Reports of the Death of Email Marketing Exaggerated?

email icon

One of the most memorable quotes about customer relationships I have read in recent years comes from The Elusive Fan by Irving Rein, Philip Kotler, and Ben Shields. In the book, the authors make a point that sports fans today are easier to reach but harder to engage than ever before. We have an abundance of tools to connect with a target audience. While getting to an audience is crucial, getting through to them to achieve desired results is proving to be far more challenging.

This characteristic of easier to reach, harder to engage is not limited to sports fans. Businesses in virtually every industry can say the same about their customers. New options for communicating with customers continue to emerge. The evolution of communication channels has the unfortunate effect of further fragmenting audiences. Thus, creating meaningful customer engagement that meets business objectives has become more challenging.

The Staying Power of Email

One communication channel that seemed to face an uncertain future is email. The strength of permission marketing via opt-in email was offset by problems including message overload, irrelevant messages, and an image crisis caused by spam, phishing, and Nigerian princes seeking to get into your wallet. Surprisingly, email has overcome these challenges to become a marketing star.

When it comes to delivering results, marketers are bullish on email. Digital marketing firm Econsultancy surveyed over 300 marketers in its annual Email Marketing Census last spring. When asked to rate different communication channels in terms of return on investment, email won going away.

Econsultancy 2016 Survey

Although channels like social media and mobile are like sleek, shiny toys, they do not deliver results on par with email according to marketers surveyed.

The Three Ts of Email Marketing

Why is email a cut above all other communication channels in marketers’ eyes? The answer is in three characteristics email possesses that set it apart from SEO, content marketing, and other channels included in the survey question. You could call these characteristics the “Three Ts”: targeting, timeliness, and track-able. It’s not that the other channels are devoid of these traits, but email tends to deliver against them more consistently.

  • Targeting. Compiling email subscribers’ demographics, coupled with buyer behavior in the form of purchase history, enables sending communication to the right audience. The cleverest creative or unbelievably attractive offer does not matter much if they are not in tune with audience desires.
  • Timeliness. Email is a flexible channel for creating and sending messages quickly to take advantage of marketing opportunities. A school holiday could be the catalyst for a restaurant’s email campaign to entice family visits.
  • Track-able. The days of “half my advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” are gone. Tools to track marketing performance no longer give us a pass to spend and hope for the best. Email offers many metrics that shed light on how well (or poorly) a campaign performs.

No Offense, Mobile

One surprising result from the Email Marketing Census is the perceived ineffectiveness of mobile marketing. Only four percent of marketers surveyed said mobile was excellent for delivering ROI, tied for last with online display advertising (ouch!). Mobile possesses the three Ts of targeting, timeliness, and track-able, too. Some mobile marketing advocates bristled at the findings of the Econsultancy survey, suggesting that marketers’ attachment to email was based on outdated thinking.

Why would mobile rate so low on marketers’ list of channels ability to deliver ROI? One reason could be many of these same marketers are still trying to figure out how to make mobile work for them. An encouraging sign is email design for mobile is gaining in importance. A survey of retailers last fall found using mobile-optimized design was the top email marketing tactic used (64% reported adopting the tactic).

retailer survey fall 16

This statistic, along with recognition of that mobile has become the number one platform for checking email, will undoubtedly boost marketers’ motivation to become more adept at mobile marketing. Going forward, email and mobile should be viewed less as competing channels in favor of a complementary view.

Embracing a Personal Branding Mindset

Open Sign

As a college professor, I love the first day of a semester. This reset is a time of great anticipation and excitement. It is like New Year’s Day. Many students embrace this new beginning with energy and optimism. However, the shine of newness soon fades and the grind of classes, assignments, exams, and other tasks can overtake the big picture goals of learning and growth.

The struggle to keep focused on goals is not limited to the journey of college students. We often become sidetracked while on the road to personal growth. It is not deliberate self-sabotage. Rather, losing focus tends to come from a combination of competing demands on your time and others making their priorities your problem. Your focus shifts from managing your situation to putting out other people’s fires. The next thing you know, months have passed and you have not even begun that project or started working toward a personal goal.

Always On

When it comes to managing your personal brand, you cannot afford to let competing priorities consume you. Why? Think about it, no one else in the world has as much motivation or urgency to care for your identity and reputation as you. Even the people who love you most— parents, significant others, or close friends— have less vested in your success.

