Going deeper: Making your brand transcendent

Mike Peck is President of Outside Source Design and a marketing strategist. Recently I read an article about “transcendent brands.” The idea of a brand aspiring to be transcendent is quite appropriate. Before we talk about how this is accomplished, let’s find common ground on a definition. For us, a transcendent brand goes beyond the ordinary in the mind of the consumer and stands apart in some significant way.

If you are a managing a brand, large or small, how do you begin the process of becoming transcendent?

First, you have to fully understand what a normal customer experience is within your category. Take a look at every aspect of your customer experience and do the same with all of your competitors. Chart every customer interaction as much as you can to fully identify connection points. Everything from installation instructions to sales material should be reviewed with unbiased eyes.

Once you have all of your customer interactions outlined, ask yourself a simple question, “What could I do within this process to cause a customer to talk about his/her experience? How can our brand transcend the normal?”

Allow me to offer a quick example. Last week in Starbucks my order was one of many and the team seemed to be running a bit late. As the barista handed me my drink, she also gave me a gift certificate for a free coffee and apologized for having made me wait so long. If you unpack this experience you see that in the mind of Starbucks, the cost of a free drink and quick apology is a small price to pay for a repeat visit and a story told by a satisfied customer.

Go deeper as you seek customer delight. Transcend the normal customer interaction and put needs of your audiences above process and protocol. It is true that a customer always talks. The question is, “What are they saying about your brand?”

Users vs. Customers: Semantics or genuine difference?

Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter and the founder of Square, recently posed a question on his Tumblr page: Why do we call our customers users?. He was asked the same question by Howard Shultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, during a Square board meeting and decided he didn't have a good answer. So he decided to change the way he and his employees refer to the people who use their products.

At Square we’re removing the term “users” from our vocabulary, replacing it with “customers”, and the more specific “buyers”, and “sellers.” The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business.

Dorsey's feels the term "users" abstracts the way his company thinks of the people who buy and sell goods through Square. "Customers" gives those people a more human face and reminds the people at Square that they're dealing with human beings. (To get the full story, you can read the entire post here: http://jacks.tumblr.com/post/33785796042/lets-reconsider-our-users.)

What do you think? Is this all just semantics, or are there good reasons to change the way we talk about people that use our software and web sites?

Is spec creative the best way to select your agency?

Spec creative. That’s what we politely call Free Work. The request is always packaged in a nice RFP, but the bottom line is always the same: “pitch us your ideas and maybe you’ll get the business.” And while we understand the game, it’s not one we prefer to play. We’re not a big agency. We’re a small multi-media design shop, so we don’t get asked to respond to many RFPs that include speculative creative, though it does happen a few times a year. To which we politely decline. Why? Simple really, it’s not in our best interests. We are a for-profit entity, which strives to create lasting value for our clients. That is to say, we want our clients to feel that our fees are justified and worth it. Spec creative does not fit into that model. Spec creative establishes a zero-value cost basis. In other words, once you contribute the first round of creative for free, what else will you do for free?

Moreover, spec creative is not really the best way to measure the ability of a creative services firm. Spec creative is a single instance of creative execution, which may or may not have been created by salaried staff. Therefore it may not represent the true capability of a particular company. Likewise, spec creative doesn’t demonstrate what the firm is like to work with from a corporate culture standpoint. Or what their rates are based on. Or their attention to detail. Or their customer service. Or how they bill. Or what the full range of their capabilities might be. Which, collectively, is the true measure of a creative services firm.

In addition, spec creative is often requested without the benefit of key information. “Just show us a few ideas on how you would help us grow market share,” the RFP reads. In other words, fly blind and don’t ask the questions that might get you close to the real audience needs.

Lastly, spec creative creates a financial incentive for the creative services firm to work toward. In other words, every dollar they invest in the spec work itself is a dollar that has to be accounted for somewhere down the road. Don’t be surprised when future project estimates escalate in price.

We get it though. It’s an easy option during the decision-making process. And as long as there are hungry creative services companies, there will always be a call for spec creative. It’s unfortunate, but a reality in this industry. Despite this reality, it is not the best way to select a creative resource. We’d challenge those interested in spec creative to consider an alternate path – one that focuses on the long-term benefits of a mutually beneficial relationship. In fact, we’d love to help you through that process.