The firm as a great listener… Do businesses underutilize reverse channels?

In marketing, we frequently discuss distribution channels (how a manufacturer gets something to a customer to buy) but I rarely hear conversations about  reverse channels, which we can think of as the way a customer gets something to the manufacturer.

As marketers and business leaders, I think we are missing out on a large opportunity to: engage with customers, build brand equity, hear the customer voice, get ahead of trends, and create more sales opportunities through greater number of customer touch points.

One straightforward way of using a reverse channel is to recycle products when the customer decides they want to replace it.  DELL does this with their computer/electronics recycling program, and I think it is great.  Not only does it encourage environmentally conscious customers to buy new DELL products, but it creates brand equity with these customers who are rightly led to believe that DELL cares about the environment.  But this isn’t the only way in which a reverse channel be used.

Reverse Channels Facilitate Dialogue

In this information age that we are living in, channels also serve as the means for information gathering and sharing.  In the same way a manufacturer’s forward channels serve as a means for educating customers about product information, a reverse channel can serve as the means for customers sharing feedback about the products with the manufacturers, for example.  Customer service/support is an example of a reverse channel that almost every company has, but I still think marketers are under utilizing reverse channels.

Consumers use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools to have a dialogue with each other, and brands use these these tools to talk to consumers, but I feel like the digital-marketing conversations I hear these days are focused on how brands can effectively communicate a message to their target audience.   I propose that marketers would be wise to also focus on the reverse channel, both physical and digital, so as to facilitate a two-way conversation.

Reverse Channels Add Value Pre and Post -sale

Reverse channels can serve as the means for sharing product feedback with the manufacturer after they have purchased and used the product, but couldn’t customers use a reverse channel to share ideas for new products that they want but that are not currently offered for sale?   In a sense, a reverse channel could be used to augment product development functions.

The Firm As a Great Listener; Not Just Great Speaker

To me, what this all suggests that smart firms will try to be great listeners as well as great story tellers; and we should think about how we can create reverse channels that provide the means for us to efficiently hear the customer voice.

Facilitating Customer-to-Customer Dialogue

Lastly, eBay goes a step further by enabling its customers to speak with one another.  eBay does not serve as an intermediary between these conversations, which act as free advertising and promotion.  To extract further value from this kind of customer-to-customer communication channel, I think it makes sense for the brand to strategically design the communication channel so that it can efficiently harness and mine this information.  The brand could perhaps monitor customer sentiment and get ahead of market trends.

Target’s “The Everyday Collection” campaign

Last week, Target introduced “The Everyday Collection” campaign, where groceries and everyday items are highlighted in unique, funny, and attention-grabbing ways. There were four TV broadcast spots that premiered during the Golden Globes.  A cowgirl dominated diaper duty, while one model took changing a light bulb to whole new heights—both award-winning fetes in our opinion.

But this isn’t where the story ends.  The smart marketing team at Target is hosting a Tweet-to-Runway show—the first-ever online runway show inspired by everyday tweets.   Consumers can tweet about items sold at Target, and Target marketers mine these tweets looking for inspiration for an online show.  Pretty clever and fun way to engage your customer with the brand, I say.

The Tweet-to-Runway show is at 1 p.m. EST on Jan. 24.  Check it out here:

Why do we believe what we believe?

I was watching a story about a guy who pretended to be a guru, and successfully attracted numerous followers. The reporters interviewed one of the followers, who admitted something very interesting.  She said “I wanted to believe he was a great guru”. This struck me because I have been thinking about the power of our own states of mind and how this shapes our thoughts.  We all agree that for many things, perception is reality. We believe 2+2 =4 because it can be proven, but so much of what we encounter and choose to believe is a function of what we perceive. We can’t know everything for a fact, so we must choose what to believe is truth. As a result, I am extremely interested people’s perceptions and how they are manipulated. An actor for example could pretend to be a doctor, and I might believe him to be a real doctor.

