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I’m always on the look-out for smart brands. Brands that bring something new to the table or brands that do an amazing job engaging their Zealots. When I first stumbled upon Warby Parker I knew they were someone to take note of.

What’s Warby Parker?
HTOWP is a vintage-inspired eyeglass company based in New York City, known for their online sales program. While selling eyeglasses online doesn’t seem like the smartest business model, WP has thought it through. As a potential costumer, you simply pick out 5 of your favorite frames and WP ships them to your home for free. Your instructions? Wear one pair each day so the people who see you the most can give you feedback. Then, pack all 5 frames in the box and mail them back – shipping covered by WP. If you found a pair you like, simply order that frame with your prescription and the glasses will be custom-made for you. Sounds like a pretty pricey product, right? Not at all. Each complete pair of glasses costs $95. Plus, for each pair purchased, one is donated to someone in-need. Talk about making your customers feel good!

Get Social
Warby Parker has a strong social presence – both on and offline. When WP sends your Home Try-On kit, you’re encouraged to share pictures on the Warby Parker Eyewear Facebook Page. So not only can you to get feedback from your friends, but you can get feedback from the WP community as well.

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For those of you addicted to 140 characters, give WP a Tweet. Even with an average of 3592 Tweets to @WarbyParker each week, they do an amazing job of interacting with their followers. Here’s my friend’s interaction with WP. In fact, it was her posting on Twitter/Facebook that first introduced me to the company. See? Engaging your Zealots truly pays off.

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WP has also thought about their more traditional customers, making their frames available in 12 showrooms across the US as well as on the traveling Warby Parker Class Trip. Visiting 9 cities over six months, this school bus full of frames is touring the US, with members of the WP team posting pictures of their journey along the way. Simply put, this campaign it’s buzz-worthy and fun.

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After all this research about Warby Parker, I think it’s about time to get a new pair of glasses. Stay tuned.

Much is written about dealing with customers at the front end of a relationship or transaction. Now there is evidence that an open and liberal return policy also has a tangible payback.

Most people have a built-in “radar” to detect how someone feels towards them. Seemingly insignificant words or gestures can have a large impact. For example, with a return policy based on the goal of minimizing fraud, customers will emotionally detect that they are not trusted. Conversely, if the company’s underlying assumption is that customers are honest and fair – and that when they need to return something they have a genuine problem – then their policy will make customers feel cared for and valued.

A research study recently published in the Journal of Marketing reflects the longer-term financial impact of return policies. And it’s not good for those strict policies. Customers who paid for the return of a defective or unwanted items decreased subsequent spending at that retailer by 75 – 100%. On the other hand, retailers who offered free returns to their customers saw subsequent spending by those customers at 158% – 457% of pre-return levels.

Short-term actions have long-term consequences to your Zealots. Zealotry actions should demonstrate ongoing “appreciation” to customers.

Let’s think about typical marketing examples that do just the opposite. Nickel-and-dime charges. Fine print exceptions. Exaggerated promises. In every research group we’ve conducted, participants voice their disdain over such practices. If the goal is building loyalty, ignoring these fundamental issues while spending heavily on so-called loyalty programs is not only wasted dollars, it is counter-productive.

Julie Schlack of Communispace says it well: “True loyalty exists when a company has made its customers feel safe, appreciated and smart. These emotions are the anchors that will keep your customers close whenever the next guy comes along with a better deal.”

Guest Relations Marketing has long advocated a more personal, authentic and cost effective approach to igniting your “Zealots.” Coming in January, we will be launching a program that any company can implement. An authentic alternative to traditional loyalty programs. One that builds loyalty the right way.   Stay tuned for ZealStorm. Get ready to ignite your Zealots in 2013!

With Hurricane Sandy devastating the Northeast last week, I find myself clicking through photo albums of the destruction, curious to catch a glimpse of what these people are going through. Studying the photos, I can’t help but think of my experience living in Tuscaloosa last year when a massive tornado leveled so much of my beloved town. When I think about the weeks – and months – after the storm, the destruction isn’t the only thing that stands out in my mind. I remember the groups, individuals, and brands that swarmed the city to help those in-need.

