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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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The Beatles told us that All You Need Is Love. Howard Tiersky says the same thing — but he’s talking about brands, not the whole of human existence.

Howard is the CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, which has helped brands such as Mattel, Barnes & Noble Education, Mall of America, NBC, Avis-Budget, and more transform to compete and win in a new digital world — and they succeed by getting customers to love the brands and everything they offer. Whether you’re a shiny new ecommerce start-up or a legacy brand with decades of history behind you, getting a consumer to actually love you is a multi-step process that is getting harder and harder as the digital landscape evolves.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, we dig into what the pyramid of brand love looks like and how companies should be working to climb their way to the top. Plus, he reveals the biggest mistake he sees companies making that causes potential customers to shop elsewhere, and he gives some strategies to rectify that situation and improve your bottom line. Enjoy!

Main Takeaways:

  • The Switching Cost is Zero: On the internet, it’s easy for a customer to move from one brand to another and it costs them nothing to do so. That means a brand’s first duty is to explain very quickly and clearly that it can and will solve a consumer’s problem. This is the area where most brands fail because they don’t have clear, simple messaging or content that tells their story and delivers their value prop instantly.
  • Keep It Simple: Doing customer research is the best and easiest way to find the kinks in your website and processes. Setting up a simple focus group to watch how customers are using your site to see where their pain points are or where they are getting stuck can reveal the most basic and easy-to-solve problems that could increase your bottom line.
  • Pyramid of Love: Creating a brand that people truly love is a challenge that has to be tackled in stages. There are specific levels of customer affection that you need to build up and that eventually culminates in love. But reaching those levels takes work and requires a brand to take specific actions. What are the levels and how do you reach them? Tune in to find out.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“The companies that have customers that feel passionately about them, that feel appreciated by them, and appreciate those brands, those are the brands that do the best in the marketplace by all the most common measures of business success, revenue growth, profitability, and share price.”

“One of my fundamental philosophies of everything I’ve done in business for 25 years is this idea that most business value is derived by influencing human behavior. If you can get people, people like customers, employees, shareholders, if you can get them to do what you want them to do, you’re going to have a great business. And if you aren’t able to get, for example, your customers to do what you want them to do, then you’re probably going to be in big trouble, no matter what ERP system you’ve implemented or what other kinds of things you may be doing.”

“How do you get people to do what you want them to do? And the answer is their thoughts and feelings… Our job is to help conceive what would be the next generation set of experiences, a customer journey, that will drive the thoughts and feelings that will drive the behavior that equate to business results.”

“I would say one common theme is failing to make it really clear, really fast, exactly what you can do for somebody… They have different messages, they make it too hard for someone to really answer the question, can you help me solve my problem right now? And because the internet in this environment where it’s so easy to just go back to Google, go to another website, it’s like when you walk into a store, if you don’t get clarity within the first 10 seconds that they’re going to have what you need, the switching costs of getting in your car and driving to another store is at least a little bit high. But when you’re on the internet, the switching cost is zero or so close to zero might as well be. So that means you’ve got to make sure someone understands right away they have a high probability of you being a solution to what it is that they need.”

“Most digital experiences are being constantly adjusted, tweaked, changed. And of course, browsers are changing and iOS, operating systems are changing. And unless you’re continuously looking through that saying, ‘Have I unintentionally planted a confusion bomb somewhere? Have I added a new feature, but it has a label or has a button that distracts from my main button or whatever? I’ve just added a cool new feature, but it pushed down something on the page, and now my checkout button is below the fold,’ or whatever it might be, unless you’re continuously looking for those problems, they’ll creep in like weeds and they’ll pull down your conversion.”

“When you express values that they resonate with, that makes someone feel that they are like me, there’s humanity there, not just a business — they share something about my beliefs or my values about the world.”

Mentions:

Bio:

“For over 20 years, Howard Tiersky has been helping leaders at dozens of the world’s largest brands navigate digital transformation. He has helped companies grow revenue across digital channels by supporting the customer journey resonating with today’s hyper-connected audience. His work includes the creation of many award-winning web and mobile products for shopping, banking, travel and entertainment for successful brands such as Morgan Stanley, Avis-Budget, A&E Entertainment, Universal Studios, and NBCUniversal. Howard speaks regularly at major industry conferences, and is also on the faculty of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he teaches courses on the intersection of television industry and the Internet. He is the author of the best-selling books Impactful Online Meetings and Winning Digital Customers.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey everyone. And welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at mission.org. Today on the show, I’m chatting with Howard Tiersky, the CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency and the author of The Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers, The Antidote to Irrelevance. Did I do that justice Howard?

Howard:

Perfect. Stephanie, thank you so much. And thanks for having me.

Stephanie:

Thanks for coming on the show. So I wanted to start with something that we were chatting with a little bit before this, that your whole company is about reverse engineering love, which I actually really liked that saying. And I think I’m going to start using it in my personal life now, but I want to kind of start there to describe what is FROM and why do you say that?