What I am about to share with you is not meant to scare you; I merely state fact when I say once you embrace a personal branding mindset, you have made the decision to be “always on.” Your brand is not active Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 only.

A brand is an ongoing concern. Nike cannot afford to take a day off from caring for its identity, and neither can you. This call to be always on is not intended to be a burden. You will not be working at 3:00 a.m. (unless you choose to work at that hour). But, for best results you will always be mindful of how your values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions impact personal development and how you are perceived.

What Is Personal Branding?

Before embarking on a journey to build a better personal brand, it will be helpful to establish what we mean by personal branding. One of my wife’s co-workers said she equated personal branding with tattoos that have names or symbols of loved ones. If you are averse to body ink no worries, personal branding does not require getting tattooed!

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” The process of personal branding is the ongoing, always on approach to fine tuning and improving the unique value you offer.

Reinforcing a Personal Branding Mindset

Details on personal branding and suggestions for fulfilling the awesome responsibility of managing the world’s most important brand are the focus of a book I just published titled Brand New Year52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand. In Brand New Year, you will find 52 ideas for implementing a personal brand mindset.

Brand New Year cover

I suggest reflecting on one idea each week over the next year and follow through on the Brand Builder recommended action at the end of each chapter. Some ideas will have significant positive impact on your brand. You will scoff at other ideas as being so not you. That sentiment is fine, but even if you feel that way about a particular idea reflect on how it could help build one’s personal brand.

Brand New Year is not written from the standpoint of an expert or teacher as much as it is written from the perspective of someone who is grappling with the same challenges as you to build a meaningful brand. Embrace personal branding and enjoy the journey.

Personal Branding the Antidote to Crowds

Many people seem to have a love-hate relationship with crowds. I have no hard evidence to support that claim other than you can find crowds in many different settings- sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, and stores, to name a few. However, being part of a crowd does not necessarily mean you like being in crowds. You just happen to share an interest with all of the other people there.

I am not a big fan of crowds, but one characteristic of crowds I like is the ability to blend in among the throng of people. In some ways, it is as if I am not there. It is possible to enjoy anonymity in a sea of faces. While the freedom to get lost in a crowd might be appealing when shopping, it would be disastrous to creating a distinctive personal brand.

Be Found, Not Lost

This week, I am focusing on a quote attributed to leadership expert Lolly Daskal. She cautions against allowing yourself to blend in with the crowd. Simply put, when it comes to your professional identity you cannot afford to get lost in the crowd. You can be more educated, more competent, or more engaging than others who do the same work as you, but those advantages are negated if you are unknown.

The antidote to the harmful effects of following the crowd is personal branding. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” Personal branding does not allow you to reside in the comfort zone of a crowd. It leads you to focus on how you genuinely stand out by adding value to others.

Get on the Personal Branding Train

As a new year begins,  now is an ideal time to commit to managing your brand. A brand is a “name, symbol, or other marks that distinguishes one seller from another.” The phrase “distinguishes one seller from another” is a call to manage your personal brand. It comes back to Lolly Daskal’s suggestion that we must stand out.

In my upcoming book Brand New Year: 52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand,  I share three reasons for taking control of your brand:

  1. A brand must have a defined meaning. Think about a brand you admire or that you connect with on an emotional level. It is likely that the brand resonates with you because of its values or priorities. Similarly, you will attract people to you when they can relate to the core of your brand that defines you.
  2. Differentiation is essential. Most businesses avoid at all costs finding themselves in a situation known as Commodity Hell. It refers to an inability to distinguish a business’s offerings from other sellers (the definition of what a brand is meant to do). Differentiation must be real and relevant. You could dye your hair purple or wear polka dot clothing every day and be different. Still, the difference would not be meaningful or add value to other people.
  3. You have competition. Differentiation would not be so important if the need to stand out was not so great. Competition exists to get a foot in the door to start your career, to move up in an organization, and to branch out into new opportunities.

To Be or Not To Be Known

Some people are reluctant to embrace personal branding because they see it as “tooting their own horn.” Yes, personal branding requires self-promotion (i.e., communicating your unique value). Why you? I’m not going to do it for you, nor will your boss, teachers, friends, or mother (OK, well your mother might but that does not count). Make branding about your value contribution to others to convey how you benefit others through your skills and abilities.

