inside out branding

September 28, 2007

Comcast Inside-Out

So the Comcast Jihad continues and it appears to even be picking up a bit of momentum as we're seeing employees begin to speak out about the company's deplorable behavior. The rants are escalating and perhaps there's even a chance Comcast will be forced to respond. With employees starting to speak out they're entering into a new world of hurt.  But they can choose to respond differently. Here's what I think their options are;

Scared Friend: Do what they've been doing, ignore it and hope it will go away. Probably the most annoying type of friend in the long term because nobody knows what they actually believe and instead of confronting the issue it'll simply fester.

Bad Friend: They could, and I suspect this is what they might do, just be a bad friend that decides to plead not-guilty. Working with a big-old PR firm (who is probably still telling them that any PR is good PR), they'll construct a meaningless public response with poor explanations and empty promises to "look into" and "find solutions" for these problems.

Bad Friend making an Effort:Maybe, just maybe, Comcast will decide to man up and stick their toe in the shallow end. Perhaps they'll show some transparency and acknowledge what they've done wrong while subsequently make an effort to spend time with people and taking some baby steps in the right direction.

If Comcast decides to dip a toe in, they need to start from the inside out.  Friendship isn't a shallow external thing and to create (and recreate) relationships with people they're going to have to start from the center.  To start building friendships they can't just craft new communications, they have to truly look within.

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First and foremost it starts with believing in something. Before Comcast can begin to truly befriend people, they have to figure out who they are and what they wish to offer. Brandon wrote a post a few days ago about belief driven decision making in which he discusses how important it is for a companies to put a stake in the ground. I'm not sure what Comcast believes and I'm not sure they know what they believe. Do they believe in entertainment or is it communication or maybe even community? Ultimately, until they can throw a stake in the ground they'll never be able to move concentrically outward, developing each other element of the friendship.


Employees
are the next step.  Once you've got a belief, you have to get employees believing.  This post is so traumatic not because of what it reveals (I don't think any of us expected there was a grave amount of information sharing and we all suspected they were handling business in these sort of fashions) but because there are now dozens of employees adding their two cents. Employees should be ambassadors and need to embody company beliefs because they're the humans actually building the friendship.


Product
is a vital piece of the friendship. It's the day-to-day interaction and something Comcast doesn't seem too interested in.  If, lets say, Comcast were to believe in giving people control they might want to spend a little effort on a better DVR. If you search Comcast over the past few months, some of the most positive commentary surrounding them is the rumored relationship with TiVo. It appears that has fallen apart. They need to pull things like that back together, develop a more user-friendly remote, easier installation processes, easier recording, better functionality.  Friends have to continually deliver and evolve, not establish and stagnate.

Experience goes hand in hand with the employees and product. As a friend, Comcast needs to find a more connected experience. This employee indicates that divisions of the company that would seemingly be operating hand in hand can't connect over anything but e-mail. Can you imagine a group of friends who used different mediums to connect with each other...lets go grab a drink, but I'm going to be on the phone with my buddy Jim who's going to conference in with Sally through e-mail. It doesn't make sense.  Conversations should be fluid, employees should be friends and make people feel like they're part of the loop.

Lastly we come to Communications & Advertising. I commend Goodby on the work they've done by creating compelling creative without any sort of belief system coming from their client. The communications works really well to create a more attractive brand, but unfortunately doesn't extend beyond that.  There's little consistency between the creative and the experience, it is a disconnect and more importantly none of the inner-circles reinforce it.  The employees clearly aren't "Comcastic" neither is the experience or the service.

Comcastic is a great creative concept, but Comcast still needs to figure out what being Comcastic means. What is a "Comcastic" friend?  What is a "Comcastic" employee?

August 23, 2007

Befriending consumers from the inside out: Part 2

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With the power of conversation, both good and bad, marketing now has to begin from the inside-out.  We have a saying at the agency, "it only takes 25 keystrokes to tell others about a bad experience."  Like it or not, the brand experience is the most important thing, and it's where marketing should begin.  How the company delivers the brand strategy is even more important than how marketing and ad communications delivers it.  Marketers will have a growing influence on how the brand experience is delivered.  While it may seem like a slow transition, progressive companies are looking at the product experience as they're biggest medium and are experiencing success.

As Eric Ryan, founder of Method put it, "we are a products company, not a marketing company."   He was contrasting Method with P&G, Unilever, SC Johnson and the like.  Meaning that Method's marketing is through its products, not for its products.

Here are some things to consider:

The power of empowered employees
There is much evidence that companies who give their customers a sense of ownership in the company tend to provide a better experience for the customer.  But even beyond stock ownership, companies can provide the autonomy to employees to serve the customer by principle and not just policy.  Southwest Airlines is a great example of this.  As far as befriending people, Southwest has done the best job over time in the airline category.  One big reason is because their employees are empowered to deal with situations and delight the customer.  They turn typically bad situations into positive  situations, where other airline employees are helpless and exacerbate the problem.  Anyone who's experience a ticket agent who pecks away at their hidden computer for 20 minutes, looks up and says, "that's the best I can do" knows what I'm talking about.

Selling a belief, a philosophy and a culture
Don't just provide products or services.  Provide a belief that people can identify with and be a part of.  Target does a great job of this.  They sell the idea that great design is for everyone.  And they make it possible for people to experiment and purchase great design easily, without much consequence.  Things like offering limited quantities of international designer merchandise like their Keanan Duffty line for guys.  Or making it easy for those coupon clippers to save money on everyday and fashionable items with the clipless coupon. 

Hiring people, not positions
The success of delivering a great brand experience starts with the people you hire and the culture they represent and create.  That means hiring the right kind of people.  For instance, Publix is one the biggest privately held supermarket chain in the US.  They differentiate themselves largely on providing a better shopping experience.  The way they maintain a service culture is by hiring people based on their interpersonal skills and personality instead of their retail experience.  Having people who deliver a brand experience that comes naturally to them is the most important thing.  Many times, skills can be taught and developed, but personality and social aptitude cannot.

Establishing ongoing communications to foster culture

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The most important target audience a brand has are its employees.  Companies must use communications to facilitate the brand culture.  In the past, Starbucks has done a great job at this.  The Green Apron book is often referred to as the Bible.  And electronic newsletters are used to recognize employees, foster creative and artistic expression and share best practices.  Having an ongoing communication plan helps keep the brand culture going. The Green Apron Blog is a perfect example of this, a site encouraging best practice sharing and examples.

Rethinking the role of communications
Part of befriending consumers from the inside out is re-examining the role of communications.  As I mentioned in my first post, my Honda Element brand experience was equally shaped by the dealer's ambivalence as by the loyal community of owners.  So facilitating community with your marketing will likely be the most high-impact and efficient use of dollars.  Eric Ryan at Method recognizes the value of igniting its loyal users.  Considering they are by far the youngest brand in the category, you'd think they'd be focused on trial.  Not so.  They focus more on cultivating loyalty and producing brand advocates with they're communications, and according to Eric, will continue to do so even more.  Check out the online version of their latest creation of helpful content: detox your home.

I'm sure there are more...feel free to add!