Howard:

Sure. Well, what FROM is, is a kind of a combination between a consulting firm and a digital agency. We work with large brands like Avis, AAA, NBC Universal, Airbus, and our mission is to help them create a better customer experience that ultimately generates more customer love. Because in our experience, the companies that have customers that feel passionately about them, that feel appreciated by them, and appreciate those brands, those are the brands that do the best in the marketplace by all the most common measures of business success, revenue growth, profitability, and share price.

Stephanie:

Awesome. And a lot of the brands that you’re working with they’ve been around for a long time. I mean, I was looking at, let’s see, some of them. You said Airbus, Barnes and Noble, Facebook, Verizon, Spotify, Amazon. And I think I even saw it was like American Girl, which I used to have back in the day. And it seems like you catered towards the brands that have been here for a while and are now kind of seeking help on like how to get to that next level, how to find new customers.

Howard:

Well, that’s exactly right. I mean, we have worked with some, what you might call sort of pure digital brands like Amazon and Spotify and different things. But the majority of what we do is really working with great classic brands that are faced with a real challenge because they need to transform to be relevant in a new age. And particularly when a company is large and has been around for a long time, that’s not an easy thing to do. And so this is really our area of expertise, is how do you… Everything from the vision and the design concept of a future customer journey to dealing with the politics and resistance to change that you find in most large organizations.

Stephanie:

Yep. So when you’re initially approaching some of these brands, I mean, how do you even go about finding out what the issues are? Because especially with the company size, it seems hard to go in and be, there’s probably a thousand things going wrong, or everything feels like a fire in a larger company. How you start pinpointing, here’s some of the things that are maybe not up to par right now, and that we need to start evolving and here’s the game plan going forward?

Howard:

Sure. Well, the good news is most companies ultimately want the same things. They want more customers, they want more revenue, they want increased profitability, they want increased share price. So at the very top level, it’s usually not too hard to figure out what the company’s after. And one of my fundamental philosophies of everything I’ve done in business for 25 years is this idea that most business value is derived by influencing human behavior. If you can get people, people like customers, employees, shareholders, if you can get them to do what you want them to do, you’re going to have a great business. And if you aren’t able to get, for example, your customers to do what you want them to do, then you’re probably going to be in big trouble, no matter what ERP system you’ve implemented or what other kinds of things you may be doing.

Howard:

So the first question is, all right, you want more customers, you want more revenue and profitability? Great. What behaviors do you need by customers, employees, et cetera, in order to get that business outcome? And in my book, I talk about many of the most common behaviors, but you can imagine what they are getting customers to buy more, to buy more frequently, to upsell to more expensive products, to refer you to their friends. And also there’s some behaviors that are sort of value destroying behaviors. For example, customers calling you on the phone every day and spending hours with your support desk getting help, right? And so getting clear on, okay, well, if we can drive these behaviors, then that equates to business success.

Howard:

And then from there, the question is, all right, well, what drives behavior? I mean, how do you get people to do what you want them to do? And the answer is their thoughts and feelings. People behave in a certain way because of their thoughts and feelings. And then lastly, the question is, all right, well, how do we control people’s thoughts and feelings? Where do those come from? And the answer is from their experiences, your thoughts and feelings come from experiences. So our job is to help conceive what would be the next generation set of experiences, a customer journey, that will drive the thoughts and feelings that will drive the behavior that equate to business results. So a very often it’s research, doing a lot of ethnography, task analysis, different types of interviews, surveys, looking at existing data, for example, funnels on sites, things like that to understand well, to what degree are these things happening today? Because of course, no doubt, there is some degree of success in almost any business. We don’t do often a great deal of success. And what’s holding back the increase in that? For every customer that buys, there’s a bunch that don’t buy. Why not? For every customer that buys at level A and never comes back, why don’t they come back, et cetera?

Howard:

So once we understand those things, well, then it’s just a question of figuring out well, okay, how do you start to remove those barriers? Are we confusing them? Are we frustrating them? Are we annoying them? Are we just not offering a compelling enough value proposition, et cetera, et cetera?

Stephanie:

Yep. Are there any themes when it comes to the barriers within all these brands, were you have seen this come up time and time again, because maybe they have not thought digitally first because there are similar theme around customer barriers to buying?

Howard:

There are a number of very common themes. That’s really a great question, actually. I would say one common theme is being failing to make it really clear, really fast, exactly what you can do for somebody. Anytime a customer is coming to you, they probably don’t care much about you, that’s just the way it is. Maybe they do if you’ve already inspired customer love. People really care about Apple. They really care about The 49ers, they really care about, I don’t know, Aeropostale, or some fashion brand. Maybe they care about Rolex. But those are a very small percentage of brands that have inspired customer love. But before you get to that point, most of the customers that come to you, they really only care about themselves. What is it that they’re trying? They’re there to solve some kind of problem, right? Their kid is having a birthday party and they need to find an entertainer. Or their car is broken down and they need to get it fixed or whatever.

Howard:

And so how quickly do you make it really clear what you offer them? And it’s fascinating to me how often brands don’t do that clearly. They have different messages, they make it too hard for someone to really answer the question, can you help me solve my problem right now? And because the internet in this environment where it’s so easy to just go back to Google, go to another website, it’s like when you walk into a store, if you don’t get clarity within the first 10 seconds that they’re going to have what you need, the switching costs of getting in your car and driving to another store is at least a little bit high. But when you’re on the internet, the switching cost is zero or so close to zero might as well be. So that means you’ve got to make sure someone understands right away they have a high probability of you being a solution to what it is that they need.

