Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Be Useful

'Ask not what your customers can do for you - ask what you can do for your customers.' - Stan Rapp.

In headier days, we set up brands as objects of worship. Check out this little souvenir of 2003. See? Some of us actually used to say things like that. Sheesh.

While this recession has been a royal pain in the backside, it's brought folks back to reality. With a wholesome thud. To today's Frugal zeitgeist, worshipping a brand sounds like a waste of time and money. Frugal is not only practical - it's become chic.

Which plays havoc with a brand's topline: Premium lines take a nosedive; basic lines undergo extreme price pressure; purchase frequency dwindles, and impulse purchase.......well, what impulse purchase? Nightmare.

Brands' audiences have own their share of problems. Overwhelmingly, they will be trying to do more with less time and less money. They need help. And this is the key to cracking the recession code for brands.

Not to be an object of worship, but to Be Useful. That is, to provide value to your customers before they've paid you a cent. Being Useful is a way to solve your balance sheet problems by solving your audiences' problems first.

In 2007, Dell noticed an acceleration in consumers reaching out for PC help and advice. Rather than reach out to Dell, they reached out to family, neighbors and interest groups. Folks were comparing notes on faulty hardware, poor software instalations, patchy service, the best deals, you name it. Dell had lost it's voice in this conversation, and brand was coming off badly.

Dell's answer was to harness these disgruntled communities by becoming
useful for their needs: Dell's www.ideastorm.com provided a useful, and therefore valuable, platform for these communities to get advice, point out product glitches, suggest improvements, and vote for the most popular ideas. It's been a great success and key to Dell's turnaround in customer service and delivery. Starbucks - undergoing their own issues - later borrowed the same idea.

Being Useful - or Utility - is no flash in the pan. The economy isn't reverting to a more frivolous 2006 anytime soon. Utility is the new religion du jour. Go forth and Be Useful.

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