People are dissatisfied with banking. A recent study from the Rassmussen Report reveals that American Consumers hold a grudge against banks who they hold responsible for the great recession. Many consumers believe that banks don’t have their best interests at heart. Bank fees are often confusing and hit your checking account when you can least afford them. People feel like idiots when they are hit with a bank fee. Most people, at one time or another, have had a nightmare customer service experience with a large bank. Large banks have some of the lowest customer experience and customer service ratings. People feel powerless to change things. Banks talk about being customer focused but very few of them empathize with the needs of their customers. Banks make money by keeping people confused. 

Like many people, Josh Reich got fed up with his bank after it charged him overdraft fees and he lived through a painful customer service experience. This motivated Reich, a software engineer from Australia, to come up with a better more human way to bank. 

Reich created Simple, an online banking company that was founded in Brooklyn and relocated to Portland, Oregon. Simple offers customers free checking and data analysis of their transactions and spending habits. The company, which began signing up customers in 2012 now has more than 80,000 accounts and has processed transactions worth more than $200 million. Simple does not have retail branches.
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The Simple Bank Brand was developed to help people better control their finances. All employees in the company are unified in support of this common purpose. Their goal is to make banking more human by putting customer service at the core of everything they do. Simple is targeted to people who are dissatisfied with their current banking relationship. A Simple account empowers customers with powerful budgeting and savings tools built right into their account. These tools show customers how much money they have to spend and help people save for specific goals like vacations. Their website and mobile apps are clean, simple and easy to use. Simple gives people tools to help themselves, while still making sure knowledgeable, friendly people are there to help when you need them.

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The company’s biggest challenge is customer acquisition. Despite their current dissatisfaction, it is difficult to get customers to change and leave their current bank. Changing banks is a lot of work.

Would you leave your current bank if a better more human option was available?


 
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For the past year and a half, I have enjoyed reading Bernadette Jiwa’s Brand Marketing Blog “The Story of Telling”. Bernadette’s blog focuses on the importance of storytelling in brand marketing. Her posts are short, simple and inspiring.

Bernadette is a brand storyteller and strategist who challenges traditional approaches to marketing. She recently published a new book titled “Difference”. I highly recommend “Difference”. It’s a must read book for innovative marketers. Difference challenges you to re-think your approach to marketing. Many people view marketing’s role as creating demand for existing products. Conventional wisdom advocates developing a product and then creating a big marketing funnel in order to sell it.

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Difference redefines how successful brands will be marketed in the future. In Bernadette’s view marketing is not a department, it’s the story of how we create difference for our customers. The businesses that succeed tell a better story because they have learned to recognize what’s true for their customers and then create solutions that matched their worldview. As Bernadette points out, “the truth is that people don’t fall in love with ideas at all. They fall in love with how those ideas, products, services and places makes them feel”. People don’t buy features they buy promises.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Bernadette shares her story of growing up in Dublin, the storytelling capital of the world. Bernadette describes how her little brother Johnny never greeted her by saying “hello” or “how are you?” The only question Johnny ever asked was, “what’s the story?” This is a common way to greet people in Ireland. It’s an open ended question that asks people to tell everything that’s important right now. Many great stories flowed from that simple greeting.

Difference thinking is more than the ability to connect the dots, though. It’s about seeing the truth, recognizing the opportunity in that truth and then acting on it. It isn’t the person with the best idea who wins; it’s the person who has the greatest understanding of what really matters to people.

The Difference Model outlined in the book flips product development on its head. Instead of starting with the idea, it begins with an examination of people’s current reality and explores what’s possible in a world where the problems and desires of those people are solved and met. A fundamental premise of the difference model is empathizing with your customer and asking questions to better understand your customer.

The Difference Model is consists of the following elements:

  • Principles – What’s the truth about us, the industry, the market and the people we want to serve.
  • Purpose – Why do we exist?
  • People – Who are the people we want to serve? What do they value? What’s their current reality?
  • Personal – How can we change how people feel?
  • Perception – What do people believe about you? What would you like them to believe about you?
  • Product – What do people really want?