Howard:

So I think that’s one thing. And if I were to just mention one more, it’s just making it easy for people to transact. Sometimes I like to think of ecommerce as being basically about two things, persuasion and transaction. First, you got to get them to decide yes, on whatever it is you want them to do, and then you’ve got to get from there to the point that you have their money in your Stripe account or whatever, and that screwed up along the way. And how many times, Stephanie, how many times have you gone on a website and gone, I want to buy this thing and then started the process of checking out, but for one reason or another, you never wind up buying it?

Stephanie:

Or you go back to your cart, a day late and you’re like, why is my stuff’s not in there anymore? Why don’t you just save that for a little bit. I’m ready to buy but now I give up. I give up easily though, that kind of stuff.

Howard:

And there’s so many things that can confuse somebody about the checkout process, about the sales tax calculation, about the terms and conditions, about, I mean, it’s about the promo code, why didn’t the promo code work? So just really getting compulsive about asking what is everything that holds people back? How can I make sure that in addition to doing my very best to persuade people that they should say yes to whatever I’m offering, that I lose none of them between their intention and the completion of the transaction. So we do a lot of analysis and research to try to understand how many people are you really losing in that process. And of course, most people do that, right? They study abandoned shopping carts, things like that. So most people have a fairly high percentage of people, but of course not every abandoned shopping cart was somebody who had an intention to buy, some aren’t right? There’s various reasons people might be putting things in their shopping carts.

Howard:

But what percentage of those people are you losing? And then again, it goes back to a simple, what’s holding them back? What is happening to stop them from completing what was their intention? And, I mean, I’ll give you one tiny example. My company is from digital. Our domain is from.digital. My email address is ends in an at from.digital. It’s a little bit of an uncommon first level domain, right? Many more dresses and in .com. And I would say a good 25% of ecommerce sites, when I check out, if I have to enter my email address, tell me that my email is invalid. It’s not. Now, and I have a solution to that. I don’t always abandoned because I have some other Gmail address, I’ll give him something else. But these little problems along the way can very often add up.

Howard:

And the analogy I like to use sometimes is it’s like if I had taped an extension cord across a hallway, let’s say I was setting up a Christmas tree and I just had to run an extension cord across the hallway and I duct taped it down, so hopefully no one would trip on it, 50 people might just walk by and step over that duct tape, just fine. And 60 people and 70 people, but eventually, maybe it’s the hundredth person, they trip on that tape down duct tape cord, and then another 50, 100 people and another person trips. It’s a very small percentage of people. The vast majority of people deal with it just fine. But if you’re running a billion dollar ecommerce site, and 1% of your customers are getting caught up by something like that and not purchasing, how do you feel about giving up 1% of your revenue? And for some of our clients, the answer is that 1% is a lot of money. And then if you have six, eight, 12, 15 things along these lines that don’t affect everybody, but affect a few people and you start to remove those obstacles, all of a sudden you unlock a whole bunch more sales.

Howard:

And that’s the optimization side of, if you will, digital transformation. And then of course, there’s more of a envisioning, a dramatically different journey. But I think so often, and I guess this is my long answer to your question about what are the common themes, one of the common themes I see is the lack of what I call hygiene in ecommerce experiences. And by hygiene, I mean, most digital experiences are being constantly adjusted, tweaked changed. And of course, browsers are changing and iOS, operating systems are changing. And unless you’re continuously looking through that saying, have I unintentionally planted a confusion bomb somewhere? Have I added a new feature, but it has a label or has a button that distracts from my main button or whatever? I’ve just added a cool new feature, but it pushed down something on the page, and now my checkout button is below the fold or whatever it might be, unless you’re continuously looking for those problems, they’ll creep in like weeds and they’ll pull down your conversion. And that hygiene process is something that I find as a common theme, many of the largest brands in the world fail to do often enough.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s good. So, I mean, how do you go about identifying, I guess more like behavioral issues or how people are actually thinking? I mean, it’s one thing to solve the tech and the UI aspect of it and make it easy to check out, but what about trying to figure out going deeper with the customer to really understand why didn’t you check out, why didn’t you follow through if everything else is there tech wise?

Howard:

Well, one of the things that I go into in some depth in my book is how to do customer research. And actually because at a certain point we had to start taking stuff out of the book because it was so crazy long, we were afraid of someone would drop it on their toe, they would injure themselves and we have a lawsuit on our hands for publishing such a long book. So we started to put stuff on the supplemental website. So I actually published for people to buy the book and additional PDF and a bunch of videos and all kinds of stuff. And the reason I mentioned all that is because research in customers to really understand them is foundational to being able to do all the things I’m talking about. You can’t guess, and you probably can’t figure it out even by looking at the site. I mean, you can look at a site and sometimes see some things that are probably problematic, and I do that all the time.

