The chicken and egg question always fascinated me. When it comes to business models I find the same conundrum with customers and profits. Michael Porter once said that the purpose of a business is “to create value for customers”. Although we all assume it was inferred in there, he never bothered to mention profits.
The reality every business faces however it that creating value comes first and monetization follows.
1. Compare the debacle of the great Thatcherite privatisations to the often maligned success story of dot com.
In the UK we have a raft of privatised utilities who still have not “got it”, they still think in terms of Oligopoly, force, bullying, price rigging. They think and act like tax collectors. The total innovation from all of them over two decades could be written on the back of a credit card along with a full list of their happy loyal customers.
Amazon, ebay, Paypal, Google and many more have on the other hand built world beating businesses on the back of profitless customer satisfaction and only now are monetising these business models. They operate at P/Es up to 500 and have no shortage of investors.
The message is clear, the customer is king and until you can demonstrate value to them you don’t have a business model.
“ Sooner or later regardless how much cash you have stashed away, you will learn to create value for customers or fail.” We even see this law apply itself to dictatorships.
2. What is customer value and how can you create it?
The biggest possible blunder any business can make is to quantify customer value in terms of product features. I cringe when I see these neat spreadsheets listing product x competitior1, competitor2 etc and how well they score on each (in the marketing trainees opinion).
Customers buy an experience, even hard nosed corporate customers. That begins with the interaction with “People” in the supplier side, or “friendly” and human like ecommerce site and carries right through to anticipating delivery, opening the package, using it for the first time, bragging to friends, interacting with support and many more. Many of these are remarkably powerful influencers and even though supported at times by product features, most of the time they are a separate source of value, or indeed antagonism.
Next we return to the chicken and the egg.
3. Does customer experience exist without customer value and who foots the bill?
The problem here is thus: If you ask the customer how much extra they would pay for their phone to float up out of the box on a mechanism with a Jingle playing, be fully charged, sense the old phone and offer to copy the contacts and messages etc in a sweet voice, accept a voice answer. The customer might well offer a price that made this simply not feasible. However, when that same customer experiences it once, the likelihood is that she won’t want to be without it and when she hears her friends talking glowingly about it, it becomes a must-have at almost any price. Soon it is talked about and develops a cult status and then we have a brand value to take into account. That’s a whole new ball game.
I’m not suggesting we deliver high quality customer experience at all costs, I’m simply saying that you must understand the true value and what people do is far more revealing than what they say.
The point I’m making here is that sometimes you have to take a small hit to let customers realise what they value before it becomes indispensible to them. Henry Ford would have built a more comfortable horse carriage if he had asked the customer what to do. The distinction in marketing terms is between “True value” (product features) and perceived value ( How the customer sees it)
“There’s more than one way to ask the customer and more than one way to interpret the answer, if you listen with an open mind, sometimes you will be surprised pleasantly.”
4. We can’t have a discussion on customer experience without discussing the brand.
There are many definitions out there of a brand and I’ll leave that to those with little to do, for me the important point is that expectation which a customer carries as a result of the brand. That is what drives her through our door or to our site.
Let’s not gloss over the word “expectation”. Whether you are playing poker, editing movies, or doing magic tricks for your children, you will quickly realise that everyone, and that includes market researchers, sees what they expect to see, hears what they expect to hear and feels what they expect to feel. Most people could probably say yes to that statement glibly, but very few would appreciate the profound power of it.
In a previous blog I described the experiment when scientists used MRI brain scans to identify the increased satisfaction enjoyed by a coke drinker who had poured it from a branded can into a branded glass over that of another drinking it from a plain glass, all in stark contrast to the memorable testimonials of thousands who preferred Pepsi over coke when offered both in unmarked glasses and could only focus on taste.
Expectation is created in many ways, but primarily by the chatter of others and the perceived opinion of peers. That is the territory of Brand managers, Marketing people and Social Media experts.
The key Point here is that creating an expectation associated with your product is the most powerful way to create value for your customers and often the cheapest and mot certain way also.
“Innovation is critical, but don’t confine it to the engineers and inventors, the ultimate playing field is inside the customer’s head”
5. Customer Lifetime Value is not an old, or boring idea it has never been more relevant, or more critical.
One of the first things we tend to look at with a new product is a breakdown of the cost of product, cost of selling it and gross margin. The cost of selling a product usually surprises newcomers to the field.
In competitive markets with a lot of equal offerings a small price advantage can drive large sales increases so price is critical and it is driven primarily by cost. i.e you cant reduce price below a level that is profitable. In most markets price is sensitive and if it isn’t then investors are sensitive to margins, earnings and dividends. In all cases no business can indefinitely carry unnecessary cost and in a competitive market. Sooner or later the competition will do it and steal a march. Of course there are many pricing strategies and this is not a discussion on price
The money you spend on marketing and selling your product is critical to the success of your product, yet it comes under less scrutiny than any other budget apart from the CEOs expense account.
Let’s say you sell 1m units of a product at £100 retail. Your production cost is 20 and your marketing/selling costs are £30 operating costs are £40 and net profit is £10
That’s 100m t/o, 30m spent on selling 40m operating profit and 10m net profit
Suppose you convinced 1% of your customers to recommend the product to a friend
Now your t/o is 101m selling and operating costs stay the same and net profit is 11m.
That’s a ten percent increase in earnings- a darling of the markets if you can repeat it.
Let’s say that you have a Million customers, every customer has to be replaced after 4 years and they pay £1000 a year for your product. That’s t/o of £1b
To maintain that t/o you have find 250,000 new customers at a cost of £1000 each
That’s £250m a year in marketing/selling costs.
Now suppose you are so nice to these customers that they stay for 5 years instead of 4
Now your costs are reduced to £200m a saving of £50m
if your net profits were, for arguments sake, £100m on £1b now they would be increased to 150m a 50% increase in earnings. What would that do for your stock?
These are simplified figures used to demonstrate a point, so lets not get into a investment analysis discussion. The message is clear:
“Treating your customers well enough to retain them a little longer can deliver huge dividends while enlisting them onto your salesforce is the next killer app and make no mistake about it.”
That means paying attention to the user journey long after the “order to pay “ stream has completed.