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As published in today’s HSMAI e-newsletter for May 2009 – as written by our own Michael D. Tyre, Managing Partner, of Guest Relations Marketing, also a HSMAI Georgia Chapter Member.

As people, our character is not necessarily tested when times are good and everything seems to roll our way. It’s tested during the tough times, when you continually strive to do the right thing, but for what seems like no real effect. But, that is when you prove to yourself and other people what you’re really all about. Make no mistake, 2009 is one of those times.

Same goes for brands. When business is great and everyone is on the bandwagon, it’s easier to overcome blemishes. Now, with business and the economy down, it’s real easy to delay programs, cut services, put product improvements on hold. But, make no mistake. The character of a brand is being tested.

Then there is Publix. The Wall Street Journal says “”Publix is always at its best when the economy is at its worst. Competitors are now cutting back or contracting, and that’s when Publix sees the most opportunities for expansion.”

Customer service is considered the key to its success. Though short-term profits are down, Publix has eschewed the typical short-term cuts prevalent at most companies.

Publix was recently named to Business Week’s top 25 companies delivering customer satisfaction. According to Business Week: “It takes coordination from the top, bringing together people, management, technology, and processes to put customers’ needs first. Technology is leveling the barriers between alpha companies and also-rans, making great customer service one of the few ways companies can distinguish themselves.”

Even though its short-term profits are down, “Publix is staying at full staffing levels and lowering prices in hopes of keeping its existing customers happy and attracting new ones.”

That last sentence is insightful. Their first objective is keeping existing customers happy. Our, put another way, make sure their current “guests” remain zealots about the brand. That, by the way, is not just a customer service issue. It is the first tenet to building a superior marketing program.

Targeting zealots is the surest and most effective marketing approach. It is 5 to 10x more costly to win new guests than to retain existing ones. Dell found their customer “zealots” are worth 50% more to them, than their average customer. Harvard Business Review has shown that the number one measure of profitability is the degree customers refer the brand.

Our own research has shown that zealots can outperform the typical “heavy spending” hotel guest by 50%. How? Those passionate about their experience(s) will spread the word an average of 4.2 times in the hospitality category. That is free and very credible marketing at work.

Some quick ways to start delighting your guests and convert them to zealots:

* Define your targets in non-Expedia terms.

* Build pricing buckets and value – based on season and experience.

* Have a dialog with your guests instead of eblasting them. Social media is a terrific vehicle in that regard.

* Build programs from the perspective of your guests.

* Integrate. Through all touchpoints. Yes, you’ll have to collaborate with operations and F&B and even accounting. Sorry!

Building your brand through zealots is not only perhaps the most economical means of fundamental marketing, it is the surest path to long-term sales success.

Who are your Zealots?

© Copyright 2009 Michael Tyre served in senior management positions for leading advertising agencies, before founding Guest Relations Marketing in 2006. Tyre was selected as one of “25 Most Engaging Minds in Hospitality” by HSMAI in 2008. Tyre authored the innovative “zealotry marketing” approach through Guest Relations Marketing, culminating more than a decade of research and strategic brand work for such hospitality clients as The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Mauna Lani Resort, Hotels & Resorts of Halekulani, and West Paces Hotel Group. His passion is developing programs that create more zealots for clients. Tyre is a zealot for Apple and the Atlanta Braves among others.

To learn more about Zealotry Marketing and Guest Relations Marketing visit Contact: Michael Tyre, Guest Relations Marketing

Phone: 404-343-4377



Twitter: @findingzealots

Business Week published their third annual rankings of the top 25 brand leaders in customer service, an insightful study with a myriad of different ways to dig into the findings. So dig we did.

Interestingly enough in this tough economy, this years top 25 scored  higher overall than those brands featured in 2008. Perhaps this can be credited to the brands who have focused in on their most Zealous supporters & loyal fans. You’ll notice a very important point-in-case as to why “customer satisfaction” and “likely to recommend” are not one in the same. If you click to sort by the top rankings in customer service, you’ll get a far different assortment than if you click to sort by likeliness to recommend. And this difference can help us to see the difference and power between our Zealots and our supporters.

Publix is a fascinating study in the Business Week survey.  They rank right along Lexus, the Ritz-Carlton and and Jaguar, yet they deal with a much more diverse and mass customer group.  To maintain high ratings against the sheer volume of customers is indeed a tribute.  Yet, in terms of referral, they are significantly below Trader Joe’s.   Why?

Perhaps Publix has not honed their understanding of who their zealots are and what drives them.  It’s easy to say that low prices is the reason Trader Joe’s gets great referral rating, but most conversations about Trader Joe’s doesn’t go far without “Two Buck Chuck” – their low price wine.  The story isn’t just the price, it’s that it’s okay for “discerning” wine drinkers.   It’s a natural made “let me share a tip with you” story.  What is Publix story to its zealots?   They undoubtably have some.

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