Difference cites examples of many brands who have taken this approach to solving customers needs. Examples include Apple, Uber, By the Way Bakery, Warby Parker, Airbnb and The Rubix Cube.

Bernadette has created a Difference Map to help guide you through the process. You can download the map at Difference.is. It is a wonderful tool for planning innovation.

Read Difference and experience a new way of thinking about marketing.

Ten years ago Dove set out to widen the definition of beauty. In 2004 Dove commissioned a research study called “The Real Truth About Beauty” to more deeply understand the relationship of women, beauty and well-being. The results of the study were very surprising. Only two percent of women interviewed considered themselves to be beautiful, while the majority placed themselves in the average or below average category. The study found that women felt disconnected from the way culture describes beauty. The study found that women held different criteria for beauty than popular culture. Women see emotional qualities, character and individuality as equally expressive of beauty as the narrow physical aspects of beauty that currently dominate popular culture.

In 2004, Dove launched the “Campaign For Real Beauty”. The campaign was designed to change the conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty. This campaign has had a positive impact on women, changed the conversation and generated strong sales increases. Dove produced one of the best ads of 2013 in “Real Beauty Sketches”. 

Last week Dove premiered “Selfie” an eight minute film that challenges young women through social media to take an honest selfie and to encourage their mothers to do so, too. “Selfie” premiered at the Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah. This marked the 10th anniversary of Dove’s “Campaign For Real Beauty”.

Selfie is directed by Oscar Winning Documentarian Cynthia Wade and produced by Sharon Liese. “Selfie” captures the journey of multiple generations of girls and their mothers in the western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington as they create a new type of selfie that celebrates their unique beauty. In the film, the girls admit that they adopted many of the insecurities that their mothers also felt. The girls are seen getting together with their moms to create a new type of selfie that features what they perceive as their least desirable physical features.  

A decade later, Dove has uncovered through a major study in the U.S. that 62% of women feel they are responsible for influencing their own definition of beauty, nearly triple the number from ten years ago. Women believe the definition of beauty has evolved to become more inclusive and have taken on the role of defining the standard for themselves and each other.

Social media has emerged as one of the most powerful influencing factors in how women define beauty. Social media offers women the opportunity to create their own media, personalize beauty and influence the conversation. More than half (55%) of women believe social media is playing a larger role in influencing the beauty conversation than traditional media.

“Selfie” is an excellent short film. Dove has done a great job promoting self esteem. As a father of teen age girls and a husband, I applaud what Dove has done. Once again they have redefined the notion of beauty. Dove has stayed true to their brand purpose of celebrating women’s unique beauty.

What do you think of Dove’s short film “Selfie”?

Marriott was founded by J. Willard Marriott and his wife Alice in 1927. They originally opened a nine stool A&W Root Beer Shop in Washington D.C. as a place to get a cool drink during the hot and humid summers. As the first summer drew to a close, the Marriott’s looked for additional ways to attract customers. Bill secured permission from A&W to serve food items and Alice learned to make tamales and chili con carne from the cook at the Mexican Embassy. The “Hot Shoppes” concept was born. Local residents flocked to “Hot Shoppes” for its combination of good food, low prices and great service. The Marriott’s quickly opened additional locations. In 1957, they opened the first Marriott Hotel “Twin Bridges” in Arlington, Virginia.

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Today Marriott operates more than 3,500 hotel properties worldwide under a portfolio of brands. In many ways, they are the Proctor and Gamble of the hospitality industry. They have grown organically and through strategic acquisitions. Their portfolio of brands target different segments of the market. They target the following tiers:

  • Luxury – The Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott, BVLGARI
  • Lifestyle – Edition, Autograph Collection Hotels, Renaissance, AC Hotels
  • Signature – Marriott Hotels and Resorts
  • Select Service – Courtyard by Marriott, Springhill Suites Marriott, Fairfield Inn and Suites Marriott, Moxy Hotels
  • Extended Stay – Residence Inn Marriott, Towne Place Suites Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments
  • Destination Entertainment – Gaylord Hotels

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Marriott has always focused on being a great place to work, delivering an excellent customer experience and building unique brands. There philosophy is summed up by the following quote. “Take care of your associates, and they will take care of your customers, who will keep coming back.”