The good news is most people do not manage themselves like a brand, making your personal branding quest easier. The decision to manage your brand does not guarantee success, but it puts you ahead of many would-be competitors. The choice is yours to fit in with the crowd (and likely get lost) or stand out.

A (Re)Brand is More Than a Name

GNC logo

When you hear the term ”rebranding,” chances are you associate it with a change in name, logo, colors, or tagline associated with a brand. If you make those associations, you are correct more times than not. Most rebranding initiatives are more about style than substance; they are minor tweaks to update or freshen the brand.

In other cases, rebranding is more radical. One situation in which a major brand overhaul is needed occurs when a brand needs a fresh start to distance itself from undesirable associations. The brand identity (i.e., name and tangible assets like a logo) may have value in the marketplace, but brand equity has been hurt by other associations attached to the brand. This description fits the place where vitamin and supplements retailer GNC found itself.  The chain of over 4,400 corporate stores experienced revenue and same store sales declines of more than 8% in Q3 2016 compared to the previous year. Interim CEO Robert Moran said GNC was operating on an “old, broken model.” GNC was a prime candidate for rebranding, but what to do?

If It’s Broke, Fix It

The opposite of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applied to GNC. Its business model was broken, and business as usual would likely deliver the same results… which were not good! Among the marketing problems contributing to the broken business model were:

  • Different pricing for in-store and online channels
  • Noncompetitive prices for many products
  • A complicated loyalty program
  • A stale in-store shopping experience.

Any of the four issues identified potentially sour the customer experience. Put them all into play at the same time, and it can have the effect of driving customers away. The sales numbers offer evidence of lost customers. More than sales trends were at stake; declining brand relevance could have serious negative effects on GNC in the long run.

One GNC

The fix for GNC’s woes is a rebranding campaign called One GNC. It began with testing changes to the marketing this fall in 500 stores. The commitment to One GNC culminated with the closing all corporate stores on December 28 to replace signage and point-of-sale systems as well as make changes to merchandise presentation. Stores reopened the next day to formally kick off a fresh start for the brand.

So, what all did GNC undertake in the One GNC rebranding campaign? Marketing changes included:

  • Aligning prices across brick-and-mortar and online channels
  • Lowering prices on hundreds of product items
  • Introducing a simpler, free loyalty program called MyGNC Rewards
  • Freshening appearance of stores with new signage
  • Equipping sales associates with tablets so they can have greater information access on sales floor.

Never Lose Sight of Brand Ownership

The One GNC rebranding campaign is commendable. It is an effort to address the needs and desires of the constituency that matters most: customers. Why do they matter most? They are top priority because they own the brand. No, that is not a typo, nor am I referring to public ownership of a company. Brands reside in the minds and hearts of customers and others to whom a brand matters.

Sure, GNC owns intellectual property and “stuff” like equipment and fixtures, but ultimately brands are perceptions held by those who interact with a brand. If customers believe prices are too high, then they are too high. If a widely held belief is that sales associates are not very knowledgeable, then they are not very knowledgeable. You get the point—brands are what people believe they are until beliefs change.

GNC is reshaping beliefs about its brand and the customer experience. It is the best hope for meaningful change to come out of the GNC One rebranding campaign.

Forget Making New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar flips to a new year, and along with this milestone comes a tradition practiced by many people: making New Year’s resolutions. Evidence of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back as far as 1671, with more specific mentions of the practice found as early as 1813. A notable characteristic of New Year’s resolutions then (and still today) is they seemed to excuse or acknowledge undesirable behavior in the run-up to a new year. New year’s resolutions offer a fresh start… at least in theory.

Resolutions Fall Short

If you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2017, you need to know that the odds are against success. A study on New Year’s resolutions found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Maybe the low success rate explains why only 45 percent of Americans usually make New resolutions.

So what are we trying to accomplish when making New Year’s resolutions? Google search data are revealing about what we long to be, do, or have. According to digital marketing firm iQuanti, the top New Year’s resolutions based on search queries include:

  • Getting healthy
  • Getting organized
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Learning new hobbies
  • Spending less/saving more.

The goals are worthy; that is not the problem. New Year’s resolutions fall short of their intended outcome so often because of the absence of a plan to reach the destination. We would not get in a car and drive from Memphis to Miami without directions. Yet, New Year’s resolutions without an action plan is the equivalent of blindly making that long distance drive.

