Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Markus evans on customer customization and relationships

Markus Evans is certainly not your typical Brit. Anyone coming with notions of reserved, introverted and otherwise distant people will come to a shock. After all, being the regional director for the Middle East for OgilvyOne, Evans knows that the secrets of good communications: It all starts with the aggressive handshake – which, even though he has never seen you – make you feel he is already your buddy and it goes uphill from there. Evans drops some words to which he goes back frequently during the interview. One of them is “relationship” – and he talks about them better than Dr. Phil could ever do - the second is “customer customization” – and he is an expert at that – and the third is “Harley Davidson” - and instead of having visions of John Travolta and Company in Wild Hogs (i.e. Amateurs playing at bikers goofily) one look at Evans convinces you that he is the real deal. Trying to take charge of the conversation is Evans is a difficult task. He is after all, too forward, too knowledgeable and too interesting to have his sentences cut by questions. He begins by explaining that OgilvyOne is all about “insuring maximum engagement from the part of the consumer, it is all about one to one interaction, from the classic direct marketing which includes flyers, mail etc…. to new penetration into the digital media of Short Message System, emails etc….” Evan’s theory is that people actually want to hear from brands, and that everything at this point is geared towards “user generated content.” He gives the example of Swedish car manufacturer Volvo saying “if one gets a flyer by mail about the technical specifications of Volvo, even though that person is the perfect target audience, most likely he will toss it away. But if that same individual is offered to test a Volvo for a weekend and then is being asked what he thought about it, he will definitely give his input, tell us what was cool about it and what features he liked and what others he wanted improved. If he is given the possibility to upload that content on a website or be part of a forum he will jump on it immediately.” Evans continues “and it is way cooler for the customer to discover what is interesting, updated and new about a certain product that for the client to spoon feed him that. He must self-identify with the product and all of this is done not just independently as OgilvyOne but rather are part of an extended network of the Ogilvy companies including Memac, and our PR arm, our branding solutions, etc….” “In order to establish a relationship, people must feel that you genuinely want to reach out to them. For airlines for example, ask them if they prefer aisle seats or by the window ones, do they want a veggie meal, do they want to check online, are they interested in a discount at the destination hotel, or about the car booking…. Most of all, the process is intended at empowering the customer. And at the same time, the client – which in this case is Gulf Air – would have the right ammunition to target you with compelling communication.” Evans goes back to develop his concept of relationships and says “basically, if you engage with me I can deliver and be a good partner in the relationship if I know your needs.” Actually, when we address the client as OgilvyOne we say “forget the legacy, if you wanted to start a relationship now and today with your customer what would the ideal conditions for the relationship be. And we go one from there to compare the current ambiance of the relationship to the prospective and ideal one and make the necessary corrections to reach as close as possible the utopic conditions.” However, old ways of connecting and classifying consumers do not work any longer. Eventually “new divisions will have to be made, not according to age, gender and old criteria. A customized solution will have to be improvised that gathers consumers into groups through their needs and aspirations away from old socio-economic classes. This will allow the brand to anticipate needs and be proactive rather than retroactive.” Evans continues his argumentation by saying that in the end “we exchange better service with information and all of this is done through cost-effective media. The basis of a relationship is transparency; we need to tell the purpose of the survey and data gathering for the prospective customers. Those simple pieces of data serve to change the behavior of our client, of how he presents himself and the product whatever that product is.” Evans argues that “the process is worth it for the consumers when they realize that the consumer relationship has grown on trust, and when they receive better customized service, they will be ready to submit more data at a later stage. Naturally, we will not bother them with questions every week, but rather two or three times a year only.” In the end, the logic is simply for Evans “for the consumer, no one is more expert on you than you, and you are your own favorite topic of conversation” – naturally, this does not apply to Evans whose passion is other people apparently. Evans then goes on to detail the “positive Reinforced Behavior” model whereby after an initial approach from the client the consumer feels the difference in service, therefore his skepticism is inversely proportional to his new acquired level of satisfaction, and in effect the customer whose expectations from the process were so low finds himself pleased with the end result that he starts spreading word of mouth about the product in question. But Evans always goes back to “customer customization” as the ultimate solution, he gives several examples such as Harvey’s in Canada which serves an infinite combination of hamburgers and Starbucks which gives such an individually tailor-made coffee that every person can have his own coffee. “Starbucks offers a different subculture. An umbrella brand with many derivatives from music to coffee to organic seeds to fair trade to relaxed shops. It offers an image of social responsibility and so customers can self-identify with the brand and project their own values on it,” he notes. When confronted with the example of Levi’s which has tried to customize jeans on the net and ended up closing the website for financial reasons, Evans remains undeterred and says that “Levi’s mistake perhaps is that they did not know exactly who the audience which would have paid a premium price for the customization and offered it to a lot of people who were not interested.” He goes on to talk about Nike and the way they offered each individual the ability to stitch any word of their liking on the sneakers, naturally, I gently reminded his of the man who wanted the word “sweatshop” stitched – and he smiles rectifying me that in the end “the Nike problem was not of customization but of brand image.” “Today brands are in paradigm shifting propositions. For car manufacturers for example, they know they are facing increasingly complex consumers. The needs of mid-thrities middle-income families with two children are as diverse as their musical tastes. So for cars, sometimes these people need family cars, but in the weekend when the wife and the kids are away the father might need a small sports car. In the end the consumer wants a means of transportation that gets him to work during the week economically, safely and comfortably, but the needs might differ during certain days. So a company like Ford which has a huge spectrum of cars can adapt to such a client. But focusing on usership v/s ownership, many schemes can be created by paying a certain annual premium whereby the customer can have access to a different category of cars for a limited time of the year. In the end, perhaps the customer will have only one gala dinner per year, and he will therefore need a luxury sedan. My personal research shows that Rolls Royce depreciates by 1,800 Pounds a month…. So through understanding people’s needs many brands can come up with economically viable customizations.” Evans concludes. At this point, serious off the record talk about Harley Davidson begins between the author and Evans.
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