Imagine being without electricity – totally disconnected – during a time of destruction. You’re unable to turn on the TV and check the status of your city. Unable to read the news on your laptop. Unable to pick up your cell phone and text your friends and family. That’s where Duracell stepped in, setting up PowerRelief mobile charging stations near areas of destruction. Whether it’s Tuscaloosa, AL or Battery Park, NY, Duracell provides a free place for individuals to charge their electronics, use computers with internet access, and watch live TV news coverage.

After a natural disaster, roads are littered with nails, glass, and sharp wooden shards. Whether it’s your car or an emergency truck making its way down the street, avoiding a flat tire is nearly impossible. BFGoodrich Tires offered assistance, setting up an emergency repair station for individuals and emergency vehicles whose tires were punctured driving through areas of destruction.

During a time of devastation, the Tide Loads of Hope station rolls into town, bringing with it more than 32 energy-efficient washers and dryers. Families drop off their laundry and the Tide crew washes, dries, and folds the clothing for free. Why does Tide do this? “Because, as we’ve learned, sometimes even the littlest things can make a big, big difference.”

For these brands to offer assistance in times of need simply makes sense. These aid stations fit organically with each brand and are undeniably beneficial for the victims whose lives have been directly impacted by the storm. Not only that, but they are infinitely valuable for a brand’s reputation. Whether it’s media coverage of the generosity or the brand’s ability to help a few thousand people – and along with it create new brand Zealots – the benefits are through the roof.

Just look at me. Duracell, Tide, and BFGoodrich stick out so vividly in my memory, I’m telling you about them right now. If that’s not Zealotry in-action, I don’t know what is. Hats off to the brands who are offering their aid during times of need. Do you have stories of other brands who have offered assistance? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Regardless of your political preference, the movie 2016 about Barack Obama’s rise to the Presidency provides a great example of discovering and building brand positioning. Like him or not, Obama is a clear example of understanding and mobilizing “Zealotry support.”  The producers offer a great, real life lesson on how to discover and build a brand with Zealotry following, including: linking the “why” of past behaviors
  • who are the parents (or founders of a company)
  • what was the environment and influences
  • what has been said and written from the leader (or CEO)
  • where is the priorities in money and hiring being placed

Discover the basis behind those questions and you are well on your way to a smartly constructed brand platform.

“Zealotry Marketing” is about creating programs that have a primary goal of generating referral. If referral is the best indicator of long-term profitability, then it made sense to us to use that as the starting point for creating marketing programs. Not merely looking at referral as an indirect end result.

This has led us to a revolutionary perspective on blending the classic marketing principles with today’s hot social media. And, heresy for old-school practitioners – the idea that the most effective marketing may well come from operations and service delivery.

This is the story of Zealotry Marketing: where loyalty begins with a company exceeding a customer’s expectation. An approach that can be engaged through any company and doesn’t require so-called marketing pros. It does require a sensitivity and commitment to exceeding customer expectations. Guest Relations Marketing believes Zealotry Marketing transforms the traditional loyalty equation.

What are you doing to create Zealots?

“I don’t need 15 or 20 customers coming in my store.  I need 100s.” A retail store owner explaining why he was dropping our program.

It was then I realized I was a reformed ad guy.  I was fighting for a targeted marketing program for this upscale niche retailer.  And, he wanted a mass media ad program.  In a former day, I would have delighted in his words and been excited to create such a program.

Instead, that was the moment I realized I had truly gone to the “other side.”  To Zealotry Marketing.  He wanted faceless bodies.  We wanted to build passionate supporters – Zealots.   And, what he wanted was not the right answer.

“I need numbers –  I just need more customers – our people will be able to sell them if I just get them in the store.”

Respectfully, I said “No.  The right 15 to 20 ‘guests’ will be better for your store.” He shakes his head in disdain.

“Why?   They will embrace your store and the reasons you carry the type merchandise you do.  They will value your “value add”, not just be browsing because of a deal that they saw in an ad.  A deal that you offered below cost, by the way, to attract these 100s in the first place.”

“But, here’s the real rub.  The right 15 to 20 customers – they will return.  And, because they highly value what you offer, they will tell their friends.  And, some of those will come to visit.  So, in time we will deliver the 100s, only they will be attracted to your store for the right reasons and are willing to pay for it.”

“Well, you may be right.  But, I don’t have time to wait for that.  I gotta have numbers now.”

We shook hands and departed.  Last I checked, his mass “numbers” approach had not helped his store avoid treading water financially.   So, much for the short term solution.

