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The following is an excerpt from the book Marketing that Matters
by Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishersy; October 2006;$12.00US; 978-1-57675-383-5
Copyright © 2006 Eric M. Fishman and Stephen Townsend Conley

Develop Avenues to Connect with Your Customer in Emotionally Authentic Ways

In Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts asks a provocative question: "'How do you get intimate with customers without being invasive or insincere?" This is such a refreshing question in today's world of commoditized brands, where everything feels standardized, distant, and lacking in personal touch. Get this question right and you'll build a fiercely loyal customer base.

Roberts continues, "Intimacy requires an understanding of what matters to people at a very deep level. And that understanding means that you have to be prepared to reveal yourself as well. Reveal your true feelings. Not standard behavior for most corporations!"

Chip had a sense of this when he launched Joie de Vivre's new Hotel Vitale on San Francisco Bay in 2005. He felt that there was a niche in the marketplace -- what he called the "post-W, pre-Four Seasons customer" -- that was underserved by the current product offerings. This hotel guest had outgrown the hip and trendily exclusive W Hotel experience but wasn't yet ready for the formality and old-school luxury of the Four Seasons. He felt this customer was looking for a hotel that was a unique juxtaposition of stylish yet humble, professionally minded yet progressive. In a world full of multinational chain hotels with no authentic voice, Chip wanted to connect emotionally with his customers. How do you do that when, as the owner, you can't be at the front desk twenty-four hours a day?

Chip's launch team created a thirty-two page Vitale magazine that colorfully articulates the best hidden treasures Vitale guests should seek out in San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront neighborhood. And at the front of this attractive, magazine-like publication is a photo of Chip with his personal note that says: "What's truly important in life? Is it the fact that you've traded-up to the BMW 7-series from the 3-series or is it the collection of memories and experiences that you've treated yourself to over the course of your lifetime? Many of us have come to recognize that our material possessions aren't what sustain us. Instead, what's significant are the daily little vignettes we create in our lives."

The letter goes on to say that this magazine is a "customized instruction manual for creating memories," and it articulates, in a from-the-heart manner, just how important this hotel is to Chip and to his company. He even goes on to include his e-mail address in the letter and encourages guests to "track [him] down." What's the result of trying to make this emotional connection? Each month, Chip gets dozens of e-mails from primarily ecstatic guests and strikes up an e-mail relationship with each of them. When he gets the occasional dissatisfied guest who wants to express his or her disappointment, Chip is able to make that emotional connection, too -- as well as engage his hotel staff in creating solutions for that guest. In sum, in an anonymous world of hotels that want you to think of them as your "home away from home,'" isn't it nice to know whose home you're staying in and what kind of values it has?

Big companies can also engage in this kind of customer in intimacy. Hasbro was a big toy company with a bit of a tired image. It realized that children were playing video games at earlier ages. This meant they were no longer playing Hasbro board games and that they were losing some connection with their parents since few parents play video games. Research showed the sooner parents starred playing board games with their children, the more likely the children would continue to play board games. And, of course, the net result of this might be a more communicative and closer family.

In order to market this idea, Hasbro designed an ad campaign that spoke directly to parents. The goal was to influence parents to begin playing board games with their children at three years old and make it easier for the parents to choose an appropriate game to play. This was done by branding all of the Hasbro preschool games that met the criteria of being educational under the umbrella of My First Games. To reinforce the educational elements, such as counting, color recognition, and taking turns, Dr. Sylvia Rimm, a leading child psychologist, was enlisted as a spokesperson and advocate for the brand and appeared on every game package to help parents recognize the benefits of the game.

With the campaign slogan "The best part of playing is playing together," the ads depicted a parent and a child giggling and hugging while playing a board game. The words that inspired the ad campaign were "Daddy, come and play a game with me." This ad campaign had the highest positive customer ratings in Hasbro's history and proved equally successful in the market.

Creating an emotional connection with your customers has a lot to do with getting inside their hearts and speaking to their values. The more you behave like a friend or facilitator, the more likely your customer will keep coming back for more.

Package the Product in a Way That Creates an Emotional Response

Some product categories have the potential to evoke emotional responses more than others. What emotions come up for you when you think of tea? Mystery and exoticism? Relaxation? Doilies and crumpets? Historically in America, tea was defined by Lipton and Bigelow and was a rather boring product category. But then along came new brands like the Republic of Tea, Numi Tea, and Tazo that helped shift the whole idea of tea in Americans' minds to being something almost spiritual.

Each of these new brands has tried to tell a rather mystical story about tea. Back in chapter 2, we talked about Tazo, a company that took its name from ancient times. The name means "river of life" in the Romany Gypsy language and was used as a toast to life by ancient Greeks. The tea company was founded in 1994 with the idea that it was going to "reincarnate" tea.

Steve Seto, the vice president of branding for Tazo, says, "It's a very modern notion of spirituality that, like the product itself, borrows from multiple spiritual and cultural influences -- a simple, yet textured idea that customers respond to emotionally. It invites them in and allows them to interpret the brand on their own terms. It's sort of like yoga: some do yoga just for the physical benefits while others take it to a deeper level and are rewarded with personal, spiritual benefits that the practice offers. Our positioning works to take people to this deeper place, to convey that Tazo does have the ability to make you feel a certain way (soothed, refreshed, revitalized, or restored). "

We think Tazo's packaging is the icing on the cake for this emotional connection. The Tazo brand is built around spiritual images, using icons that resemble language from long ago and far away -- a combination of elements that seem to draw equally from The Lord of the Rings and Hinduism. Featuring unique tea blends with names like Zen, Tazo creates a holistic impression that says "slow down, experience this, you will be enriched." In essence, the emotional message is this "inexpensive, little product will provide you a quick escape from your crazy life." And the result is that Tazo has continued growing market share to the point that Starbucks (yes, again) acquired the company in 1999.

How are you packaging your product or service? Ask what your customers are really looking for. It may not be immediately obvious. The obvious answer for tea drinkers is that they're looking for a warm beverage. But in reality, traditional tea drinkers may be seeking civility while postmodern tea drinkers may be looking for an escape. Once you've discovered this underlying customer emotional motivation, you can package your product or service to address this message.

Use Your Historical Roots to Create an Emotional Connection

The use of nostalgia can be anything but socially responsible. Most American companies that use nostalgia often do so in a fashion that can feel regressive, not progressive. That's why when it's done by a socially responsible company, it can make an even more profound emotional impact on the conscious customer.

Birkenstock has a venerable history dating back more than 225 years to Germany. Margot Fraser introduced the shoe brand in America (becoming its exclusive distributor here) in 1966, and it quickly became associated with the new youth movement. The Northern California headquarters, the funky and casual look, and the adherence to green principles all created a branding that could be called crunchy or granola-y. Those customers who looked beyond that veneer found that Birkenstock always adhered to a recyclable tradition. The shoe design considers the entire life cycle of the shoe from the source of materials and the reduction of waste to energy-efficient manufacturing and the repair, reuse, and recyclability of the finished product.

Yet this mellow counterculture image was starting to weigh on the company, as the average age of its customers was far higher than for its competitors. Like many brands that are forty years old (in terms of the launch in the United States), Birkenstock's customers were starting to die off. In order for the company to reach out to a younger audience with its marketing, it had to move from hippie to hip without being inconsistent with its heritage of turning out comfortable, environmentally sound footwear.

Birkenstock hired Yves Behar and his company, fuseproject, a cutting-edge industrial design and branding firm, to create a new brand tailored for younger urban creatives. This new brand (launched as the Architect Collection and now part of the Footprints line) stayed true to some of the roots of Birkenstock: more width in the shoe and more space for the toes than is typical, as well as using biodegradable or recycled materials. At the same time, this new shoe line was meant to be much more elegant, modern, and, dare we say, fashionable than anything Birkenstock had ever delivered to the market before.

The net result is a shoe that speaks to young people whose parents, or maybe even grandparents, are Birkenstock enthusiasts. The new shoe line was launched at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco and the Kartell Museo in New York's Soho district. For the launch events, a large architectural piece -- a gigantic chandelier made of some eighty dangling Birkenstock shoes -- floated above those coming to the parties. The Footprints design has won fuseproject numerous design awards.

This example proves that a company can be true to its ergonomic and ecological roots while still innovating to meet the customer's changing tastes and needs. In story terms, Yves Behar and fuseproject reinterpreted Birkenstock's original message of reliability and "greenness" for a new generation of stylish, ecology-minded people. Just like Hush Puppies became cool again in the last few years, so did Birkenstocks.

If purchasing is a convenient form of activism, consider your company's socially responsible roots and use that connection to the past to inspire your current customers to continue to stay loyal to your brand.

Copyright © 2006 Eric M. Fishman and Stephen Townsend Conley