Howard:

But to really know, you use various types of customer research, such as bringing customers into an office or a lab or on Zoom and giving them tasks and saying, okay, great, go on my ecommerce site, here’s the story. Your aunt’s birthday’s coming up. She’s 62 years old. You need to find her present or birthday’s in two days, you need to make sure you can get it to her in time. And and then you observe how that person uses that website. And as they do, you can ask them questions or we like to ask people to actually speak out loud, kind of verbalize their stream of conscious thoughts. And of course you record it, and you’re studying and understanding, okay, well, what’s easy, what’s problematic, what’s confusing, what’s frustrating? And you can learn so much.

Howard:

And you do that for a few dozen customers and you start to see patterns and you start to see themes. And depending on how many different customer segments, a given website targets, you might do even more than that. But even still, it doesn’t take that long, a week, two weeks. And in that time alone, you can learn what many of those issues are. You’re observing people and then you’re having the option to ask questions. If all of a sudden someone’s using a page and all of a sudden they get that look on their face, they’re fused or whatever you say, “Oh, what are you thinking right now?” They can say, “I’m thinking I can’t figure out what the next step is.” “Well, what were you expecting to see?” “Well, I figured there’d be like a next button, but I don’t see one.” Okay, well, and of course there might be a next button right there in front of their nose, but maybe it doesn’t say next, maybe it says continue, right? And for whatever reason, that’s not what they’re looking for.

Howard:

So, and if a bunch of people are saying that maybe you should relabel the button. And as simple and obvious as something like that is it’s shocking how often we find problems that are that simple. Then of course not all problems are that simple to solve, but very often that kind of low-hanging fruit. Can you imagine rewording a button and getting an extra $600,000 a week in sales? I mean, we’ve seen things like that repeatedly, of course, assuming the site has very, very high volume. So it’s really, customer research just is many companies do some forms of customer research, of course, but my experience it’s way, way under utilized. And then it’s also about how you do the research. And so we’ve tried to be very detailed in the book and in the supplemental materials, suggesting some of the key things to do to make sure you’re getting, you’re really getting the insight and you’re getting the most accurate. If you take a customer and say, “Hey, take a look at this website and tell me how you think we should improve it,” you’re not going to get a good information. You have to approach it in the right way.

Stephanie:

So what things didn’t make it into the book that you wish made it in? What’s not in the supplemental material is not in the book and you’re like, man, knowing what I know now in 2021, I wish we would’ve had this in there.

Howard:

One is, I’ve done since then analysis on this idea of customer love and shown a bunch of examples. We have actually a scale of customer love from love down, sort of like what’s the range from? It starts with love then it goes down to resonant, then it goes down to relevant, then it goes down to relevant and ultimately non-existent. And so this idea that companies exist in terms of the mind of any one customer at any time along this continuum. In subsequent to that, we talked about some case studies that show let’s look at Apple, let’s look at Disney, but let’s look at some companies at each level, let’s look at companies that are resonant, like Verizon, for example, great brand. A lot of people like them. They love them? No, probably not quite. Exactly.

Howard:

And then you go down from one from there, maybe now you’re at Citibank and then you go down another one and maybe you’re at Radio Shack. I don’t know. So looking at them and then looking at their financial performance and really being able to show how this correlates. And then the other thing that isn’t in the book that probably should have been, is answering the questions, how do you know what level you’re at? And we actually have different tools we use, but one of them is a very simple test. We ask one simple question. And based on the answer to that question, we’re able to say whether it’s a brand that you love, or that’s only resonant, or that’s relevant, or that’s irrelevant or non-existence. And the question is very simple, if this brand disappeared tomorrow, how would you feel? How would you feel Stephanie if Apple disappeared tomorrow?

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s a good question. I’d be super sad because I own Apple everything.

Howard:

So if you’d be super sad, if you’d be distraught, if you’d be ah, really emotional, then that’s a brand you love, that’s a brand you love. That’s the sign of love. But if you say, well, I be kind of bummed. I’d be like darn.

Stephanie:

[inaudible].

Howard:

Exactly. Well then that’s a brand that’s resonant for you. It’s you care about it. I mean, you don’t care about it like that much, but like, you’d be like, oh, rats. That’s a disappointment. And then the next level down, if you’re, well, I need to know that. I’ve no emotional response, but thank you for telling me that that brand is gone because gosh, I usually get my gas from Chevron. And I guess if they’re gone, I’m going to have to go to British Petroleum. So thank you mental note. At least it mattered to you, it affected you, but not in a way that you’re emotional about it. That’s what we call a relevant brand. It matters, but you don’t have an emotional connection. And then below that, if it’s like, you’re like, who’s gone. Who are they? I didn’t even know they were still around. Well then now you’re down in this sort of irrelevant type range.

Howard:

And we do surveys like that all the time to try to understand which other brands that really people do love because a key question is, well, what are those brands doing? How are they inspiring love? And one thing that is in the book then is we showed the pyramid of how do you inspire love? What are the three things you need to do to get your customers to have that feeling of love? And that’s in the book.

