Being Customer-Centric Is A Strategy, Not A Positioning

To distance itself from its competitors, TELUS released a new commercial entitled “Scream”, further supporting its customer-centric position as the mobile service provider who cares. It features a man waiting on hold for customer-service with another provider…and his frustration. The conclusion is that TELUS is better and the viewer is encouraged to visit the website where he/she can learn why.

The execution is decent. The message is clear and it resonates – we can all relate to such a situation. But is it true? Is TELUS really better?

Full disclosure: I am a TELUS customer and a former ad agency strategist with telco experience. This is not an evaluation of TELUS’ customer service, but rather an evaluation of their marketing and communications strategy.

TELUS has done a good job progressing with this positioning for the past few years. Telling customers they listen and care – even admitting they are not perfect. This platform has been well executed across all consumer touchpoints and has done a nice job of humanizing the brand.

But what strikes me is that while the positioning may seem unique at the moment, it is not original in the sector or sustainable. In fact, it’s already been the positioning for two other telcos in Canada.

When Virgin Mobile entered the Canadian market in 2005 it set out to be the consumer champion. Seeking to liberate Canadian consumers from the shackles of the “Big 3”, it leveraged the underdog, market-disrupter role of Virgin. The launch campaign, entitled “The Catch”, positioned the brand as the cure to the industry’s ills of contracts and hidden fees. In 2006, the brand was focused on treating customers with love and respect, exploiting the poor customer service and impersonal treatment by competitors. There was even a commercial featuring a frustrated man on hold with customer service. Since 2009 Virgin Mobile Canada has been wholly owned by BELL and is a youth-focused, experiential brand, selling the benefits of being a “member” – i.e. discounts at partners like H&M. This doesn’t seem part of the Virgin brand’s DNA. Obviously something changed.

WIND Mobile also began with a customer-first approach. Prior to entering the market in 2009, it solicited feedback from consumers and then built its offering to match. It too was keen to liberate Canadians from the oligopoly of mobile service providers.

In 2011, the account changed hands but the positioning continued – albeit with a new creative platform. The focus was still on treating customers fairly, and with respect – listening to and implementing their ideas and feedback; putting the customer first. But in 2013, the brand moved to a higher-level, more empowering position featuring the tagline “True Mobile Freedom”.

Why did both Virgin Mobile and WIND Mobile start with similar positioning’s and change course? Because the idea of listening and responding to customers needs – being customer-centric – was (and is) not a sustainable positioning.

It is one thing to put customers first in your approach to business. For a million reasons it makes sense and you should. But it’s a whole other thing to build your positioning around the idea.

Powerful, valuable, long-lasting brands inspire people. They stand for something, giving people something to believe in. Yes people like it when you listen to them. But once you’ve done that, then what? You need to lead.

The reality is that every brand should deliver good customer service. Every brand should treat customers fairly. Every brand should listen. Starbucks is oft cited as a pioneer and leader in this regard for their “My Starbucks Idea” community, but in our hyper-connected, always-on, seemingly transparent world every brand is (or can) do it. It’s just not a focus of their messaging.

So what about TELUS?

To be honest, I’m not really sure what TELUS stands for, why the brand exists. And I’m not going to suggest specific solutions, here. But I believe that the current positioning is transitory and hope I’ve demonstrated why it should be. I’m also curious if anyone has thoughts about the positioning not being unique – even if they don’t recall previous brands’ efforts.

I’ve always respected the TELUS brand and I know some of the people who worked on it in the past and/or work on it now. I think they’ve done a good job. But I’ll be really interested to see what the brand does next.

Creating the New Man: How Cosmetic Companies Lured In The Relatively Untapped Male Market

Chivalry may not be dead, but today’s “modern man” is much different from days of old: he applies moisturizer and even wears makeup.

While you may accept this as the norm (or find it shocking that we are even calling attention to it), it’s important to acknowledge it hasn’t always been this way. Sure our fathers applied Brut and Brylcreem, but these were basic items, commodities of sorts. Today it’s much more complicated.

Why? Because for cosmetic companies and fashion houses, there was a huge untapped market. While women adorned themselves with the latest make-up items and fashion accessories, fuelling continual growth, the same could not be said for men.

If only they could get men to value their physical appearance more and adopt such rituals. But how?

A core principle of customer experience design is that customers don’t exist, they have to be created. Cosmetic companies and fashion houses had tried (albeit unsuccessfully) in the past to enter the male market, but such market didn’t exist; consumers weren’t ready.

To get men to adopt the desired attitude and behaviours leading to this consumption represented a significant cultural shift. In order to do so, they (marketers) needed to create a new morality for men.

