I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how customer experience is the driving force behind many decisions that I admire … decisions that drive success for companies.
Some obvious examples are the obsession with design that Steve Jobs leveraged in crafting every interaction customers experience with Apple, and Tony Hsieh’s innovative hiring practices that ensure every Zappos employee lives to deliver memorable customer service.
But it’s not just these big, glamorous examples — you can find commitment to customer experience all around you every day, and you remember it when you see and feel it. It’s clear in the person who owns your local corner store or restaurant who always wears a smile and perpetually seems to be thinking about ways to meet your needs whenever you see them. And just like with Apple and Zappos, you keep coming back for it, and tell others about it, too!
Then today I lingered over a fantastic Spin Sucks post from Ms. Rebecca Amy Todd that adds another example and a new dimension to my thinking on the importance of commitment to customer experience — it is a component of leadership. I think it connects with the concept of servant leadership.
Rebecca was present when Commander Hadfield spoke at the Ivey Business School’s 90th anniversary event, and she took away some really smart lessons about how to be a true leader. She also inadvertently reminded me that commitment to customer experience is a vital characteristic of true leaders.
Rebecca talks about how Commander Hadfield had two goals for his team on the International Space Station (ISS) — for everyone to make it back to Earth alive and for everyone to turn around and say, “let’s go again!”
Brilliant! These goals informed every subsequent decision he would make. And while the official goals may have been experiments or work on the ISS itself, Hadfield “kept these overarching goals in mind,” shared them with the crew, and focused on “building an environment of safety and excitement,” as Rebecca reports.
Hadfield’s commitment to the team’s experience of their time on the ISS was likely an important factor in keeping them engaged and ready to act when crisis struck. They had to fast-track an emergency spacewalk to deal with an ammonia leak at the eleventh hour before team members were scheduled to return to Earth.
A last-minute spacewalk outside the ISS is an extreme example, but I can remember instances of “customer-oriented” leaders from my own experience. My manager at my internship earlier this summer was really committed to my experience with the company, and it gave me a sort of buoyant feeling that’s hard to describe. And that stands in stark contrast with some other experiences I’ve had where leaders were focused 100% on delivery and bottom line.
The issue is even coming up in the dreaded group projects that I have to complete before I can finish school this December. One of my teams is trying to figure out ways to make it a good experience for everyone, because I mean, come on. No one wants to do group projects, even though our grades depend on them.
So the benefits of commitment to customer experience are many. First, from a marketing perspective, when you make decisions based on the experience you are creating for your customers, you end up providing products and services that resonate with people. And from an internal perspective, if you treat your team members like you treat your customers, you win their hearts and the spirit of the team can take on a life of its own to transcend mere performance goals and become something truly great.
What leaders do you remember from your life who were clearly focused on customer and team experience?
Growth hacker nerds are cool: what startups and traditional marketing people can learn from each otherPosted: August 23, 2013
Okay – nerd alert! Guess what I spent a couple of hours learning about the other night?
Growth hacking for startups.
I know, I know, it shocked me too that I could focus on anything with the word “hacking” in it for more than five minutes, but bear with me here.
The event was called “Growth Hacking and Marketing,” and was sponsored by the Lean Startup Circle. It was absolutely fascinating and blew my mind, really. I left the event feeling 1) rather full of myself that I understood even three quarters of what was being said, and 2) absolutely convinced that “traditional” and startup marketers can learn from each other. Here’s what I learned!
What is a startup?
Living in San Francisco, you’d think I’d be an expert on startups. But I have to admit that until recently most of what I knew about them was limited to the caricatures in that Startups: Silicon Valley “reality” show. So – not very much. But I did some of my own research and I think I understand what they are all about now. My education on this subject is by no means complete, so feel free to fill in anything I am missing or share alternative viewpoints in the comments!
My understanding of startups is this – they are unlike other new businesses in that they plan to build a profitable model by relentlessly experimenting around an idea that they love until they find an iteration of their original idea that takes off. They plot to release the resulting product or service on a massive scale and hopefully make a lot of money in the end.
It seems almost everything startups do is based in data and science. There is endless talk of “hypotheses” and “experiments” and “pivoting.”
Of course, you can’t have a profitable business without people to use the product or service. That’s where “growth hacking” and marketing come in.
What is growth hacking?