Stephanie:

And so what are the things to do? Because I’m thinking about a brand like car insurance, whoever’s cheapest, don’t care Travelers, Geico, whatever it takes, I’ll just go with whoever. I don’t feel myself ever feeling loving towards those kinds of brands. It doesn’t really matter what they do. So how would a brand like that go about inspiring love when you’re compared to someone like Apple?

Howard:

Right, right. So I’ll answer your question and it’s really not just for car rental, sorry car insurance, but for all brands. And I’ll tell you the formula, which is a pretty straight formula. But before that, I want to tell you this, I’ve worked with a number of auto insurance companies over the years, including Allstate, Farmers, Mercury, a little bit with State Farm, CNA, so a lot. And I’ve done a lot of research over the years with customers of car insurance. And I will tell you this, there are without doubt people who love their car insurance companies.

Stephanie:

Oh, this is not me.

Howard:

I realize it’s not you. And I’ll be honest. This is not me, it’s not me either. But I have been in customer research sessions and I have interviewed people who they are with the same car insurance company that their parents used, and they will never switch no matter what.

Stephanie:

Why?

Howard:

They are applying for life.

Stephanie:

Why are they so committed?

Howard:

Right, exactly. Why? So let’s talk about why, but let me talk about it in the context of the recipe. So how do you get someone, how do you get a customer, how do you inspire a customer to love a brand? Three, just sort of show up in the book, a diagram of the pyramid, three levels. The bottom of the pyramid is to consistently meet their needs. And that is not enough to inspire love, but it is required. Whatever your area of, whether you’re delivering pizza or whether you’re a place that they buy power tools, or you’re hotel or whatever it is, what are their needs, you are consistently meeting those needs. That’s your base.

Howard:

Then the next level up is to periodically delight the customer, to do something above and beyond what you have to do and what you’re expected. And then the top level, and that will get you farther up that continuum, but probably not to love. In order to love a brand you have to feel that they stand for something, they have kind of a value system that you reflect, that you see in yourself, a value system that you resonate with. In fact, to that last point, that’s why we see some brands now that have taken a strong political stand, and by the way, a value doesn’t have to be political. But like when Nike did the thing with Colin Kaepernick and demonstrated their support for Black Lives Matter, that had a massively positive impact on their standing in the market and their share price, and then their sales, because they were taking a stand for something that a lot of people believed in.

Howard:

And even though that also meant that they were taking a stand that some people believe the opposite and said, I’ll never buy another Nike shoe in my life. And that did happen. And there are some people who won’t buy Nike shoes because of that, the net impact was enormously positive because the love that they inspired meant so much more business than the people that turned away from them. And you can say the same, see the same thing on the opposite end of the political spectrum. There’s a Chick-fil-A not too far from my house. And Chick-fil-A of course has taken strong stands on extremely conservative right wing social values. And I got to tell you there’s police at that Chick-fil-A every day to manage the drive through lane, because there are so many people who want to buy Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

Howard:

And I have been told, I think I might’ve had one like years and years ago, but I’m not going to Chick-fil-A for the same kind of reasons, but I don’t think there’s anything that’s special about what Chick-fil-A sells. And I think part of the reason of their popularity is because people… Like what they stand for. And you could say the same thing on the right of someone like a Hobby Lobby or other. And by the way, I’ll just close this answer with one thought, which is why, why, why do these three things together create such an emotional reaction? And the answer is because they push the three levers, the three emotional levers that really inspire love.

Howard:

And what are they? When you demonstrate, when you consistently meet someone’s needs, you’re demonstrating to them that you understand them because you can’t meet the needs if you don’t understand. So that when someone’s always there for me, I’m like, “They get me, they understand what I need, or they understand, I want that coffee hot when I get it, or they understand that I need whatever it is.” When you delight someone, when you go above and beyond periodically, but you demonstrate another emotional thing, you demonstrate they care about me. They didn’t have to do this extra thing, right. I was going to give them my money anyway. And they went and they did this extra thing. And that demonstrates that they care about me. So many brands they’re constantly saying to their customers, “Thank you for your business.” And all that kind of stuff.

Howard:

And man, that just goes right past people, right? How often do you believe when you get a bill from your utility company at the bottom, it says, “We appreciate you as a customer.”

Stephanie:

You are like, “[inaudible 00:25:09]. You’re welcome.”

Howard:

Yeah, that’s printed on the form, right? Come on, how stupid are we? We might as well not bother. I mean, it doesn’t hurt or anything, but come on, people are very cynical. But when you make a genuine gesture that they knew took money, took effort that demonstrates. When someone at Zappos shoes goes out of their way to help you with something, or I was at an Avis Rental Car yesterday, and I observed somebody helping someone on the phone because they had a problem with the car for like 15 or 20 minutes and they were clearly doing everything they could. Way above and beyond what you would expect. When you get that, that demonstrates to someone that not by telling, but by showing that you care about them.

Howard:

And then the third level, when you express values that they resonate with, that makes someone feel that they are like me. There’s a humanity there, not just a business. And that they share something about my belief or my values about the world. And when you combine those things together, and by the way, many companies don’t do this. Many people, if we said, what does Ben & Jerry stand for? What does Whole Foods stand for? What does Apple stand for? I think most people would say something that is sort of [inaudible]. But if someone said, what was the auto insurance company that you were talking about?

