Tech Ed: Avoiding the 'brand canyon'

Lou Carbone gives the oil on the emotion of customer experience

Lou Carbone, US-based guru of the customer experience, wowed the Tech Ed crowd this morning with a keynote presentation extolling the value of understanding the emotions of the customer experience.

Carbone used a number of examples from his own career to illustrate how companies that succeed use what he calls "emotional clues" to create experiences that not only make customers happy but can also make them passionate about a brand.

Carbone says the Harley Davidson community is one that any brand manager would die for. But he says to create such a community, companies have to understand the role of the subconscious mind.

"Is it rational for a 50-year old man to want to own a Harley?" he asks. "There isn't an organisation on the face of the earth that wouldn't want people so engaged."

He used another example, of the Howard Johnson restaurant chain which once had 800 outlets in the US and now has none. He says management there focused on cutting costs —changing from 4-ply to 2-ply napkins and using shorter straws — and even tried to reduce the number of ice-cream flavours it offered, something core to its branding.

"They were so focused on profit they lost sight of the customer," he says.

He contrasted that approach with Disneyworld's, where every effort is made to understand the emotions of the experience, even down to wafting the smell of chocolate chip cookies down "main street".

Carbone says companies have to move from "best practice" to "next practice". He quoted management guru Peter Drucker, who wrote that companies exist to create value and profit is their reward. He says this has become corrupted. Many companies believe they exist for profit and the means to this is extracting it from the customer.

He says when people talk about customer relationship management, they are mainly talking about data management, not relationship management. He cited his own experience of Northwest Airlines and its rewards scheme.

"It's a reward for a horrible, crappy experience," he says. "And they think I'm loyal."

He said, in contrast, being given a hot hand-towel on Air New Zealand was a reminder of what the flying experience used to be like.

Air New Zealand wasn't the only local organisation to get a mention. Carbone played a Telecom advertisement and talked about how in advertising he used to develop emotional ads and then found the real customer experience failing to match.

He also talked about Starbucks' success in the US, where it created the coffee experience for many, and its place in New Zealand (showing a picture of an empty Starbucks on Ponsonby Road in Auckland) where such an experience was already familiar.

Carbone says companies have to avoid what he calls the "brand canyon". To do so they have to move from old thinking, focusing on products, to thinking and understanding how the customer feels about themselves.

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