Applying an adaptation of Giesler and Veresiu’s model of consumer responsibilization – which theorizes that responsible consumption involves “the active creation and management of consumers as moral subjects” – we can analyze how this new morality was created. The process involves four steps.

Contrast the idealized consumer with the current (irresponsible) one

The goal of the first step, personalization, is to make the consumer aware that things can be better, to feel that their current state is inadequate. Though the wearing of makeup and use of grooming treatments had been accepted in the gay community, the practice hadn’t transferred to straight males. Cue the ground-breaking, now-famous, TV show “Queer Eye”, where a group of gay men give a straight man a lifestyle makeover, particularly focused on grooming and fashion. The show exposed the “straight man’s” shortcomings and socialized the idea that successful men should care more about their image, and take care of their skin (for example) as much as women. This served to put pressure on men to better maintain their physical appearance and present the idea of a new morality – to take great care of one’s physical appearance is the right thing to do.

Rendering the adoption of new practises legitimate through expert knowledge

With the desired tension created, men now needed to feel comfortable and reassured they could adopt this new image, or at least integrate it with their current self-perceptions. This is where the second step, authorization, comes in: using expert knowledge to render new practices both economically and morally legitimate. This is exactly what L’Oreal did when they launched Men Expert, a new line of men’s beauty products. Engaging confident, established gentlemen like Pierce Brosnan, Gerard Butler and Hugh Laurie demonstrated that it was perfectly fine to use moisturizers and skin revitalization creams. To support this, trusted publications like Men’s Health and GQ featured scientific evidence about the effects of aging on men’s skin and testimonials from women about what they value in a man’s appearance. These efforts served to reinforce the desired morality.

Develop concrete market infrastructures for responsible self-management

The third step, capabilization, calls for further development of a market that helps individuals in their self-management process. With assurance from authoritative figures, men begin seeking more products and services to address their beauty needs. L’Oreal acquired Nickel, a French brand targeted towards men that offers products as well as services such as body treatments, facials and microdermabrasion, and manicures and pedicures. Many others, such as designers Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, have followed suit and released men’s beauty products including concealers. In fact, launches of new beauty and personal care products for men increased 70% from 2007 to 2012 (Mintel).

Concrete behavioral change

The final step in this model is that of transformation where the individual embraces their new moralized understanding. The fact that it is now acceptable (even encouraged) for men to apply specialized facial moisturizers, cover-up, and get a mani-pedis is proof that the new morality has been adopted. In 2013, for the first time, men spent more on male specific beauty products than they did on shaving products. And this trend is going to continue.

Whether or not you observed it yourself, it is clear that new standards of beauty have been established for men. So when you or your man reach for some specialized moisturizer or make-up, recognize that while it wasn’t always acceptable, now, well, it’s the right thing to do.

This post originally appeared on and was co-authored by Ali Assad Malik and Federica Romano, fellow MBA students in the new Customer Experience Design course at the Schulich School of Business. We thank our Professor, Dr. Markus Giesler for the opportunity and PhD students Anton Sieber and Ela Veresiu for their assistance.

Chaos Presents Opportunity

We’ve all been talking a lot about Rob Ford lately. His antics are ridiculous and people are making a mockery of him. He has drawn copious amounts of negative attention to the city on a global scale. And it only seems to be getting worse.

Yet the ‘Rob Ford Situation’ presents a great opportunity for an important institution in Toronto to both raise its profile and awareness of its cause.

Let me explain.

I think (perhaps radically) that the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) should publicly acknowledge Rob Ford and offer their services to help him recover. Or at minimum, applaud him for getting help (which he claims to be receiving). At a time when almost everyone is shunning him, I think it makes for CAMH to show their support.

It’s clear Rob Ford has issues – alcoholism, drug abuse, perhaps others – and CAMH is world-leader in addiction recovery and mental health. So the alignment makes sense. Yes, many brands and organizations are trying to distance themselves from Rob Ford, but CAMH (and Rob Ford) stand to benefit from this maneuver. Not because of any political beliefs (and I am not going to comment on calls for his resignation, the job he has (or has not) done as Mayor, etc. as there is MORE than enough material on that) but because his behaviour is of the type they try to prevent or help people overcome. It’s not about supporting what he is doing; it’s about supporting him.

I’ve tried to look objectively at the situation and I think that it’s important to acknowledge the challenges that this man is facing right now. And at some level I would hope that we feel sorry for him – regardless of it being his own doing.

So why should we care?

Because mental health and addiction are major societal issues with broad reaching implications. Thanks to recent public awareness campaigns (most widely covered being Bell’s “Let’s Talk“, but also “Right by You” courtesy of Partners for Mental Health) you may know the key stats: that 1 in 5 people will experience mental health issues, that there is a massive toll on our economy and health care system, and that we ALL are connected to someone who is affected.