There are very few quick fixes in marketing.  Most mass media campaigns do not return a positive ROI.  Most referral-based programs do. It’s simply a matter of when.

At heart, great brands deliver a distinctive experience that is personal and can motivate referral.  Zealotry Marketing is about creating programs and touch point channels that encourage such referral.  And, mass media can play a role.  Whether it is communications, service or product, when the program focus tips to mass versus personal, the ability to create Zealots diminishes.  The basis of referral is a one-to-one action.  The basis of creating a sustainable referral program is Zealotry Marketing.  It’s not a quick fix.  But, it is a sure, and profitable fix.

I’m about creating winning programs.

Maybe, that’s why I’m a self-confessed reformed Ad Man.

Seen at an local indie coffee house – a blackboard wall that people write their favorite sayings/graffiti – quite interesting!  Contrast that … at a Starbuck’s – a similar blackboard wall with chalk writings – which upon further reflection are all about how great Starbuck’s product is.   In other words, it was a fake graffiti wall carefully written by Starbuck’s.   So much for “organic” … or authenticity.

What happened to the Starbuck’s that focused on experience and not constantly selling you?  Another big brand gone bad?

What do you think?

Frequent buyer programs are frequently misdefined as loyalty programs.   Zealotry is not about “frequency of purchase”.  Your best Zealots may not be heavy spenders or most frequent customers.  But, they remain extremely valuable in terms of referral.   True loyalty is earned by the brand, not bought by frequency of purchase.  Read on …


Let’s just get this straight once and for all: There is no such thing as brand loyalty. Each of us likes certain brands and may even love them. We may buy them most of the time, or perhaps even every time. But the idea that we have a true bond with any brand, like the kind of commitment we have in real life with our friends and family, is a farce. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to create that kind of loyalty; most of us tell ourselves that’s the end game and it’s always important to aim high.

What it does mean is that we should take a harder look at how we go about creating what we call loyalty. We need to admit that coupons, discounts, points and prizes are just beanbags. We ought to spend more time thinking about the stuff that really matters to people, and serve that up each and every day.

That means products and services that really and truly solve problems and help people live happier lives. Providing a helping hand when someone really needs it, and smiling because we truly mean it. It’s not because the customer is always right (nobody’s perfect). It’s because it’s up to us to make it right. We may not get the same kind of loyalty we enjoy with our family and friends, but we’ll have more fun, and so will everyone else. Loyalty is what we make it. Your thoughts? ~ Tim Manners, editor.

It finally hit home for me.

We often get into passionate dissertations about programs to delight a client’s zealots, enlist new ones, create more distinctive experiences. Very often we are cut off with the comment, “I just need more sales.” I often feel deflated and walk away wondering is creating zealotry actions really just a mirage and at the end of the day is it really more important to “get more sales?”

Well, Stan Stainaker of Hub Culture, writing in the Harvard Business Review bloglines has reaffirmed my commitment to Zealotry Marketing. Stan talks about the idea of regeneration instead of growth at all costs. He notes that processes, capabiliites and new offerings are another way of growth. And, like cells, some die away, while others grow or prosper.

In fact, isn’t that what zealots want to hear? They don’t care that you are growing at all costs. They care that you are nurturing, expanding and delivering on those points that are vital to why they are zealots in the first place. So, redefine growth. Think “regenerate”. Regenerate your business consistency around your most passionate customers – your zealots. They will get the word out.

Read Stan Stainaker’s article

A startling example of the effect of being relevant and engaging in social media.

The original news stories related to “United Breaks Guitar” – a story about mishandled baggage (and customer service) involving a guitar:

Sampling of You Tube videos on the story received the following viewers as of mid-August:

Fox News Channel: 142,000

CBS: 25,000

CNN Situation Room: 19,700

But, get this! The musician who owned the guitar took his story to song (and a YouTube video) when United didn’t respond to him in a timely manner.

In his own way, this musician parodied the whole story in song – a less than flattering portrayal of United’s baggage handlers and service reps. The views to his video: 5,005,000. That’s right. More than 5 million viewers. Comparison point? CBS Evening News averaged about 6 million viewers for 2008. My Name is Earl – season-ending show last May drew about 4.8 million viewers. Imagine … getting your gripe (or plaudit) across to as many viewers as a network evening broadcast?

People watch and read what interests them. Even on-line.

Watch the video:

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