Set Goals Instead

Replace New Year’s resolutions with personal goals. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss how setting goals is essential to managing your personal brand. Setting goals offers two significant payoffs. First, goals align action with purpose. Pursuing goals is a way to to spend your time in ways that are consistent with the big picture you see for yourself. Second, goals give focus to how to spend time and energy. It is easy to fall into a trap of working on projects not aligned with your goals. Setting goals and identifying actions needed to achieve them can minimize getting sucked into other people’s priorities.

Set personal goals with two criteria in mind:

  1. Goals for different life parts
  2. Goals with different time horizons.

Life Parts

Pursuing goals could get you to the destination you want, but will you be happy once you get there? Colby and I caution against putting too much emphasis on a single area. Instead, we advocate setting goals for six different life parts:

  • Career goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Wellness goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Financial goals
  • “Bucket list” goals.

The idea is setting goals in multiple areas can help create balance in your life. None of us is one dimensional; our goals should reflect the various roles we concurrently take on. For example, it might do little good to reach career goals if the actions taken to get there ruin personal relationships or damage your health. Setting goals for different life parts serves as protection against self-sabotage.

Time Horizon

In addition to setting goals for different life parts, we need to set goals with differing lengths to achievement. Why? Not every accomplishment we pursue requires the same amount of time. Set goals that are:

  • Short range- 12 months or less
  • Mid range- one to three years to achievement
  • Long range- More than three years to achievement.

Also, use short-range and mid-range goals as stepping stones to reaching long-range goals. A long-range goal might be that end destination you envision but requires a lengthy journey to get there. The relationship between short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals is evident in the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” You are more likely to achieve long-range goals set when broken down into smaller “bites.”

Do Something

Despite the preceding discussion on the limitations of New Year’s resolutions, it is OK to set goals or make resolutions. The point is do something that will spur personal growth. If you are among the eight percent that can see resolutions through to achievement, then go for it. Keep in mind that resolutions are essentially short-range goals. Complement them with more ambitious, longer range outcomes. And, set outcomes in multiple life parts; do not zero in on a single aspect of your life and ignore others.

Good luck pursuing your goals (or resolutions) in 2017!

Plan to Plant the Seeds of Personal Growth

The time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my favorite stretch of a few days in the year. So many good things can happen- spend time with family, see friends, catch up on rest, and reflect on the year that is drawing to a close. One other priority for me during this time is to plan for the new year. What do I want to achieve? Are there changes I would like to make? How can I overcome obstacles in my way of a prosperous year ahead?

Chinese proverb

Planting Time

The Chinese proverb above crossed my path a few days ago. It could not have been more timely! If you use the new year as a time to plan a course toward realizing goals, this simple but powerful thought can be a reminder of the payoffs of using the present to start something new. Yes, twenty years ago (or twenty months ago or even twenty days ago) might have been better in that you could be further along toward what you want to be, do, or have. But, you cannot go back and plant- you can only control your actions now. Rather than lament about missed opportunities in the past, get off your butt (and Facebook) and take action. Please don’t be offended; I’m talking to myself. If the message applies to you, too, feel free to be impacted by it.

Weeds in the Plan

The new year is an ideal period for planting (i.e., laying out a growth plan). We must be careful about the environment in which we plant. Desired results might never be realized if weeds are present where we need to plant. What do these weeds look like? Some of the more common ones are:

  • Weeds of doubt. “I don’t know if I am disciplined enough to eat healthier to lose weight.”
  • Weeds of denial. “I don’t deserve the promotion to general manager- it will surely go to someone else.”
  • Weeds of disdain. “I can’t believe how lucky Steven is- money and success seem to fall into his lap.”

The “3Ds” of weeds are hazardous to our health. They can delay, if not discourage us to take the actions that will move you closer toward goal achievement. Doubt, denial, and disdain can be very persuasive in convincing us not to waste your time planting new seeds. In reality, the 3Ds sabotage growth plans by keeping us firmly entrenched in a comfort zone. Unfortunately, not much greatness occurs in comfort zones.

Plant and Grow

I plan to live this quote in 2017. Some people who read this might have been a young child 20 years ago. If you are like me and have far more than 20 years in your rear view mirror, the message is a call to action. Regardless of your current age, the time to plant is now. May 2017 yield great results because of your efforts to plant seeds for your success.