Rob Ford is clearly one of these individuals. And one of the problems that we as a society face is our unwillingness to acknowledge and accept that these things happen and that people have problems. Workplace mental health is also a growing concern, and Rob Ford is a striking example of a leader of an organization who has issues that need to be dealt with. The ‘nice’ thing in this instance is that he is being encouraged to get support. However I do not think everyone is as lucky.

That’s why I think CAMH could take this opportunity to publicize themselves and their services and try to get this ‘run-away train’ back on the tracks.

The obvious concern with this idea is the inherent risk, that it might do damage to the CAMH brand by being affiliated with this media disaster. And for those who know me, and that I was a Brand Strategist, you may be surprised that I’d make such a recommendation. But this is clearly a man in need and his needs are perfectly aligned with the services CAMH offers.

It’s an opportunity to showcase what the organization does on a global scale and hopefully take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one. (And at least get a tonne of good press)

The one issue that actually exists with this idea is that Rob Ford may already be receiving treatment at CAMH. If so, due to privacy issues, it would not be wise of CAMH publicly disclose or support him (without consent). However, if Mayor Rob Ford, who believes and cares so much about this great city, were receiving treatment at CAMH, it would be an honourable thing for him to admit it (yes, I know…very unlikely).

The reality is that there are many, many people in our city (and across the country and the world) who are in situations like Rob Ford. They may not be as public a figure, but they are facing personal challenges and need help. And perhaps this gesture might give them the courage to seek help themselves and encourage the people around them to also offer their support.

What do you think?

A new adventure

It’s been a while since I last wrote, and as change is on the horizon I figured an update would be prudent.

I’m not often inspired to write but Steve Mykolyn’s short piece “Thinking backwards, moving ahead” in Strategy Magazine’s recent opt-ed got me thinking. Steven discusses how ‘reinvention’ is the future and the key to success; that taking time to step back, look at what’s been accomplished, how the environment has changed, what the future may bring, perhaps acquire some new skills and adjust course accordingly will lead to new thinking and fruitful solutions. As a big believer in reflection, this resonates with me. I also see some parallels with my ‘next move’.

When I started this blog my objective was to become a Strategic Planner. Thanks to a lot of hard work, persistence, the guidance and support of good people and luck I managed to achieve that and then some. Over the past 2.5+ years I’ve had a the privilege of working in the Planning Group at MacLaren McCann, progressing from Analyst to full-fledged Strategic Planner leading brand and digital strategy on national accounts. It was an incredible experience and a role I may well return to in the future.

But right now it’s time for a new adventure. Next week I officially begin the pursuit of an MBA at the Schulich School of Business. For the next 1.5-2 years I’ll be fueling my thirst for knowledge and development – stepping back from the ad game, reflecting, and acquiring new skills; a reinvention of sorts.

I like to think that one aspect of reinvention is investing time in oneself. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Porsche: The New Family Car?

Porsche 911 Turbo S

I love Porsches, the 911 Turbo in particular.

But a Porsche is not for the masses. A Porsche is not practical. In fact, those two words don’t even belong in the same sentence. And that’s part of the brand’s appeal. But with their new campaign, Porsche is trying to change that. Call me a purist, but I believe it’s a detriment to the brand.

In their new TV spot, they cleverly display a variety of vehicles adding tangible value to their owners lives. It plays on some emotions and the production value is great. As a spot, I like it (although it does seem like a parody).

Then there is the website, which focuses on the new ‘values’ of Porsche – all weather, usability, comfort, safety, efficiency – and enables real Porsche owners share their stories of how the car adds value to their everyday life. It’s good content, and the Client must love it because the ‘features’ are frequently featured.

But does it do right by the brand? Do statements like “Porsche. Engineered for Comfort” make sense? Doesn’t this seem like a campaign for Toyota??

Porsche is the ultimate in speed and performance. A brand that has previously espoused the need for practicality. If you own a Porsche you can afford to have other cars that are ‘practical’.

So why the change?

According to my colleague Heidi McCulloch: research. And to paraphrase her thinking, this is an example of research leading people (aka Clients) astray. [update] In this case, it’s believed research showed that a segment of the market felt that a Porsche was not suitable for their daily driving needs. And instead of interpreting this positively (it IS a sports car), the research was used as justification to broaden the brand’s appeal and attempt to capture share. [end of update]

The problem we have with the campaign is this: the key to good branding is to know who you are and work it. And with this campaign, Porsche is not being Porsche. Yes, they are trying to change perceptions – but changing the core of who you are? Bad idea. As Adam Morgan noted in his famous book ‘Eating the Big Fish‘, the most poweful brands have a Lighthouse Identity – they don’t follow consumers and do what they do; they stand for something and show consumers the ‘way’. In this case, Porsche is definitely following the consumer. And by doing so, their marketing department is not being a good brand steward.