But, going back to what that woman said, I find it very interesting that what we perceive, is a function of both what we want to see or what we want to be reality, as much as it is a function of how well the actor plays a convincing doctor.  In the case of the guru and this follower, she wanted to believe that a guru and wise master existed, and that she was fortunate to know him, and that following him would lead to her happiness; but the guy was also a good actor.   The question in my mind is what which force was more influential…her desire to believe or the actors ability to portray, convince, persuade, etc.

In another example, I think about how a person might think that it makes sense for a doctor to be confident and borderline arrogant, and as a result would not believe an actor portraying a doctor who behaves or speaks insecurely.

So, what is the takeaway?  I think there is two.  The first is that–to avoid being swindled by a fake–we should be aware of our desires to believe in something, and how this clouds our judgment.   The second takeaway is that if we want to be convincing, we should consider what our audience wants to believe in and portray this.

Dodge Dart television commercials

Quick-witted, energetic and amusingly excessive, Wieden + Kennedy’s TV campaign for the Dodge Dart has quietly become one of the most entertaining on the air. Now, agency and client are bringing some of that fresh perspective to the social space with the Dodge Dart Registry, an online program that lets friends and family buy bits and pieces of the vehicle for you—much like a wedding registry allows them to buy you housewares.

AdWeek article posted January 23, 2013


The Dodge Dart television spots are great.  They are memorable, believable, and entertaining, but the online registry part of this campaign is what is really clever and smart because it:

  • will lead to viral marketing via social media,
  • reinforces the Dart brand image of innovation (all the Dart broadcost spots, the Dart product design, the way it was promoted, and now the way you can buy the car, are all innovative)
  • will lead to greater market education of product features (consumers who create and buy from the registry look at the car in terms of it’s individual parts)
  • will maybe even lead to people buying cars in this way.

Pretty darn clever!

Tired of humility in television interviews

Sport athletes and coaches, generally give the worst interviews.  They always give some uber politically correct explanation for their success or performance.  Why can’t someone just be real, and say, something like “today I just had a good day” or “I was in a groove” or “this is what I get paid to do, so it makes sense that we are good at it” or “Today was awesome, I am awesome, and I love being awesome”.   As a consumer, I feel like it is more motivational to hear something like that because I would feel like maybe I can achieve and enjoy awesomeness too!   Hearing a coach or player say something like “yeah, I am just really lucky to be here” is so disheartening because it makes me feel like life is completely left to chance.  This doesn’t provide any hope!

I feel like public relations coaches advise athletes to speak super humbly because they think television viewers will otherwise see them as undeserving of their multi-million dollar salaries that they are fortunate to have.  Nonsense.   Since when did the american people become so soft?  Life is about doing well, competing, working hard, and winning.  And if you do that here in America you are rewarded, so why can’t we just recognize this and let this truth flow through into the way we speak?

Advertisements and media should call us out on our own bullshit.

Government Solutions Group gives consumer brands an alternative marketing medium

Government Solutions Group (GSG) helps cash-strapped state parks hook up corporate brands to sponsor public park improvement projects, providing brands with the opportunity to demonstrate the brand’s values to its target consumers.  Below are my takeaway’s from the AdAge article that reported on the GSG and its recent partnerships with Coca-Cola, Odwall, and Juicy Juice.

Odwalla’s and Juicy Juice’s campaigns were smart and good, but Coca Cola’s achieved something even greater in terms of brand engagement.  Coca Cola’s campaign actively involved the consumer as a partner in the brand’s effort.  Such “playing on the same team” I think results in the consumer developing a deeper connection to the brand.

These campaigns make the most sense I think because they are obviously reinforcing the brand’s values, which are shared by their target audience, but the also make sense from a numbers perspective.    In sponsoring these environmental projects, the brands affect a physical space that will be visited by their target consumer for years.  Eventually the same number of eyeballs will see the work of the brand in these environmental projects as are seen in a superbowl ad, but the dollar cost will be far less as well.  For $350,000, these brands are spending far less than they would on a 30-second superbowl commercial.

Bottomline for me though is that the brand is communicating more effectively with their target market that the brand’s values are the same as those of their target consumer.