How to generate that elusive emotional connection between your brand and your customers: Sainsbury’s shows the way


This post is NOT for novices.  If you are novice then I suggest you not read any further as you will not get it and it will occur to you as ‘nonsense’ and a ‘waste of time’.  The exception is if you are a novice with an open mind – you see that makes you not a novice, but a master!  I know that it sounds ‘nonsense’ and ‘paradoxical’ – you are warned.

Failure is built into the existing dominant mindset

My blessing and my curse is that I am a constant outsider.  That is simply what goes with being born into one culture (and all that goes with it) and then growing up in a completely different one.  What has this got to do with business, with customers, customer relationships, CRM and customer loyalty?  Kind of everything.

I have been involved in the whole Customer dance since 1998 and the one consistent is an intuitive sense that the whole enterprise is founded on a context that ensures that the people and the companies that are doing all of this Customer stuff (to build customer loyalty and reap the benefits) will fail to cultivate that much desired customer loyalty.  How best to convey that?  Let me start with two quotes that kind of point towards what I am striving to make visible to you:

“We will win and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it, because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Tailor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized, too. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on one side and workers on the other, on one side men who think, and on the other side men who can only work.  For you, management is the art of smoothly transferring the executives’ ideas to the workers’ hands”  Konosuke Matsushita in 1989 (Founder of Panasonic)

“Before producing the products, we produce men” Toyota’s motto

If you still don’t get it then let me share with you what Gary Hamel (management guru) has to say.  In his latest book (What Matters Now) Gary points out that the single biggest reason most companies don’t adapt and innovate is that their leaders fail to write off their own depreciating personal intellectual capital.  What he is say takes us back to the first quote by Konosuke Matsushita and should also shed light on the second quote (above).

This is what it takes to cultivate loyalty – do you have what it takes?

It is quite possible that you think you get what I am pointing at.  That is the disease in which the whole Customer movement is mired and has been mired in since inception.  You get it intellectually – at best you understand it and this is what one of the wisest thinkers / philosophers on the human condition has to say on that:

“In life, understanding is the booby prize.”  Werner Erhard

You see the whole issue is that understanding through the mind is simply not enough!  So let’s move on to a zen story that gets to the heart of the matter that I am concerned with today.  I invite you to notice how you are impacted (or not) by it:

“A saintly woman was walking along the edge of the cliff.  Several hundred feet below her, she saw a dead mother lion, surrounded by crying cubs.  Without hesitation, she leaped off the cliff so that they would have something to eat.” 

Do you get it?  COMPASSION/LOVE is the context which gives rise to the kind of being and doing that co-creates the emotional bond between you and your fellow human beings.   Your customers are human beings – not wallets, even though you think and talk in terms of wallets and wallet share.

If you are novice, an intellectual, a ‘rational’ and quite possibly a Top then it is likely that I have pressed your buttons and that little voice inside your head is coming up with ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’, ‘liberal’, ‘no place for this stuff in business’…….  So let me share an interesting story with you about one of the UK’s biggest retailers.

The Sainsbury’s tiger bread story: why did this story touch our hearts and put the Sainsbury brand in the limelight?

3 year old Lily wrote to Sainsbury:

And here is the Sainsbury response:

Which brings me back to the central question:  why has Sainsbury’s reply to Lily and the positive response to the Facebook campaign (to change the name of tiger bread to giraffe bread) made such an impact on us?  Reading this article I am struck by the following comments made by various people:

“Steven Dodds, co-founder of {united}, called the tale “genius”, adding “it screams of spontaneous generosity and humanity.”

Dodds said: “Consumers want to be able to put their trust in brands and this random act of kindness, which has made a strong impression on people, embodies the importance of that brands connect with customers. With people wanting to build relationships with less obviously managed brands, Sainsbury’s hits the mark in showing its human side.”

Mark Dye, MD of White Label Media, commented: “The humour and warmth shown by a big brand like Sainsbury’s conveys it as a warm down to earth, friendly and approachable brand staffed by real people rather than the complex and often frustrating IVR systems most consumers are faced with nowadays.”

Max Thompson from Plug and Play explained that Sainsbury’s decision to rename the bread has reinforced that it cares about its customers and that it considers their opinions enough to cause a rebrand of a product.   “The impact it has had on the Sainsbury’s brand is that it has reinforced that it cares about it’s customers and that it considers their opinions enough to cause a rebrand of a product. An activity which would normally be exclusively an executive decision,””

Summing it up

The access to that emotional bond that touches our humanity and lifts the human spirit is LOVE borne out of COMPASSION.  There simply is no agreement for these words, these concepts, and so it is no surprise that Steven Dodds of United (above) replaces them with “spontaneous generosity and humanity”.  Just ask yourself what provides access to “spontaneous generosity and humanity”.  I assert that it is:

  • an enlightened individual (and organisation) which takes us back to Toyota’s motto“Before producing the products, we produce men”;
  • an enlightened organisation is simply an organisation where the people in it and the culture in which these people live is one that is in touch with the best of humanity – compassion, kindness, love.

