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February 2016
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April 2016

March 2016

EQ Heights: a business built for loyalty

In Houston, we have hundreds of coffee shops competing for customer loyalty. Starbucks has a strong presence and Dunkin' Donuts is coming on strong, but in the old inner-city neighborhood called The Heights, locally-owned cafés rule. Here's the story of how a new coffee shop carved out a loyal following.

A New Orleans transplant, Kevin Blasini left a corporate career in the energy business during the boom times, looking for a happier home in the coffee culture, and a place to hang out with his neighbors. He wanted to know all his customers' names.

To build a sustainable business, Kevin differentiated his café using his personal values, while carefully selecting a location that matched. Then he called up the "power of AND" and conceived of a place called Equilibrium Social House:

  • a walk-up cafe in a walkable neighborhood AND reasonable parking
  • areas for socializing AND areas for working quietly
  • healthy AND indulgent food
  • coffee and tea AND beer and wine. 

Functionally, the coffee, food and atmosphere had to be as good as the five other highly successful cafés in that neighborhood. But the emotional benefits had to be different. This unique customer experience is based on

  • architecture that echoes the historic Craftsman-style homes in the neighborhood
  • speaking to the interests of the residents with home-grown art, music and intellectual pursuits
  • opportunities to get to know other people who are related by both place and interests
  • adventurous chances to discover new products, ideas, and people.

Now known as EQ Heights, Kevin's business thrives by attention to the individual interests of a group strongly bound together by culture. At the same time, it's so welcoming to strangers that many sales people use it as a place to 'perch' between calls. Truly, it's a place that's found its equilibrium.

CustomerThink: Emotions Rule Customer Loyalty Index, 2016-Feb-22

“The consumer engagement process today is more dependent on emotional benefits... than ever,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys.... "To succeed, marketers need to accurately answer these questions, ‘what drives my category, what are the emotional engagement values I need to focus on, how can my brand exceed consumer expectations for those emotional values?’ To their detriment, most brands can’t.”


To create loyalty, you must first be memorable

To create customer loyalty, we have to provide good experiences, but it's even more important to provide memorable ones. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that we form our memories based on the peak and the end of the event. Even if the peak was agonizing, the happy ending can cement customer loyalty. But really, it's more reliable to have a good peak and a good ending together. 

To help people appreciate a room or a building, architects want to provide not only a pleasing or exciting total experience, but an emotional peak, a surprising recognition of an exceptional detail. With its extraordinary handling of the wood in walls, doors and custom-made furnishings, Brochsteins supplies that experience, earning the undying loyalty of both architects and their customers. 

Houston Chronicle: Woodworking company still solid after 80 years, 2015-Oct-30 by Miles Kruppa

Large commercial clients commission Brochsteins when they want to create signature styles that clients and customers will remember, [Brochsteins president Steven] Hecht said.

Image from Barn Images,

Word of Mouth is becoming less ephemeral, more even-handed

While there's a great deal of evidence that customers are more likely to complain than endorse a service to their friends, the rise of social media marketing may be causing shifts. 

Ipsos, a leading research firm in the area of loyalty and customer engagement, has done solid research that shows customers are just as likely to share a good experience as a bad one. I suspect it's a result of brands prompting their customers to post good reviews, and related activities. 

Social media marketing has made it easier than ever to share one's opinion about a product or service. Instead of waiting to share our frustration at dinnertime, customers can immediately post their reaction, creating a permanent record. Word of mouth is no longer ephemeral. 

Ipsos: Consumers Share Positive and Negative Experiences Equally, 2016-Feb17

There’s both good and bad news when it comes to how consumers act when they use a brand. When a negative experience occurs, irate consumers may tell their friends and family and potentially even post a rant on social media. However, new research from Ipsos Loyalty reveals consumers are equally as likely to promote positive experiences in the same way.

The survey covered seven sectors and assessed more than 10,000 “critical incidents,” which are defined as moments of truth in the customer experience that can make or break a relationship. Overall, it found that 52% of consumers who had a bad experience told their friends, family, or colleagues about it. Yet surprisingly, more consumers (56%) indicate to have shared a good experience with others.


How we can wake up a profitable customer segment

To make our marketing messages more relevant and engaging, we have no choice but to segment our audience and produce the very best story for each segments. Here's a great example from See's Candies. 

Yes Lifecycle Marketing: Reduce Customer Attrition and Improve Purchase Rate... Just Like See's Candies, 2016-Feb-19 by Anthony Pauley

Yes Lifecycle Marketing conducted a thorough Marketing Opportunity Diagnostic and took a deep-dive into See’s Candies customer base to analyze their data in order to identify and understand each customer segment. Through this exercise, See’s Candies was able to see where they had the most opportunity to grow revenue and reduce customer attrition. Furthermore, it led to the validation of three known personas – Mom, Grandma and Great-Grandma - and the creation of two new ones, their best customer persona and a previously unknown male persona.

After identifying the male segment as a key growth area, See’s Candies and Yes Lifecycle Marketing developed multiple messages using subtle variances in copy and imagery. What they found, was that the copy that incorporated urgent, yet simple messaging had the strongest conversion rates.

The copy of the email indicated when the customer would receive his purchase (or when the Valentine’s gift he’s planning on purchasing would be delivered), how many days were left until Valentine’s Day, and where they could find the nearest store

The initial results showed:

  • 4% increase in open rates
  • 25% increase in purchases

Avoid the spam filter with powerless communication

Whether or not the spam filter screens the message, our brain will screen out messages which are very dominant or pushy. The ad industry has been leaning so hard on "you" for so long, we need to be careful about using it in commanding ways as well. And we definitely need to show vulnerability and ask more questions. 

Powerless communication includes... 

  • saying 'you' more than I or we
  • using a tentative voice
  • asking questions
  • conveying vulnerability
  • sharing advice from others

Learn more about the approach from Adam Grant:

Litmus: How to Write Emails that Sell: An Analysis of Influential Language, 2016-Feb-17 by John Bonini

Become part of the small percentage of sales emails that utilizes powerless communication, expresses uncertainty, and deflects the focus on the customer.

Photo by Jinx McCombs (jinxmcc) on Flickr