the surroundings as I see it. The “movie” I watch in my head is my interpretation and therefore is customized to me.

So what does this have to do with marketing? Often times while experiencing your product, a consumer will also play a “movie” in their heads. A young teenager at the Apple store will picture in her mind showing her friends the latest iPod and the associated feelings of being part of the “in” crowd. An otherwise stuffy accountant may imagine himself on his new Harley Davidson and the feeling of freedom. A mother may vividly picture herself in her new home with her children surrounding her by the fireplace as she reads them a bedtime story. My own “movie” showing my hopes and aspirations is better than any marketer could ever dream of because it’s my fantasy and it is personalized and customized to me.

Sometimes as marketers it’s best to involve ourselves as little as possible with the consumer movie making process. Sure, we must give them something worthy of a dream. And like any great storyteller, we must suggest tangible imagery that conjures up vivid and relevant desires in the mind. However, once this is done, my advice is to get out of the way and let the consumer customize her own movie.

Treating employees right

Cynthia Lopez felt it was time once again to enter the workforce after staying home to raise her three children. She landed a job at local gas station. After only three weeks on the job, she was robbed at gunpoint. The robber took all that was left in the cash register – $66.

Once the robber left, she had the presence of mind to note the robbers clothing and the stolen get-away car’s license plate number. Police soon caught up with the convicted felon and he was arrested.

How did the local gas station ever repay Cynthia for her bravery? They fired her. It turns out that Cynthia had $16 more in the cash register than the zero-tolerance, strict company policy of $50.

It sounds like another case of policy over principles.

To read the entire story, click here.

Seinfeld on Marketing: Exclusivity

It’s time once again for Seinfeld on Marketing. This time you have two options: you can either read the transcript or watch a 10-minute clip.

JERRY: We gotta go to the soup place.
ELAINE: What soup place?
GEORGE: Oh, there’s a soup stand, Kramer’s been going there.
JERRY: He’s always raving. I finally got a chance to go there the other day, and I tell you this, you will be stunned.
ELAINE: Stunned by soup?
JERRY: You can’t eat this soup standing up, your knees buckle.
ELAINE: Huh. All right. Come on.
JERRY: There’s only one caveat — the guy who runs the place is a little temperamental, especially about the ordering procedure. He’s secretly referred to as the Soup Nazi.
ELAINE: Why? What happens if you don’t order right?
JERRY: He yells and you don’t get your soup.
JERRY: Just follow the ordering procedure and you will be fine.
GEORGE: All right. All right. Let’s – let’s go over that again.
JERRY: All right. As you walk in the place move immediately to your right.
JERRY: The main thing is to keep the line moving.
GEORGE: All right. So, you hold out your money, speak your soup in a loud, clear voice, step to the left and receive.
JERRY: Right. It’s very important not to embellish on your order. No extraneous comments. No questions. No compliments.

Providing an exclusive order process can elicit feelings of being part of the “in” crowd. Take, for example, the customizable ordering of Starbucks or the “secret” menu of In-n-Out Burger. John Moore of Brand Autopsy, a former marketer at Starbucks, said this of Starbucks ordering process:

While it may take a little longer to figure out how to order your double tall, half-caf, vanilla, nonfat latte, once you do, there’s a feeling of belongingness, that you’re part of the “club.”

So whether you have an exclusive ordering process, an exclusive membership like Costco or an exclusive community like Harley Davidson’s HOGS, as long as it is backed by substance, your product or service will scratch the itch of those looking to be an insider.

Happy Friday!

Bonus: If you want to have a little fun, join in the conversation on this blog to try and name the longest possible Starbucks order.

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.