This campaign is a good demonstration of advertising doing its job: trying to change people’s perceptions. And it may succeed. Heck, I bet sales will increase in the short-term. But if I were a Porsche owner (and I’m not, although I’ve had many dreams about it) I don’t think I’d like the new image. The words ‘comfort’, ‘safety’, ‘efficiency’ do not fit with the Porsche identity, nor should they. And given that one’s identity is, uh, pretty integral to marketing and overall business success, I’m just not sure this change is the right thing to do.

What are you’re thoughts?

Why Blog?: An Update

It feels really good to write this post.

When I started this blog I outlined my raison d’être: to get a job as a Planner. And earlier this year I made a big step towards that goal. In January I joined MacLaren McCann as a Planning Analyst. Reporting into the VP of Planning, I help fuel the strategy engine by gathering intelligence, uncovering insights, and keeping a pulse on culture and technology.

So while this update may be a little over due, it goes without saying that I’ve been a little busy. And so far I’m loving it.

So here’s to having a goal, setting a plan, and working towards it.

Is Twitter An Engagement Tool?

Twitter Engagement

This post was inspired by my colleague and friend Adam Brain, and written in response to his post on our agency blog. The post related to a study conducted by Sysomos on Twitter engagement. And as Adam’s summary of the findings is so succinct, I will borrow it here to kick off my response.

“Recently Sysomos published a study about Twitter engagement. Specifically they examined what percentage of tweets garnered a reaction. Reactions in Twitter can be classified into two types: a reply characterized by the @ symbol, and a re-tweet identified by RT at the beginning of the tweet. After examining 1.2 billion tweets they found that less than 30% of tweets garnered a reaction from the Twitter user base. Broken down further, 6% were from re-tweets and 23% were replies. Meaning 71% of tweets get no reaction at all.

Based on this data, and a well-articulated argument, it was declared that “engagement on Twitter is fleeting” and that is not a community, but rather a place to broadcast a message – so don’t use it for interaction.

And while I don’t dispute this necessarily, I have a different take which stems from (a) the definition of engagement used,  (b) the fact that I don’t find the study results surprising, and (c) the implied conclusion that engagement on Twitter did exist, but is now in decline.

Let me elaborate.

First, Twitter’s initial purpose was to simply share what one was doing, at a defined moment in time. This was not particularly conducive to engagement. And although some argue it has become more of a conversation tool, it has always been quite superficial – a quick look though tweets by @KanyeWest is just one prime example of this. Another example comes from a study by 360i. As published in Ad Age

After spending six months going over a statistically significant sample of 1,800 tweets, 360i Senior-VP Sarah Hofstetter was struck at just how mundane and personal they were. “They’re mostly doing what people mocked Twitter about in the first place, as in, what I had for lunch.”

And anecdotally, one could argue that a large number of Twitter users are in the media/communications industry and use it for self-promotion and networking. None of these activities are likely to garner much “reaction”, as defined by this study.

Second, as shown by other engagement models, specifically Forrester’s “Social Technographics Ladder” as discussed in Groundswell, the vast majority of online users will simply read online content, and take no further action. A smaller percentage will share it, and an even smaller percentage will actually create new content. So the distribution of engagement on Twitter is on par with what can be expected. One could even argue that a ‘reaction’ rate of 30% is high.

Finally, for any content to garner a “reaction” it needs to be engaging or have inherent value to the user. For those of us who regularly participate on Twitter, the value of the content varies significantly. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve ignored tweets along the lines of “my cat did the cutest thing today…” or the like. Who cares. However, I’m am likely to “react” (again, as defined by this study) when the content is actually worth sharing. And this is when Twitter becomes a community (i.e. the James Buck story).

But there is a significant piece missing from all of this. I believe another item could be added to the engagement mix – action. Many tweets contain a hyperlink to more content. Here, action can be defined as a user engaging with a tweet by clicking through to the content referenced (a common practice). Of course, you’d need to know the percentage of tweets that allude to more content, but understanding the CTR (and how it relates to one’s number of followers or Klout score) would be a valuable measure to consider as well. [NOTE: I do this using with some of my Tweets (particularly when I write a blog post) – it’s easy to do and provides some interesting feedback].

So, suffice to say that the definition of engagement needs to be expanded, and further examined, before it can be declared  that “engagement on Twitter doesn’t really exist”. I mean, would the Old Spice Twitter campaign not be classified as engaging?

Finally, when evaluating the success of a campaign or program (and if Twitter is a good tool for engagement), it all needs to ladder back to the objectives and how they are defined.

Perhaps Sysomos could consider this in their next study.