I believe that Marriott has done an excellent of staying true to their purpose, vision and values and serving the needs of multiple stakeholders. These elements are critical to building a successful brand and ensuring a great customer experience. Listed below are their purpose, vision and values.

Purpose: We open doors to a world of opportunity for:

  • People – personal and professional growth
  • Customers – rewarding travel experiences
  • Communities – a more sustainable future in the places where we live and work
  • Owners and Franchisees – profitable investments
  • Investors – Financial Achievement
  • Business Alliances – Collaboration with suppliers and other key relationships

Vision: To be the number one consumer hospitality company in the world.

Values:

  • Put people first
  • Pursue excellence
  • Embrace change
  • Act with integrity
  • Serve our world

Marriott has received many awards. Marriott has been recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 100 companies to work for. Ethisphere recognized Marriott as one of the most ethical companies in the world.

Marriott Rewards is the best loyalty program in the hospitality industry. Membership is a must for frequent business ravelers. I have been a member for many years. It has helped fund many of my family vacations. The program started in 1983 as a grassroots program by hotel employees to recognize their loyal customers. This was a significant innovation at the time. In 2013, US News and World Reports named Marriott the number one hotel loyalty program.

I am currently staying at Residence Inn. While not, perfect I have always enjoyed my experiences at Marriott properties. A line from their recent advertising campaign hit home. “It’s not only about where you’re staying, it’s about where you’re going.

 

Are you a member of the Marriott Rewards Program?

 
 

I am always on the look out for new and emerging brands that have unique stories. I also keep my eyes open for brands that also have the potential to be good investments. A couple of nights ago I was watching Jim Cramer on CNBC’s “Mad Money” and he did a comparison of the investment potential of two recent Initial Public Offerings, The Container Store (tcs) http://wp.me/p2zj1x-D9 and Zulily (zu). I was intrigued by his comments on Zulily and thought that I would do some of my own research to better understand their story and value proposition.

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Zulily was founded in 2009 by Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon. It is headquartered in Seattle and has offices in London, Columbus, Ohio and Reno, Nevada. Zulily is an online shopping destination for moms. Zulily offers daily deals for moms, babies and kids. Each morning Zulily offers a fresh selection of hand-picked quality children’s apparel, women’s apparel, toys, infant gear and home décor—all at an average savings of 50%. The flash sales include over 4,500 items and typically last 72 hours. It creates an impulse-driven shopping experience while helping move excess inventory sourced from a variety of vendors.

Moms are a highly lucrative market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 39 million U.S. households have children under the age of 18.  Women manage most household spending and account for almost two-thirds of all online shopping. Zulily has over 2.6 million active customers who have purchased at least once in the last 12 months. There is tremendous potential for future growth. 83% of orders were placed by repeat customers

Zulily has created a proprietary system that delivers 10 million daily emails to consumers who have opted in to receive notices of 72-hour sales.

Zulily went public on November 15th at an initial offering price of $22. On Friday the stock closed at $41.02 up 86% in less than two months. For investors it is a very unique and fast growing company.

In the first nine months of this year, sales more than doubled to $438.7 million from $202.8 million. Another unique aspect of their business model is that Zulily doesn’t purchase a product from a supplier until a customer places the order. This help boost cash flow. Everything in its warehouse has been paid for. There is little inventory risk.

It has stocked its flash-sales with product from “smaller boutique vendors” and “emerging” companies—12,000 different sources in all. This allows Zulily to offer unique merchandise not featured at “Big Box” retailers. Zulily has also focused on creating an enjoyable online shopping experience.

