Customer Utopia

I’m writing this from the comfort of my iPhone on a plane again, and as I set out on my latest trip, I didn’t expect to find myself in Customer Utopia. Yet I guess that’s the unexpected beauty of a brand that takes a good, long look and listens to it’s customers.

Thank you, JetBlue.

When I set foot in Terminal 5, the feted new home of Jetblue at JFK, I knew I was in a different place (especially considering it’s an airport, which is home to some of the most unfriendliest businesses ever…see “ATA” and “US Airways”). It just has a tangible feel of satisfaction, even at the far flung point where you depart the AirTrain or get dropped off by car. You walk through a long, pristine tunnel to get to the actual terminal, and then you descend a hundred foot escalator (have you been there, am I exaggerating?) into Customer Utopia (CU).

CU has damn near everything you could want or need as a JetBlue customer.

The outskirts of CU have plentiful self-service check-in terminals, outnumbered only by service agents proactively helping and steering people. It also has just plenty of plain space, so as you move you’re not climbing or standing upon other people and it doesn’t feel crowded or unpleasant. It also has the standard food and other amenities for anyone in need. Yet only once you’re through security (understandably normal, even in CU, but that’s expected anywhere) are you in the inner sanctum of CU.

The inner sanctum greets you with the food court. Fast food? Sure, in a central area of order and grab buffets, bars and counters that has a central checkout area — so you only have to checkout one time instead of three if you want a latte, burger, and slice of pizza. Need a drink? Multiple bars. Like sports? Sports eatery with large flatscreens. Filet? Tom Collichio steakhouse. Snacks? Of course. It’s mind-numbing. The only other thing more mind-numbing is the fact that you can place an order to YOUR GATE. Yes. Touchscreen terminals let you bypass it all and go order at your gate.

So let’s say you spill ketchup on your shirt. Easy, stop at the LaCoste store or one of the other low-, mid- and high-end clothing retailers. Break your bracelet? Hit the sterling silver shop. Have a question? Go to the staffed customer information booths in the gate areas. Yes. Staffed with live people, so you don’t have to trap an unsuspecting agent at a random gate counter just to ask a question (did anyone ever get a helpful answer doing that anyway?). Power outlet? Use the sponsored charging stations at the gates. And there’d have to be alot of full flights to take up the zillion seats at the gates.

It’s crazy. Add in little touches like ultra-friendly employees, flatscreens with CNN and ESPN everywhere at the gates, and recorded gate announcements so attendants can focus entirely on customers, and you can see why it’s CU.

It made me stop and think more closely about the experience I’m going to offer my customers next time, that’s for sure. Better believe I’m going to take a good, long look at what they want and need and figure out how I can charge ahead with something that makes their experience with my brands better (build my own CU, I will). I arrived hoping to just have a good trip, and left thinking I’d spend more to fly JetBlue if I had to (even though, since my lovely sister works there, I don’t pay much anyway). I arrived prepared for the worst, and left feeling appreciated as a customer and motivated to make my own customers feel the same way.

It doesn’t get alot better than that.

Marketer to marketer, I suggest you also spend more time this year on building your own CU. Spend less time on something else. You won’t regret it.

The Mall — Revisited

A short time ago I wrote a post that talked about the evolution of event marketing venues and the impact that alternative venues have had on the mainstay event venue of the last several decades, the American mall.

Well, the New York Times has an insightful article that also takes a good, long look at the evolving way consumers frequent the mall. It’s part microscope into the consumer’s mind, part reality check for the status of the mall in the consumer shopping hierarchy, and part hope for marketers.

The hope lies in the opportunity that the challenging economy (recession, if you will) presents for marketers. As the article notes:

We are reliably informed that whatever part of the economic crisis can’t be pinned on Wall Street — or on mortgage-related financial insanity — can be pinned on consumers who overspent. But personal consumption amounts to some 70 percent of the American economy. So if we don’t spend, we don’t recover. Fiscal health isn’t possible until money is again sloshing into cash registers, including those at this mall and every other retailer.

In other words, shopping was part of the problem and now it’s part of the cure. And once we’re cured, economists report, we really need to learn how to save, which suggests that we will need to quit shopping again.