Finally: a warning and an invitation

The trap is for you to read this, agree with it and understand it intellectually – nodding your head.  Why?  Because purely intellectual understanding is a dead end.  All that is is because of action.  Action is that which gives rise to the way that things are and the way that things are not.  So I leave you with some of the wisest words uttered for our age – the intellectual age:

“In life, understanding is the booby prize.”  Werner Erhard

Open you heart – all action that has ever made a difference in the world has come from the heart.  Jonathon Haidt refers to the ‘Heart’ as the ‘Elephant’ and the ‘Mind’ as the ‘Rider’.  The ‘Rider’ often thinks he is in charge the reality (as neuroscience amply demonstrates) is very different – it is the ‘Elephant’ (the limbic brain, the Heart) that determine pretty much everything that does and does not happen.  So once again, open your heart if you want to cultivate the customer loyalty that you are looking for.  And if you are not prepared to do that then recognise that you are on a fools errand: how many more $ millions are you going to spend to stay exactly where you are? 

I thank you for your listening and invite you to enter into a conversation with me.  I suspect that I have pressed at least one of your buttons!  Surely you must have something to say – surely you want to tell me that I have got it all wrong.  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Do you really want to get to grips with customer-centricity? Then read ‘Reinventing the Wheel’ by Chris Zane

Does your map correspond with ‘reality’?

We never live in the ‘real world’.  Each of us lives on our own personal map of the real world; groups live in their map of the real word; and cultures are deeply enmeshed in their cultural map of the real world.  To the extent that these maps are a good with the ‘real world’ then our actions produce intended results.   If you twist this around then you will find that if you are doing stuff and not getting the intended results then it is highly likely that you are using a map that does not have an adequate correspondence with the world. Let’s take a look at how this applies to the world of customer-centricity, customer experience and CRM.

Many established businesses have an inadequate map of ‘customer-centricity’

Imagine the following scenario.  My 11 man soccer team is on the pitch and it is divided into four groups: goalkeeper, defence, midfield, attack.  I come to the realisation that my team is not delivering the intended results or that there is a risk that it is not likely to do so.  So I have instructed the groups and the team to change and I may even have hired experts to help me bring this about.  You come along and see the goal keeper is busy moving the goalposts to make them goal smaller.  You see that the defence is busy being replaced with fewer and cheaper players who are on someone else’s payroll (‘outsourcing’).    You see that the midfielders are busy learning a new method of passing the ball.  You see that the attackers have been told to follow a new method and use new technology: high-tech boots that promise to help them run faster. And so forth.

Then you laugh out loud.  Why?  Because you see the absurdity of the situation.  At one level, what I am doing / what my team is doing / what my hired experts are advising makes perfect sense.  Yet, at another, more important level it is just absurd.  Why?  Because you get that the game has changed.  You get that we (me, my team) should be on the rugby pitch playing rugby – a completely different game!  You see something that I do not see.  You see that I think I am playing rugby and I am not!

That is exactly what is happening in the business world when it comes to customer-centricity and customer experience – the same old companies continue to be an exception.  Allow me to make this real by using just one example.

Lets take a look at ‘customer lifetime value’

Lets, consider customer lifetime value.  Companies that have jumped on the customer focused bandwagon have spent considerable sums in developing ‘accurate’ customer lifetime value models.  Those that have not are busy doing so or refusing to do so because it is not possible to come up with a lifetime value model.  Take a good hard look: you will see that this is a transactional model at work.  I will only invest in you, to treat you well, if I can figure out in advance that I will get more out of this then I have to put in.  Dive deeper and you will find that the hidden assumption is that each customer has a fixed customer lifetime value that is attached to her – like her name is attached to her.

Now go and read ‘Reinventing The Wheel’ by Chris Zane and you will find that he continues to run his business on the principle that each and every customer has a lifetime value of $12,500. And it is everyone’s job to deliver a unique experience and realise that lifetime value.  You see Chris Zane gets the philosophy (the game) of customer-centricity!  Chris (and his team) is creating value for his customers by treating each and everyone has a $12,500 customer.  He did not hire a customer insight team to do all the calculations.  He sat down and estimated it based on what a customer would purchase if Chris managed to keep that customer for a lifetime.   When you dig deeper you find that Chris chooses to trust and invest in his customers.   And customers are paying him back.  How many of these customers have become $12,500 customers because of the way that Chris and Zane’s Cycles treats them that way?  Chris gets that the mission of creating that $12,500 in cusotmer lifetime value falls to  Zane’s Cycles: yes it has to be created not just calculated!  It is created by selling and delivering unique experiences (again and again) that customers value:  trust, support and outstanding service is a core part of these unique experiences.

Conclusion and Recommendation

To sum up, established business have completely misunderstood the principle behind customer lifetime value because their mindset is old school: transactional – focussed on extracting value.  Chris Zane gets the deeper game from which arises the principle of customer lifetime value and that is why he has made it work.

If you really want to grips with the customer-centricity game then read Chris Zane’s book:  ‘Reinventing the Wheel’.  It is gem of a book and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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