Do you think Zulily will continue to grow at a fast pace?

John Lewis has built one of the most loved retail brands in the United Kingdom. People are attracted to the John Lewis Brand because of its purpose, core values, unique business model, emotional advertising and employees (partners) who deliver a great customer experience.

The John Lewis Partnership is an employee-owned company which operates John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets. The company is owned by a trust on behalf of all its employees — known as Partners – who have a say in the running of the business and receive a share of annual profits. John Lewis is one of the largest private companies in the United Kingdom.

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The John Lewis Partnership puts the happiness of Partners at the center of everything it does. The goal was to create a different type of company owned by Partners dedicated to providing customers with great service. Happy empowered employees with ownership in the company who have a vested interest in providing high levels of customer service.

John Spedan Lewis formed the partnership in 1929 and began distributing profits to employees. His goal was to create a company that gave every Partner a voice in the business they co-own. His combination of business acumen and corporate conscience was ahead of its time.

The Partnership’s ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business. The Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards profit, knowledge and power.

They have won a number of awards as Britain’s favorite retailer because they provide a better customer service experience than their competition. Their advertising including this years holiday campaign builds a strong emotional connection with consumers.

The success of the John Lewis Partnership retail operations can be attributed to a focus on the following:

1. Partners Who Care About Providing Great Customer Service
None of the 70,000 people who work at John Lewis is an employee. They are “Partners” who jointly own the business. They earn profit-sharing based on how much profit is generated by the business. This encourages them to give great service because they feel a sense of ownership. John Lewis believes that if you treat your partners well, it will lead to good customer service.

2.  Providing Great Training For Their Partners – But Empowering People to Make Decisions
Allowing Partners to think for themselves gives them a sense of responsibility – which, as a rule of thumb, they tend to want to live up to.

3. Encouraging Feedback from Customer Facing Staff on what Customers Really Want
John Lewis involves customer facing staff in improving the way things are done. They leverage their unique insights to improve service.

4. Be Exceptional
Partners at John Lewis have strong product knowledge and embrace every opportunity to provide great service.

5. Provide Great Customer Service Levels Online
John Lewis has a user-friendly website. They also make it easy for customers to contact a real person as soon as they want to.

Can you think of another retail brand where employees “live the brand” and create a great customer experience?

My daughters will be entering college in the fall of 2015. On Saturday, we visited Manhattan College in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. We attended an information session followed by a campus tour. We were all very impressed. It was a great experience. Manhattan has a great story to tell. Students and faculty told the story in a way that connected emotionally with the audience. Their passion and enthusiasm was refreshing. They lived the Manhattan College Brand.

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Manhattan College is a private, independent, Roman Catholic, liberal arts college in the Lasallian tradition. Manhattan College was founded in 1853 by five French Lasallian Brothers in a small building on Canal Street. Today, the campus is located on 22 scenic acres overlooking Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. The small intimate setting and layout of the campus is unique and provides many opportunities to connect with fellow students. It is a tranquil setting amidst the fast pace of New York City. Its proximity to Manhattan is a major benefit and selling point. The on-campus experience is one of the special things that differentiates Manhattan College from other universities.

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Famous Manhattan College Alumni include author James Patterson, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

There are nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. In a highly competitive marketplace, colleges and universities have become skilled in brand marketing.  Developing and managing the identity of a college is critical to the success of recruitment and development efforts. Brand identity plays an important role in helping schools secure grant funding, attract top faculty, and maintain strong community, government and media relations.

From my perspective Manhattan College has done an excellent job defining and communicating the uniqueness of their brand. The promise of the Manhattan College Brand is rooted in Lasallian Catholic traditions of excellence in teaching, respect for individual dignity and a commitment to social justice. The goal of an education at Manhattan College is to teach you how to think not what to think. Manhattan’s tagline “DREAMS DELIVERED” helps bring the brand promise to life.

Have you visited the Manhattan College Campus?