Great examples of how operations can become marketing.
Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunechaser/
In a couple of weeks we’ll be partnering with Microsoft to give a joint presentation to some IT and Marketing directors about the idea that their two disciplines are starting to (or needing to) work much more closely these days. What we want to show is that there are many cases where marketing and IT are collaborating to create programs that deliver operational efficiency within their companies as well as being great marketing vehicles for attracting and retaining customers.
Regular readers will recognise this as a favourite theme of ours – we like to think that the best marketing ideas are actually company operations that happen to be really appealing or compelling to customers too. One of the many advantages of this line of thought is that marketing is completely integrated into the business and you don’t have to spend money to build marketing programs that then build your business, you simply spend money on building your business.
While this area can be a bit hazy and wooly, I think the best definition for this kind of marketing is that it is: an aspect of internal operations that has been made transparent to customers and in doing so has become a driver of loyalty or additional business.
I wrote previously about the fact that this kind of marketing is much less sexy than other forms and therefore great examples are harder to find. So I thought I’d continue my list-making with some of the examples that we’ve been bookmarking. Sam and Eaon have clearly been thinking about the same kinds of things as they also contributed massively, thank you again! This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, more of an appetizer. I’d love to hear of any examples that you might have in the comments, in fact, please help me make this better!
Delivery: while delivering your product can be a mundane forgettable experience a number of companies have turned it into a big advantage.
- Zappos is famous for secretly upgrading its shipping from 2-day to overnight whenever possible. Customers who get an early surprise have tweeted and blogged by the hundreds and this tactic has been a big part of driving growth and love for this company. Ironically (or not) they canceled their advertising to pay for this program (double awesome!).
- Mercedes pioneered European delivery in the early 60s (proving that great operations have always been great marketing). Even though it’s pretty common among the European luxury brands I still think this is genius. Get your customers to transport your product for you, give them a great experience and save them money in the process. I wish I’d though of it.
Sourcing: more and more, people care about where you got your parts from, some companies have turned this into an art form.
- Trader Joe’s has built a large part of its business around the fact that they find interesting foods that are also really inexpensive. While it may be frustrating to find out that your favourite peanut butter is no longer available, the surprise of finding something brand new has led to their cult status among foodies.
- Patagonia has taken a slightly different tack by exposing the carbon footprint of several of its items from design through delivery with their Footprint Chronicles. I think this is really brave and predict we’ll see a lot more of this kind of thing in the future.
Construction: this is basic but when you make something differently/better – people like it better
- Apple recently saw a lot of success with their new “brick” manufacturing process for its Macbook Pros. The unibody construction really is a lot nicer.
- Howies has gotten a lot of buzz for its hand me down line. Really unusual for a “fashion” brand to be promoting the longevity of its clothing.
- Threadless is probably well known to most of you but I still think it’s really smart how they pretty much ensure that they sell all the shirts they make by crowdsourcing their designs and only producing the popular ones.
Billing, even the mundane task of asking for money can be a marketing opportunity.
- Apple, I wrote about this before but I think their email receipts are really smart. A bunch of different benefits that come from this one small step.
- Almost everyone is offering paperless bills or statements now. This is becoming too common to be a real advantage but I still think it can be a marketing edge for some.
Payment: great thinking can make this more efficient as well as a huge advantage over your competition.
- Apple dispensed with fixed registers last year and gave all its staff handheld registers in their stores. Now I never queue to pay and there’s always someone around to help answer questions because they’re not stuck behind a desk. Why doesn’t everyone do this?
- Self-checkout machines are getting pretty common but I almost always prefer them to human-powered checkout.
Internal metrics or data: the data your company collect can be really valuable, useful and interesting to customers
- Amazon’s site has lots of examples of using their data to help customers but its sales rank is one that I’ve often found very useful.
- Current, a broadband over powerline company has just announced a really cool home energy monitoring service which allows people and businesses to see their power consumption and make changes to reduce it. This is extending data they already have and need to deliver their service to their customers.
Repair: this is typically a real pain with most companies but it can also be a real asset.
- BMW is one of the only European luxury brands that still offers free maintenance for the first 50K miles. Because BMW has an image of being costly in the shop this is one of the best ads they could possibly “run” to counter that.
- Apple (again! sorry) has turned repair into a real advantage by branding it Genius. Remember, these are the guys that are usually hidden behind thick doors and reinforced glass windows at other places.
Saving money: can actually be something you get credit for.
- Howies again got a lot of people talking with a simple light switch on its Carnaby Street shop. Instead of keeping its lights on all night, it allowed curious, late night, window shoppers to press a button and light the window temporarily. Brilliant.
- Whole Foods is joining a bunch of other retailers in completely eliminating plastic shopping bags. Instead, bring your own or buy a branded, reusable bag. This is the equivalent of being charged for online banking – the business wins twice.
Many of these are very simple ideas, but ones which required an enormous amount of coordination and cooperation within the company in order to execute. In most cases, their value is obvious or easy to measure. There’s no need to create a secondary measure like “engagement” in order to figure out the value of these ideas to the company. They’re also really smart and really inventive solutions to business problems. They solve marketing problems by saving money or making more money rather than by “investing” in marketing programs whose returns are questionable. When done well, they get talked about, a lot, because people are always always interested in getting more value. For these reasons (and more) I think these kinds of programs really are future of marketing. Or at least I’d love to think so.
What do you think? Have you seen any other examples? I’d love to hear.