Stephanie:

Travelers. Yeah [inaudible].

Howard:

Travelers. What is Travelers stand for? What does GEICO stand… You could say, well, GEICO stands for saving your 15%. But that’s not a value, right? I mean, it might be a value in the sense of a discount, but it’s not a human value, right? There’s nothing wrong with saving people 15%, but it’s not the kind of value that Nike stands for, or the kind of value that Apple stands for. We believe in you, we believe in unlocking your personal creative freedom and capabilities. What is Citibank stand for? There’s so many brands. What is United Airlines stand for? And that’s a great example. And by the way, I like United Airlines. I fly them all the time. fly the friendly skies, does anyone believe that United Airlines is the friendly skies? It’s just words.

Stephanie:

I believe it. But I mean, I think that just shows that I don’t think brands are able to tell their stories very well in a way that connects. I mean, like a political stance, I think that’s an easy thing to jump on because it’s like newsjacking. Something’s going on. I’m going to take a stance on it. I think that’s easy. But to actually tell your story without an event going on, to try and get news around it, I mean, that is still think is hard for large brands. I was just reading Warren Buffett’s shareholder letter. I don’t know if you also read that for fun like me.

Howard:

No, I don’t.

Stephanie:

Maybe now you’re like, “Nah.”

Howard:

I probably should.

Stephanie:

It’s great. I mean, he was going through the companies that they acquired and why he’s going to bet big on America and he’ll never bet against it again. And he went through the backstory of these companies that he acquired. I think Ikea was one of them. And it was just very interesting to see how he could storytell better for these very, very large companies. And going through why he even was interested in investing in them in the first place. I’m like, “That is what needs to be told.” That startup story, yes, a huge brand now, but how did they get there and how you instill that message around your company without just having to newsjack or jump on politics.

Howard:

Right. Well, and actually it’s funny because you asked about things that weren’t in the book and one of the other things that’s not in the book, but I did a live cast on Subsequent is the answer to that very question. How do you figure out? Well, actually there’s sort of two questions. One is how do you figure out what your brand really stands for? Because some brands were birthed standing for something. Toms Shoes or something like that. And so the people that were attracted to that brand, both as customers, but also as employees, they understood what the brand was about. So you wind up with a bunch of people at that brand who believe in that mission, because that’s what it was when they came. But when you start with a company that doesn’t have that, then the question becomes, okay, so how do you achieve it?

Howard:

How do you come up with what it is? How do you figure that out? That’s a challenge. And then also, and I did a live cast on that, but then also, and to your question, then how do you express that? How do you get the world? Newsjacking is one way or taking a stand on a political issue. But so anyway, so I did another one on what I call the seven Ps, which are just seven different ways. And you don’t have to do all seven, but you probably want to do more than one of how you take the value that you’re about, whether it’s wholesome food, like Whole Foods, or whether it’s personal, creative tools that unleash your creative potential. What have you like Apple and how do you actually get that to be something real in the world that people believe in and really see that you are standing for those values.

Howard:

And one of those Ps is positioning, which means basically telling people, right, which is what a lot of brands do. This is what we stand for. But if you only do that… What I always say is positioning serves only one purpose, which is to create cynicism, to create doubt, which is good. It’s good to do that. Because if you tell people what you stand for, they’re going to not believe you. And then they’re going to look for evidence. And if you have the other Ps or some of the other Ps, and the evidence is there, and then they start to look for the evidence, then they’ll start to see that it’s true. Brands that are really strong at standing for something don’t even need positioning necessarily because people experience it and they know what it is. But if you position, you better make sure that you’ve got some of the other things, because you’re going to create doubt from your positioning.

Howard:

People are going to, if they’re interested, test your positioning, to see whether it’s really true in their experience. And if it is, then you’re great. Then you’ve used the positioning as a lens to get them to evaluate whether it’s really true, or if it’s BS. But of course, if it’s not really true, you’ve accomplished the negative thing, which is you’ve lied to them and you’ve allowed them to spend their time and energy proving that you’ve lied to them. And now, of course, no doubt, unless your positioning is that you’re a lying company. It’s harmful rather than helpful.

Stephanie:

Yep. That makes sense. So this kind of takes it way back to earlier in the interview, but a lot of brands right now, I see focusing on here’s my mission and the company’s starting around the social impact or causes or things like that. And a question that I’ve talked with quite a few companies about is, how do you balance the mission behind the company, but then also the product value? I mean, you mentioned that, so one of the big themes was that customers would come to a company’s website and not know if it could help them right away. And it feels that’s a newer thing where every new DTC company right now has some kind of mission, and I do see some of them struggling with, do you put it on your front page, do you sell with your mission, do you sell with your product, how do you think about that? So what are your thoughts on having a good balance there while not making the customer journey get harder?

