Who has the mastery of ‘customer intimacy?’
Question: Last Friday, you dealt with the issue of what a company should do to get a customer intimacy program started. We learned from what you diagnosed and prescribed. But we’re concerned not just with starting but also with sustaining.
We’re in the service marketing of three restaurants; one in each of the three categories of fine dining, casual and fast food. We believe in what you said that service marketing is more prepared for customer intimacy and relationship because we’re marketing an experience.
We have our own customer intimacy program but we follow a different strategy. One of your columns described what we’re doing as “strategy by analogy.” We searched for brands that were most successful at customer intimacy. From business associates and Google, we came up with two successful brands—Harley-Davidson and Apple.
We learned that these brands were able to get their customers to tattoo their brand on their shoulders. So we made that the gauge of our attaining customer intimacy. In our customer feedback card, we asked our regular and loyal customers if they’re ready to tattoo our resto brand. We started doing this in 2010. We haven’t gotten a single volunteering customer. Those who spoke asked if we were joking.
Can we please learn from your own examples of a brand or brands that have attained and sustained customer intimacy with their market?
Answer: Since your question is more about sustaining, rather than initiating customer intimacy, then you should include in your analysis brands that have been around just as long as or longer than Harley-Davidson and Apple. And that’s Coke.
Marketing history narrates that in 1985 and in celebration of its centennial year, Coca-Cola decided to replace the classic Coke with a new Coke. A community of some 100,000 old Coke drinkers organized themselves into the “Society for the Preservation of the Real Thing” and won a court case against Coca-Cola. This forced the company to restore the classic Coke. No consumer movement ever came close to that expression of customer intimacy with a brand.
Was that behavior of the loyal Coke drinkers the “high involvement” behavior in my last Friday’s column? It certainly was high involvement, but it was much more. It was more like the behavior of the devoted faithful of a religion. So religion is the “brand” where you will find the ultimate in sustained customer intimacy.
So let me answer your question in the name of my “brand” of religion, Catholicism, and according to my experience of it in this country. Let’s learn from how the Catholic brand gained and, more importantly, sustained its customer intimacy with its loyal devotees in spite of its many seasons of darkness. Over more than 2,000 years, the Church’s goodness has managed to overtake and exceed its darkness.
First, how did the Catholic brand gain its customer intimacy and what kind? Qualitative and observation research indicate that the start was a sense of high involvement. What you hear from those who felt this way were feelings like this one: “I like it here. It’s quiet and I pray what others pray. I don’t like it when it’s too noisy with singing that’s too loud and frenzied dancing.”
Then there are those who say this: “I come and hear Mass, and am happy to receive Jesus at Holy Communion on Sundays. On weekdays, I try to love even those I dislike. I try and often succeed, but frankly speaking, fail more often.”
Then with repetition from one week to the next, an almost sudden transformation took place in many, though not all. Here’s what you hear from those who wanted to talk: “I belong here. I like the intense preaching that precedes the Mass. The priest who celebrates the Mass gives inspiring and not boring homilies. I’m with a small group. We meet once or even twice a week where we talk about our ministry and advocacy. It’s my family now.”
So where did that transformation come from? It came from attending “The Feast.” And surprisingly, those speaking were the same “customers” who wanted quiet in their Sunday devotion and the routine religious duty during their weekdays. After several weeks with The Feast and its ministry co-servants, the “noise” and dancing at the Sunday Feast celebration were more than accepted. They were adopted with fervor.
The sense of high involvement became a sense of belonging and dedication. It’s a higher-level need everyone has. It’s a need that religion is especially good at providing and satisfying.
Just consider the Catholic brand’s service line that is felt over the lifetime of a Catholic: from womb (with Baptism) to tomb (with Extreme Unction). The Feast takes care of the needs for fellowship and bonding.
So if you want customer intimacy that has customer devotion and dedication, try what the Catholic brand in both its Church and The Feast together have been able to do in this country. My marketing colleagues at La Salle tell me that this is “the power of the brand.” That’s a logical flaw. It’s an incorrect attribution of a cause to an effect. The power of the brand is an effect and not a cause of customer intimacy.
Keep your questions coming. Send them to me at [email protected]
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