Make Time Work for You

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Image Credit: Gerd Altmann

The most valuable and scarcest resource I manage is time. Unlike money, relationships, and other key resources, the amount of time available is fixed. The bad news is that it will not grow—you will not acquire more hours in the day. The good news is that time will not be taken away from you either… unless you allow it. So, the challenge for maximizing time is not making more of it (that can’t be done) but rather make the most of available time. Is time working for you or working on you?

The thought I am going to keep top-of-mind this week is attributed to poet Carl Sandburg. His analogy of time being like money is a comparison with which we can relate. We would not grant others authority to spend our paychecks; why should we enable others to decide how to spend our time? Time maximization (which I prefer to time management) is an area of my life that is a work-in-progress. However, two practices that make a noticeable difference for me are setting priorities using a to-do list and having a morning ritual.

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Write It Down

The best chance I have of completing necessary tasks and follow-up actions is to write it down. The combination of being busy and getting older make relying on memory an increasingly ineffective project management system. Managing time occurs daily, but it begins by setting goals—what do you want to be, do, or have? Starting with the end in mind gives direction to how we spend our time.

My system for managing time using a to-do list is a two-step process. First, every Friday I spend 30 minutes or so writing down all of the major actions that must be done the following week—advancing a research project, preparing class meetings, scheduling meetings, and more. Mapping out the week before it begins gives me a feeling of being in control over my time. Even if I have a lot to do, there is a plan for getting it done. The plan is not always met or followed, but at least I have a starting point that orients how I spend time.

Second, the to-do list created before a new week begins is updated daily, adjusting priorities as needed. New tasks or obligations can pop up; allow some flexibility in your schedule to absorb unplanned additions. I have made the mistake of over-scheduling, not acknowledging realities like a surprise project from a boss or personal matter that needs attention. Give yourself room to breathe.

Start Your Way

Planning your day by writing down what needs to be done gives direction to your time. However, even the most carefully crafted to-do list can be derailed through no fault of your own. One way to guard against your time being spent by others is establishing a morning ritual. A great deal has been written about how successful people start their day. They can accomplish more in the first hour or two in the morning than most people get done in half a day.

The activities that make up a morning ritual vary from person to person. You set the agenda of what works to create momentum for your day. For some people, it is a time to knock out work when others will not bother them— reacting to emails and advancing work-related projects. Other people use their morning ritual for self-care. Reading, meditation/prayer, exercise, and personal creative projects are some of the interests pursued in a morning ritual that have nothing to do with work.

Two observations from my experience with a morning ritual are that consistency and preparation are keys to success. First, a morning ritual is most productive for me when I follow the same schedule. I recently came across the daily schedule Ben Franklin followed. He rose at 5:00 a.m. daily and set aside the first three hours for planning, reflection, eating, and study. Following a morning ritual becomes a habit, just as not following one is a habit. Second, the available time for the ritual is maximized when I plan the night before what to do the next morning. It would be easy for social media and other online content to consume the limited early morning time. A plan for how to spend that precious time window reduces the threat of such diversions.

Practice Time Security

We go to great lengths to protect our financial resources, but we often leave our time unguarded. I do not allow people to take funds from my bank account, yet I grant permission for others to make withdrawls from my time. I take Carl Sandburg’s quote on time as a call to strengthen time security. Make it harder for others to steal your time, including yourself. No one else has access to deciding how your time is spent like you. Be sure your time thief is not staring at you in the mirror.

Practice the Dance of Personal Growth

Wayne Dyer quote

In our quest for personal growth, we often lock in on the finish line. An unfortunate result is we can fail to realize the beauty, wonder, and joy around us. The “scenery” goes beyond observing physical objects. It  also includes learning the backstories of people, places, and things around us. The fruits of goal achievement can be rewarding. However, is it a hollow victory if we are so focused on results we miss out on some of the joys of the journey?

The quote by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer grabbed my attention. Dr. Dyer is one of my favorite thought leaders, so anything he said grabs my attention. This week’s One to Grow On quote is something I had not read by Dyer until recently. It stopped me in my tracks; I read it again and again to capture the message. It spoke to me. My goals and daily to-do lists are oriented to reaching a finish line, a certain place on the dance floor. They are essential for making progress toward the accomplishments I need and want to achieve. They also can hinder enjoyment of each step in the dance along the way.

