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The Brand Flip: Better Products - Better Customers

Chris Dickman Wed, 08/12/2015 - 11:04

The Brand Flip:
Why customers now run
companies and how
to profit from it

By Marty Neumeier
New Riders, 160 pages, $44.98

Ambitious companies are eager to invest in innovative products. They seek to create new features, new solutions, new markets, new industries. Ideally, they want to invent a product or service that disruptsthe existing ecosystem, redefines their category, and generates monopoly profits for decades. They’re barking up the wrong tree.

In a flipped business, the product is not the innovation, the CUSTOMER is. The battle is no longer between companies, but between the people who buy from them. In other words, the nature of your customers determines the future of your company. The company with the best customers wins.

You can see this principle at work in the trajectory of Apple. From early on, the company invested heavily in its customers, making technology accessible to non-techies, standing as a bulwark against lumbering giants such as IBM, giving computers to schoolchildren to inculcate a new kind of literacy. Even as Apple’s market share slipped to 3 percent after the ouster of Steve Jobs, its customers remained passionate and vocal. When Jobs returned, he was joined by a talented army of volunteers who were eager to be led.

The lesson is this: Instead of thinking about how to improve and position your products, think about how to improve and position your customers. They’re the ones who will fight for your success. In his book WHO DO YOU WANT YOUR CUSTOMERS TO BECOME?, Michael Schrage says, “Truly successful innovations generate wealth for their users, not just their creators.” Wealth is not only financial. It can be social, educational, physical, spiritual, and temporal—any good that people get out of a product or service.

What’s the highest good you can want for your customer?

Ritz-Carlton wants its guests to be more sophisticated. Its motto? “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” When you treat yourself to the impeccable service at the Ritz, your self-image soars to lofty new heights, and you somehow find yourself exuding greater confidence, generosity, and charm.

Dell wants to “enable customers everywhere to grow, thrive, and reach their full potential.” The company backs this up with its “nurture” program (which also generates order amounts of 25 percent higher than the previous average). The primary good that a company can offer its customers is empowerment. The best brand builders see greatness in their customers, and figure out ways to enable it.

P&G puts its customers’ ambitions right smack in its purpose statement: “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s customers, now and for generations to come.”

By contrast, Las Vegas casinos care little about their customers’ lives beyond offering a brief respite from the daily tedium. When visitors get back home, they’ll face the same old grind, but with thinner wallets. This is the opposite of seeing greatness in customers. Instead, they see only weakness, naïveté, and addictive behavior.

Earlier I introduced the example of a hypothetical tea company—a modest startup created by Roni, that would surely languish in obscurity under the old model of branding. But what would happen if we flipped it?

Lori comes to the realization that all profitable brands are habit-forming at some level. That’s what makes them sustainable. The only question is whether the habit, on balance, is a healthy or unhealthy one. Both chocolate and tea can be habit-forming, since they appeal to the pleasure centers of the brain. But her tea contains little that might be considered unhealthy: there are no sugars or artificial ingredients. On the contrary, it contains compounds that people might consider health-giving, such as procyanidins, known to reduce the risk of heart disease; more antioxidants than green tea and red wine; and theobromine, a
milder stimulant than caffeine. The effect is a slight boost in serotonin levels for a happy, mellow mood. All in all, a healthy habit.

But what else could it be? What does a busy mom want that the tea could provide? Lori makes a quick list.

These are some of the “jobs” that the product could do for busy moms. What are we addressing? A lack of time, health concerns, worries about her kids’ schooling, a desire to create family memories, a
need to maintain social ties, and a desire to improve the environment.


Excerpted from The Brand Flip: Why customers now run companies—and how to profit from it by Marty Neumeier. Copyright © 2016. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.

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