The most compelling research I read in 2010

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What was the most compelling research you read in 2010? For me, it was the Harvard Business Review piece on the need for marketing to transition from the traditional sales funnel to the customer decision journey. There were so many compelling POVs within that article – 1) how marketers need to spend more time on content and conversation and less time broadcasting information and 2) how customers increasing access to information has changed the way they make purchase decisions. But without a doubt, the most compelling part of the article for me was the consumer bond.

McKinsey and Company’s David Edelman described the consumer bond this way in the HBR piece:

“If consumers’ bond with a brand is strong enough, they repurchase it without cycling through the earlier decision journey stages.”

For a company, the point of that statement is rather direct – brands that are able to maintain a strong bond with their customers end up creating customers and advocates for life, which can have a strong financial impact on their bottom line.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. But I have to say I always find it fascinating when people do things that fly in the face of research. As business people, we’ve been conditioned to strive for the sale. Ask any business leader what his/her number one goal is and the response you’ll hear 99 times out of 100 is “drive sales.” I’m not foolish enough to knock that mentality. After all, sales are what keep a company running and allow it to grow. That’s simple math even this communicator can understand.

But somewhere along the line, that goal was altered for most businesses from “drive sales” to “drive NEW sales.” Somewhere, for some reason, we put organic sales and business wins in the back seat and began focusing solely on letting the new business leads ride in the front with the seat warmers.

Research says organic wins are easier. Research says your current clients are the lowest-hanging fruit because you are already having a conversation with them and, hopefully, they already trust you. Research says providing the best possible service to your customers will turn them into passionate advocates for your brand. And yet, most business leaders ignore the research or brush it aside and focus on new business first.

That’s why the consumer bond in all its simplicity reached out and grabbed my attention – because it’s yet another piece of research that champions continuing to build customer relationships after a purchase has already been made. And I’m wondering if this time the message is finally going to sink in.

Now, back to the customer journey. Depending on who you’re talking to, you may hear a slightly different definition of this new process. Here’s a post I wrote a few months back about the definition we use at Fleishman. The definition David shares in HBJ has some variations. But the overall theme is the same:

  • Marketing needs to make a fundamental shift in the way they reach out to the customer.
  • They need to focus on listening, engaging and providing solutions for the customer need, instead of solely bombarding the customer in the purchase stage when he/she is ready to buy.
  • And they need to keep listening and talking to the customer after he/she has made the purchase to ensure a positive brand experience.

This post-purchase stage is the most crucial. Because of the prevalence of social media, today’s customers have access to more information and opinions than ever before. Therefore, anytime a customer has a buying decision to make, your brand is going up against all your competitors and the opinions of all consumers who have purchased a product in your industry. Can you say overwhelming and hard to stand out?

This is the beauty of David’s consumer bond research from the HBR article. If companies nurture the relationship in the post-purchase stage and the customer has a positive experience, then he/she won’t even cycle back through the journey. It’s hard work for the customer too and the trust/affinity for your brand makes it easy to choose your company again the next time the customer has a similar need.

Sounds simple, right? Companies need to focus more on customer service. You’ve heard that recently, haven’t you? Tony Zappos, Southwest Airlines, yada, yada, yada. It may sound like a broken record, but I would be willing to bet a large sum of money that most of your companies or clients are focusing much more time and resources on the purchase stage than the customer bond stage. Am I right?

Think about it and share your experience in the comments. It will be interesting to see how different organizations are changing focus. And why some aren’t changing.

  • Has your company/clients ramped up customer service efforts recently?
  • Do you believe organic wins are easier, more beneficial to a brand than new business?
  • How does research factor into the business decisions your company makes?

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