Blinders

A realization that came over me as I reflected on Wayne Dyer’s quote was being goal-focused can be like wearing blinders. Goals orient us to look forward, even if it is just to make through today. Goal setting has positively changed my life, but I have not always enjoyed each step in the dance along the way. And, I know exactly who to blame: the guy in the mirror. I chose to put on blinders- “I don’t have time for that other stuff”- I often say to myself. That “other stuff” is called life, and I need to make more room for it. Thinning out that to-do list would be a great place to begin.

Enriched Growth

A mindset locked in on reaching a desired destination (goals) could be thought of as straight-line growth. You certainly can get where you want to go. And, you may get there faster with an obsessive focus on what you want to be, do, or have. But, that approach could be like setting a goal to visit a unique place like Paris, going to the Eiffel Tower, and leaving after five minutes because you have a full list of places to visit. Can you check off your list you visited the Eiffel Tower? Yes. Were you enriched by the experience? Probably not.

The quote by Wayne Dyer about enjoying each step in the dance is a call for us to pursue enriched growth. Instead of racing to cross off to-do list items, we must allow ourselves to slow down. Enriched growth comes from experiences and relationships. It adds an additional layer of benefit and meaning to knowledge gained or action taken.

Time to Dance

Reflecting on this quote is especially timely for me. I am attending a conference this week in a city I have never visited. I will see old acquaintances and make new ones. My to-do list will be as long as ever, but I need to build in one more item going forward: Be sure to enjoy each step of the dance.

Apple iPhone 7 and Status Quo Resistance

Apple iPhone 7 with Air Pods

A game that has emerged within the consumer tech industry is predicting development trends for the next generation of popular products. Will the next Samsung Galaxy have a larger screen? Weigh less? Include marked improvement in camera capabilities? This speculation and more is repeated for any product yet to hit the market, especially successful ones.

It was Apple’s turn to take center stage of new product reveal this week. The company unveiled the iPhone 7 nearly two years to the day that it first presented iPhone 6. Surprisingly, opinions about the new iPhone had more to do with product design than its price (starting at $649 for iPhone 7 and $769 for iPhone 7 Plus). While some design features like the dual camera lenses (one wide-angle and one telephoto) were widely lauded, others were questioned and even ridiculed. The feature ridiculed most was one not included in the design: headphone jacks. No more headphones tethered to a phone. Instead, iPhone 7 features wireless, rechargeable AirPods. One pair is included with the product, and they retail for $169 if bought separately.

Change for Good?

Let’s face it- a smartphone without wired headphones is a feature many of us might struggle to wrap our arms around at first. A user who is shall we say, organizationally challenged, could easily misplace their AirPods. Change sparks uncertainty, fear, and even mockery as evidenced by some of the reaction to iPhone 7 on social media (see a few examples below).

Tweet about iPhone 7

iPhone7 spoof

Is elimination of the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 meaningful innovation? Or, is it change for the sake of change? Will the new feature add value to the user experience. Or, is it more of a design feat driven by internal decisions at Apple instead of users’ needs and wants?

Status Quo Resistance

A recent study of US iPhone owners found 51% are interested in upgrading their iPhone to the latest model (although the study was conducted prior to unveiling of iPhone 7).  This finding suggests people are open to upgrading if they can be persuaded to make the commitment to the latest iPhone. The decision whether to adopt this product is no different than it is for any other purchase decision. It comes down to a marketer’s ability to shake up the status quo. Will prospective buyers be convinced that upgrading to iPhone 7 will result in a better, more satisfying smartphone experience? If yes, owners could be open to upgrading. If the answer is no or don’t know, the safe course of action is to stand pat and keep their current phone.

The marketing challenge of overcoming status quo resistance reminds me of an often-told story about a family holiday meal. Three generations were gathered in the kitchen preparing the meal. As the mother cuts off the end of a ham before placing it in the pan, her daughter asks why she always cuts off the end of the ham. The mother’s response was “I cut off the end because that’s what my mother always did.” She was in the kitchen, too, so the question was posed why she always cut off the end of the ham. Her response? “I cut off the end of the ham because my mother always cut off the end of the ham.” Fortunately, the family matriarch was also in attendance, so the younger generations asked her the same question. She revealed the secret: “I cut off the end of the ham because my baking pan is too small for the ham to fit.”