Howard:

I think it depends who you’re selling to. I think it goes back to what I said about understanding your customer. I know especially with millennials and younger we definitely see something that we generally don’t see with older customers, which is a willingness to actually make a choice and spend money for a social reason, because of some sort of charitable connection or something like that. Usually with older consumers, they like it, we’ll do tests like this. We’ll say, this brand gives 10% of the money to the American Red Cross and this brand doesn’t how do you feel about the fact that this brand gives them money? And people say, “Oh, I’m all for it. I think it’s wonderful that they do that.” And we say, “Okay, great. This brand’s product costs $12, and this other brand that doesn’t give them money, their product costs $11. Which one are you going to buy?” And very often they’re like, “I think the $11 one.”

Howard:

It’s like they like it, but they’re not really willing to spend more for it. Whereas with younger consumers, we find increasingly they say, “Oh no, I spend another dollar for the company that gives the money to the cause that I believe in.” So I think part of it’s understanding who you’re communicating to, but also I think part of it’s understanding that building a relationship is about a number of different thing. And you don’t start a relationship usually by focusing on your values. Usually the first thing, I mean, if I said, “Hey, there’s this restaurant that gives 50% of all the money to Greenpeace. Do you want to have dinner there?”

Stephanie:

And that’s it?

Howard:

Do you want to have dinner there? What’s that?

Stephanie:

If it’s good food.

Howard:

Well, right. And you might want to know what kind of food is it? Is it Chinese? It’s not enough, right?

Stephanie:

Yes.

Howard:

You kind of want to start with, well, what’s the value proposition for me? It’s like what I said earlier, people care first and foremost about themselves. So I think there may be exceptions to this rule, but I think by and large, you have to do a good job first of being crystal clear about… It’s like that pyramid I talked about, right? You can’t jump to the top of the pyramid. You got to start by consistently meeting their needs and demonstrate that you understand them, and that at a very basic level, you can deliver what it is that they need. And then you can go to delighting and then you can focus on values. And so I think the answer is it’s probably not your first message, and it’s probably not the thing that’s going to attract them to you, but what’s going to happen is they’re going to be attracted initially by what’s in it for them.

Howard:

And then you can start to build a relationship and help them understand, most people didn’t buy their first car in a Ben and Jerry’s because they were protecting grassland in Vermont or whatever environmental stuff. They looked good. They heard all Chunky Monkey, that’s good stuff, and let’s try and diet. But then they might’ve fallen in love with the brand over time because they realized that not only is that bottom of the pyramid, not only are they consistently meeting my needs really well, but that they’re also doing things that resonate with my values. And then that keeps me coming back again and again, it makes me more loyal and less likely to jump to the next brand of ice cream that has something that sounds appealing.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah. I completely agree. So get them in the door with good products, showcase your value, and then you could probably upsell in a way, once someone knows this is a good product, and now maybe I am willing to spend that extra dollar now that I’ve already had a good experience with them versus trying to do it the other way around.

Howard:

Yeah. Or be less likely to switch or be willing to try new products from that same brand, et cetera.

Stephanie:

Cool. So the last thing I want to of touch on was content strategy. I saw you working with Aéropostale and American Girl around getting these brands to start creating content, making it more organic, getting customers to create their own viral content. How do you think about brand should be approaching their content strategy right now?

Howard:

Well, in this day and age, everybody’s a content creator. And as you look at the ages of your customers, I mean, I’m a content creator and I’m over 50, but as you go down in age, it becomes everybody, my kids are all creating all kinds of content all the time on obviously Tik ToK and Instagram and everywhere. And so I think first of all, it’s easier than ever. And I think that one of the best ways to inspire people to create content is to give them a platform. Because what every content creator cares most about is what, likes, whatever it is on the given platform, right? Subscribers, followers, likes all this kind of stuff.

Stephanie:

There you go, it’s wrong.

Howard:

So I mean, there are many strategies of course, to inspire people to create UGC around your brand. But I think that the number one strategy to say, okay, how can I give someone a sense that if you create something you’re going to get my platform, obviously if you’re a brand, you want to make sure you have a good sized platform, which means simply how many people you can reach, how many followers, et cetera you have. And then if you can help someone see that by creating content around your brand, that’s going to get that content more exposure than if they just create content and post it on their own personal Instagram account or whatnot. Then that’s valuable. And then of course…

Stephanie:

What’s in it for me? That’s the same thing that we’ve kind of talked about this whole time, the whole time.

Howard:

Understanding your customer, 100%. And in this case, the customer is they may be your customer in the traditional sense, they may be buying your product, but they may not even buy your product, but it’s, again, it’s like what I said about human behavior, you want to influence people to create content about you online. Great. You have to make sure you understand those people and understand what drives them. And there are going to be some different personas, right? To get my daughter to create content is takes one thing, to get someone who’s already a YouTuber with 15 million followers, now it’s something different. It’s called probably going to an influencer platform and writing them a cheque. And that can be a very viable and smart strategy to do as well if you do it correctly and you pick the right influencers and you make sure that it’s organically integrated into their content and not feeling like something they just slapped on, like an ad. But that can be a very powerful marketing tool as well.

Howard:

So that’s what they want. My daughter, they don’t need your platform because they have an even bigger platform probably depending on, I mean, if your platform is big enough, if you’re Coca-Cola, maybe you even have a bigger platform than them. In which case maybe the influencer is willing to do it for less or for free. But anyway, but it all comes down to that. Anytime you want to motivate someone to do anything, you want to make sure you understand, what do they care about, what are they trying to accomplish? That’s right.