What that means is that old cliche — that true market leaders keep marketing through the downtimes so that they emerge stronger than ever when good times come back — is true. Times may be tough, but if you have customers — more importantly, if you want more customers in the future — you can’t go dark right now. Improve and fine-tune your brand and value proposition, ratchet up your customer service, look deeply at your ROI and spend on what works, get up-to-speed with SEO and Google and other channels you’re currently not in, focus your message on key benefits most important to your customers — just make sure you have a message out there. Be consistent, be seen, be reliable and flexible and accomodating to your customers.

Because good times will charge ahead again at some point, and if you stay strong now you’ll be even stronger then.

Where’s the Marketing Bailout?

Ok, time for a rather random post, compared to some of the marketing how-to commentary you read in this blog. But here it goes anyway.

In a daydream-type moment today, I couldn’t help but wonder that given all the coverage, debate, angst and fuss given to the government bailout of the financial industry (including Citi and now possibly automakers, too), what if there was a bailout fund for bad marketing campaigns?

Yes, that’s right. A huge fund of public money to help marketers in need. Ok, that may be too much of a folly for some to comprehend. So instead, what if the money came from an insanely-wealthy, smart businessman who just decided to give bad marketing a second chance? Say, a Mark Cuban or Richard Branson. Think of all the marketers and campaigns this bailout fund could help breathe new life into. Here’s a few famous ones:

  • New Coke would get a fresh start, rejecting market feedback since the first launch in a second attempt at reinventing this soft drink. How about a crazy new campaign with new packaging (using a completely different color pallette than the traditional suite of Coke products), a new tagline (maybe “New Generation, Another Try“), and a grassroots online marketing effort backed by advergame sponsorship (official drink of all the felons in Grand Theft Auto V)?
  • In an attempt to market its way out of the potential Big Three Bailout, Ford relaunches the 2009 Edsel X Series. It’s a hybrid, practical vehicle targeted to families via mobile events at Wal-Marts in 50 major metros. Ford also partners with H&R Block to provide mobile tax-completion services in branded Edsels, associating the vehicle with financial prudence.
  • Instead of trying to capture adult tastes with a 610-calorie burger, McDonald’s repackages the Arch Deluxe brand as the Deluxe Arch Salad. It incorporates the same elements at the original burger, yet slightly healthier — fresh tomatoes, onions and lettuce; low-calorie cheese; bacon bits; and low-cal croutons. It’s marketed as part of a value meal with yogurt, an energy bar and a non-bottled water. Marketing includes coupons distributed via gyms and health clubs, in-store events with athletes and celebrities, and grassroots sponsorship of sporting events and fairs.
  • Can you think of other products that would qualify for funds? I sure could (hell, I’d love to see my Cingular brand come back, but that’s not bad marketing just a bad decision…did I mention I hate AT&T?).

    Not to bring up a sore subject, but can you think of your own campaigns that would qualify? If so, then go take a good, long look and fix them right now.

    The Evolution of Event Marketing Venues

    The explosion of event marketing, mobile tours and other mega-events may be partially responsible for the death of the American mall as a top-tier marketing venue.

    If you take a good, long look, certainly there are other factors, as the article describes — the economy, the growth of the low-cost retailer, a trend towards more manageable and balanced personal consumption (especially in the face of recession), and the emergence of the green and now “dark green” demographics. The economics of the mall are struggling to adapt to the new retail landscape, for sure. And when consumers aren’t showing up like they used to, that makes for a difficult marketing venue no matter what.

    However, marketers now bring impactful events out to the consumer, instead of vice versa. A stand-alone retail store used to be a pariah when compared to the multi-store power of the mall. Now, you may show up at that stand-alone retail outlet and find an event that beats the essence and excitement of a mall. And most stand-alone stores nowadays provide some kind of retailtainment atmosphere to keep the traffic coming. Outside of the retail venue, you may show up in a variety of places and find the same impactful events — sporting events, transportation hubs in major metro areas, high-traffic city blocks, local fairs and more.

    The mall used to be such a strong venue for events because the masses were there. And surely they’re still there to a certain degree, and so are events. Yet marketers started delivering great events outside of that venue, and it worked. And now that consumers don’t rely on the mall as much, they expect to find the experience and engagement with brands in those other venues. And marketers know those other places deliver the demographics and volume. So it’s a good match. And we haven’t even discussed the online channel, which dovetails with the live event experience on multiple levels to keep the engagement lasting.

    Surely, the mall will rebound and find ways to remain relevant in some fashion. Or, as the article above hints, with low-fashion or thrift-fashion. And when it does, event marketers will surely charge ahead and be there too.