One of the speakers at the event, Gagan Biyani, defined growth hacking as just one part of marketing a startup. When a startup team is just getting off the ground, they have to acquire users so they can begin the process of experimenting and refining their idea. They’ll often use highly creative one-off tactics based in data to find and entice people to start using their service or consider buying their product.
These highly creative one-off tactics based in data are “growth hacks.” I struggle to describe one to you, but examples given the other night were things like figuring out crazy and genius ways to get in front of people using Google AdWords, or stealthily piggy-backing brilliantly effective ads on competitors’ sites. And all for very, very little cost.
The thing that sets growth hacks apart from the traditional marketing toolbox is that once a company has a certain amount of users, the spurts of growth generated by hacks would be negligible. Maybe we can think of marketing tactics like gears on a bike. Growth hacks are the lowest gears you use to get you rolling or slog up a hill, but once you’re moving at a certain speed in higher gears, you would never use them. Trying to would only slow you down.
Traditional marketing in startups
Some of the speakers last night recommended that once points beyond “traction” have been achieved (still wrapping my head around what that means, but I think it’s when you know your idea is working and you’re poised for success), that’s when a startup needs a real, honest-to-goodness marketing professional on the team to shift into higher gears.
The startup model of marketing makes sense, right? Pretty much all smart marketers worship at the altar of data now. Mine. Test. Refine. Data don’t lie.
But something seems missing to me.
What’s missing from some growth hacking / startup marketing models?
Not once at the event did anyone mention positioning or story as a variable in experiments. There was lots of talk of analyzing demographics of clickers and then adjusting the target market toward the often surprising result – everyone salivates over that story, right? “Survey saaaaays … it’s not actually about 18-24 year olds – it’s about senior citizens, y’all!”
But even when talking about what startups should look for in marketing people, the conversation was all about “data” and “entrepreneurial spirit” with a cursory nod to “empathetic.” The afterthought to these discussions of data-driven insight was “oh, and you have to always remember that users are people.”
Maybe they just need a story
One of my favorite lessons about marketing and branding is that the story you tell is just as important as your product or service itself – and maybe even more so.
It was kind of funny that my choice of reading after the event was Seth Godin’s All Marketers Tell Stories. Basically, Seth’s thing seems to be that if you have a brilliant, resonant idea then you will have no trouble finding people who want to use it. Seth famously calls such ideas a Purple Cow. And in the book I’m reading, his gist is that many times the story is the utility, not the product itself.
So, whereas some traditional marketers tirelessly craft and perfect a story and then create a product or service within it, startups seem to be iterating product or service ideas until they hit on a perfect storm, like hacking the passwords to people’s wants — and hearts. And maybe then they get a traditional marketer involved to tell the story.
Two sides of the same coin?
Both seem to be aiming for the same alchemy and magic. But what if startups are wasting nights, weekends, adrenaline and millions of bottles of India Pale Ale crunching data and doing A/B testing on their products when what they really needed all along was the right story about their idea?
What if traditional marketers are missing a major opportunity to refine their offerings and define a roadmap to success through relentless experimenting?
I think that both traditional marketers and startup masterminds are operating on two sides of the same coin – success, excellence and stakeholder value are always the goal.
But what if they leveraged the power of both storytelling and data-intensive strategies?
Do you know of any companies that leverage traditional and startup marketing strategies? Let’s talk in the comments!
Summer is in full swing in San Francisco! And that means fog, fog, and then a little fog on the side … plus some more fog.
And for many of us college students, it also means internship season!
Are you interning this summer? Here’s some advice for you – definitely consider blogging about your experience. Taking the initiative to write about your internship is a smart thing to do in the long run, even if it means Read the rest of this entry »
As a student, it can be tough to get time to read above and beyond your course materials. I mean, it can be a challenge just to read everything that your professors prescribe for you, much less anything for pleasure or your own self-directed education.
But sometimes, you just have to explore a tangent that invites you, and you’re very glad you did.
One tangent for me this semester was to dabble a bit into the concept and history of positioning. I wish I could remember Read the rest of this entry »
One of the things I love about getting a business education is that your classes progressively build on each other and the lines between them begin to blur. You start out with prerequisites like accounting, economics and statistics, and by the end you’re specializing in the function you want to practice — in my case, marketing. You finish with a capstone case-study seminar, which is basically an integration and application of all the disciplines you have studied since your first day of school. I love that it’s like one long project.
So the other night, my marketing and management courses collided in yet another “Aha! So that’s how they work together!” moment. Who knew that brand strategy and HR are destined to get married and have beautiful babies? Let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »