Source: Laura Ockel, https://unsplash.com/@viazavier

Source: Laura Ockel, https://unsplash.com/@viazavier

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today is a day to ponder the nature of love, which makes it the perfect day for marketers to consider customer experience. After all, the Buy/Own/Advocate customer journey model contains a stage for Love. Love is what turns a stale customer journey that fails to create a strong relationship into a successful one built on satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

Although there are differences between your relationships with brands and those with loved ones, there are also similarities. People feel strongly about the brands they love in a way that transcends the commercial nature of the relationship. If most of the brands in your life were to disappear tomorrow, you might not even notice, but for a select set of brands in your life, their loss would hurt.

You might be heartbroken if a favorite coffee shop closed. You may lament a favorite retailer changing hands. And the loss of a social network, such as Vine or Club Penguin, can cause people to feel a sense of denial and anger–the first two stages in humans’ process for dealing with loss. Heck, some people will even ink their favorite brands onto their body in the same place others would display a heart tattoo surrounding the name of a spouse or child.

What might brands learn about customer experience from the fact people can love brands in much the same way they love other people? I find this a worthwhile thought exercise because it can encourage marketers to reassess their attitudes about their customers, products, and measurement.

Here are three questions to spark thought and dialog:

Can you measure your love for your spouse or significant other on a spreadsheet?

Every couple goes through rough patches every now and then, and when this happened to you, how did you know without an objective metric or dashboard? Was it purely about the number of hugs or kisses per day? Was the warning sign that the number of times you uttered “I love you” dropped by 16.8%? Somehow, you are able to assess your relationship and respond to potential problems, even though you lack the sort of data, analytics, and dashboards you use to measure your brand relationships.

I’m hardly suggesting customer experience should not or cannot be measured–in fact, the truth is quite the opposite–but what mistakes might you make in your personal relationships if you only tried to measure and evaluate them using an Excel spreadsheet? And what may be lost in our customer relationships if we rigidly stick to quantitative, attributable, and lagging indicators of transaction and dollar volume?

“The measure of love is to love without measure.”
― Francis de Sales

Why do you love your best friend–because of what he or she says or does?

Your best friend may be the life of every party because she’s quick with a joke, but is that why you love her? Or is it because she was there for you–emotionally when you went through tough times or physically when you needed help moving? If most people consider why their best friend is their best friend, the reasons that rise to the top will have nothing to do with what was said but much to do with actions, emotions and moments.

Marketers spend a lot of time and money trying to say something through ads and content, but the brands you love aren’t the ones with the snappiest viral videos or the funniest TV ads; instead, they’re the brands that you perceive add value, put your needs first and deliver reliably. Brands that fail to live up to their promises are like the cad hollering, “But I love you, and it’ll never happen again” as their former lover walks out the door, using words to try to mend the wound their actions created.

“Our love must not be a thing of words and fine talk. It must be a thing of action and sincerity.”
– 1 John 3:18

Do you weigh your loving relationships only in terms of what you get from others?

A good relationship requires balance, and in the end, if one person fails to deliver, it can cause issues. But do you evaluate your personal relationships only by what you get from others? Is your marriage a running tally of debits and credits? Or do you appraise your personal relationships in terms of mutual goals, joint achievements and quality experiences shared?

Strong brands measure their income and expenses just like other brands, but they also tend to frame their mission in collaborative terms, suggesting how they’ll work with customers, not just exploit them. While some banks stumble by striving to achieve the most accounts per customer, USAA’s mission is to “facilitate the financial security of its members, associates and their families” and “to be the provider of choice for the military community.” USAA strives to help its members achieve something and sees itself as part of a community, which may explain why USAA continues to have the best net promoter score of any brand in the US.

Starbucks’ mission is to “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” It may be easy to dismiss that as lofty, but Starbucks has demonstrated its commitment to mutual success and community benefit in everything from its failed attempt to spark dialog about race issues to its promise to pay for undergraduate degree programs for full- and part-time employees. And while the brand’s plan to hire 10,000 refugees led some to call for a boycott, it is easy to see this promise as Starbucks making its mission real, alongside efforts like offering free legal services for immigrant employees, hiring and supporting veterans, and encouraging community service among employees and customers. Starbucks’ desire to put its words into action, improve the lives of all stakeholders, and produce a powerful employee and customer experience helps to explain the brand’s success. For example, Starbucks has the second-largest market share in the restaurant chain industry despite spending two-thirds to 90% less on measured media compared to the other brands in the top five, according to the latest Advertising Age Fact Pack.

This Valentine’s Day, as you send your loved ones flowers or give them heart-shaped boxes of candy, ask yourself what you’ve done recently to express your love of your brand’s customers. Ponder how you measure that love. And consider if your primary goal is to lift your customer or maximize his or her spend.

If your brand isn’t getting much love from customers this Valentine’s Day, what will you do to change that? In the words of those great love philosophers, The Beatles:

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

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