Stephanie:

Cool. Well, let’s jump over to the lightning round. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to ask you a question and you have 30 seconds or less to answer.

Howard:

Okay.

Stephanie:

Are you ready?

Howard:

I’m ready.

Stephanie:

All right. First one, what one thing will have the biggest impact on ecommerce in the next year?

Howard:

The elimination of a third party cookies.

Stephanie:

Okay. Expand a little bit more on, because I’ve had another guest say it doesn’t matter and we have solved that and it’s nothing to worry about.

Howard:

Okay. Well, I’ll have to watch that episode because I would love that to be true. But essentially what’s happening is between things that Apple is doing and things that Google are doing, Google is doing and frankly, things that may also happen from a legislation perspective, the ability to cookie somebody on one site and display ads to them on a different site is being no longer permitted or they’re rolling out changes, which will mean that, if you’re familiar with going on overstock and looking at a sofa, and then that’s sofa is on every site you see around the whole internet, they’re not going to be able to do that anymore. And it has the biggest impact on smaller or medium-sized ecommerce players, because that’s a key strategy. So I think that’s going to have a huge impact and require everyone to come up with different ways of attracting buyers. I think it’s going to have a huge impact.

Stephanie:

Yep. When does that go into place? [inaudible]

Howard:

Well, some of it is already in place, certain browsers are already blocking third party cookies and other bots, but I think we’re already in the middle of a transition.

Stephanie:

Okay. Got it. Onto a happier subject then, what’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Howard:

My Netflix queue? Well, I think I want to watch this show about [inaudible], I think just started. Is that? I think it’s Netflix or if not, it’s one of the other services.

Stephanie:

On of them.

Howard:

All about how this [inaudible] thing got started and how so many people were hypnotized into being crazy.

Stephanie:

Interesting. Tell me how it is. What one thing do you not understand today that you wish you did?

Howard:

Women, and why they do what they do.

Stephanie:

Oh my gosh.

Howard:

I’ve got two teenage daughters and a wife and man, I don’t understand a single thing about why they do what they do.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s great. I mean, I don’t even understand myself sometimes. So that’s a valid answer. What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you?

Howard:

Well, I guess I have my children, I’ve got five children. That could be [inaudible].

Stephanie:

Five. Wow. That’s great. That’s a good answer. What’s the last ecommerce purchase you made that you maybe would not have made pre-COVID?

Howard:

Well, that I would not have made pre-COVID? I have been buying more gear for at home, stuff we’re doing now because I used to do that all at our offices in Manhattan, where we had more of a studio. So I don’t know the very last one, but a lot more lights and microphone stands and all this kind of a side monitor, an extra small minor like I’ve got over here to show me these slides, if I’m talking about things. So I’ve been buying a lot more Gadgets & Gizmos, did I say that? Gadgets & Gizmos.

Stephanie:

Whatever you say works for me.

Howard:

To make it easier to turn my office into a kind of a studio for all the content that we produce.

Stephanie:

Very cool. And the last one, if you were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Howard:

Well, I do have a podcast.

Stephanie:

Oh, well, what is it about?

Howard:

It’s called Winning Digital Customers. And it is about how you most effectively win as a brand in an age where so many of your customers are living with digital at the center of their lifestyle. And the first guest on my podcast was a great friend and client of mine, Michelle McKenna, who’s the SVP and chief information officer of the National Football.

Stephanie:

Oh, nice. I saw she wrote… Didn’t sh write a foreword in your book?

Howard:

She did. She also wrote that. Well, that’s kind of why we kicked off the podcast, which kind of connects to the book, same name. And she also was kind enough to to do that. And she’s awesome and has driven a lot of innovation and transformation at the NFL, everything from the new way they do instant replays to stuff that supports player health and safety, to drones at Superbowls and sensors on players shoulder pads and helmets and the ball, so they can track with motion capture everything that happens in the game. So many cool things. And so she’s always got great things to talk about and also a lot of stuff she can’t talk about.

Stephanie:

We need to bring her on our IT visionaries podcast, which Hillary also produces. So we get her on there Hillary. Awesome.

Howard:

He is definitely an IT visionary.

Stephanie:

Yeah, we’ll have to bring her on. Cool. Howard, thanks so much for joining the show. It was a pleasure chatting. Where can people find out more about you and your new book?

Howard:

Sure. Well, thank you so much for having me. If they want to learn about the book, there’s a website for the book, which is winningdigitalcustomers.com, just like all one word. And in fact, if you go there, you can also download the first chapter of the book for free as a PDF if you want to just get started on it. Obviously it’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Apple books, all those types of places, and in bookstores, possibly near you if you go to bookstores. And as well, if you want to learn more about me, I’m on social media. I publish a lot on LinkedIn and other places. You can find me by my name, Howard Tiersky and my company is FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency and we are at from.digital.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thank you so much, Howard.

Howard:

Thank you for having me, it’s been a blast.

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Episode 100