What does this story have to do with the Apple iPhone 7 or any other new product? It is reflective of consumer behavior. Many people do what they always do, perhaps even influenced by the behavior of a parent or friend. The behavior becomes rote; we continue it without evaluation of whether it is optimal. Better alternatives could exist, but hey, that would entail change and do we want to deal with the hassle of change?

I recall times when Facebook made significant changes to its user interface. Some of my friends proclaimed “I don’t like the new Facebook, so I’m out of here.” And they were… for a few days. Then, they overcame status quo resistance and adapted to Facebook’s new look. While there is a difference between adapting to a free online service and a smartphone costing hundreds of dollars, the underlying force of resistance is the same.

Time Will Tell

Time (and sales) will tell whether innovations in the latest iPhone resonate with consumers. Some skeptics have been waiting for Apple to fall on its face in the five-plus years since Steve Jobs stepped away from the company. It could happen with the iPhone 7. Or, we could be looking back in a few years laughing at ourselves for the times we walked around with white wires hanging from our ears.

The Value is in the Experience

Quote from Don Roy "Life is an experience, not a transaction."

I have been teaching in higher education for twenty years. It has been incredibly rewarding and truly a life changing experience. At the same time, it has frustrated me in some ways. The main source of frustration is a sense that many students miss out certain elements of value that attending college offers. Oh sure, they (usually) follow the list of prescribed courses that when completed will make them eligible to graduate. They check off their requirements like a to-do list. When all of the items on the list are checked off, they receive their diploma and move on.

The scenario I described plays out often at my university and virtually every other one. Many students lock in on completing the transaction that is a degree program and miss out on benefits that other elements of the college experience entails. I feel a sense of sadness for them. At the same time, their focus on the transaction opens my eyes to the fact I do the same thing in certain aspects of my work and life. Life is an experience, not a transaction. We must be open to having experiences while in the process of completing the transaction.

A Transaction Mindset

Completing transactions versus enjoying experiences is not an either-or proposition. Some aspects of our lives are suited for transaction consumption. For example, the process of fueling your car with gasoline has been reduced to a transaction. You pull up to the fueling station, make a payment (probably to a machine without having human interaction), pump the gas you bought, and leave the station. The added value that was once a staple of a full-service gas station now can be received elsewhere  (an oil change service or a tire store) if not a do-it-yourself task. We do not seek an experience from every action we take… nor do we need to.

When we have a transaction mindset, the focus is on goal completion- fill the gas tank, cash a check, or get through a day of classes. We’re so fixed on the outcome that we can miss out on other sources of value (benefits). One of the greatest missed opportunities is building deeper relationships with the people around you. A transaction focus can prevent us from getting to know more about the people around us. For example, I recently learned that a lady at my church  worked at my university for 29 years. I have known her for 16 years and spoken to her on many occasions, but I did not know this fact about her background. Her revelation served as a reminder that too many interactions with people are limited to transactions (e.g., greetings and small talk).

An Experience Mindset

Adopting a transaction mindset can help you accomplish what needs to be done. Unfortunately, it can occur at the expense of missing out on experiences that add perspective, bring joy, and become part of the stories of our life. Experiences add an extra layer of benefit, joy, or satisfaction to a task or transaction. In the world of brands, Starbucks and IKEA are renowned for the customer experience created. The transaction of buying coffee or shopping for furniture is transformed to a multi-sensory experience people will seek out and look forward to engaging.

In our daily lives, we do not need a Starbucks or IKEA to create experiences for us; they are there to be enjoyed if we will avail ourselves to them. I think back to my oldest son’s baseball team some twenty years ago. The team had to be the worst in terms of wins and losses for any sport team which our three sons ever played. One game was particularly brutal, with Chris’s team being on the wrong end of a 19-0 score. On the ride home, he blurted out from the back seat “that was a great game, wasn’t it?” My wife and I looked at each other with the same thought: Was he talking about the same game we just watched? He was because he found joy in the experience of playing baseball, regardless of the outcome of the game (transaction).

Move Beyond Transactions

This week, the goal is to not limit focus to transactions. Look for experiences that come with transactions to get more benefit and fulfillment from the daily steps taken in the journey.