October 21st, 2014


Connecting with the customer ...

I was very excited to get Scott Stratten's new book, UnSelling: The New Customer Experience, having requested a review copy from the good folks at Wiley as soon as I'd seen Scott talking about it online. As regular readers recall, I've read all of his previous releases, and UnMarketing has been one of my go-to books to familiarize folks (who have been living in caves) with the general concepts of Social Media.

I may have been oblivious, but this is the first book that I've noticed has credited Alison Kramer as a co-author on the cover … the Amazon listings of Scott's other books (and the revised edition of UnMarketing) list her as a co-author, but poking through the “Look Inside” view, she's neither on the cover, the title page, or in the copyright … which I find slightly odd. I know that Scott's been crediting her with involvement during their podcasts, etc., but as far as I can tell this is the first time she's “in ink” (although still not credited in the copyright … but that might be “a Canadian thing”).

This book is an easy read, being split up into 60 chapters, each only being a few pages long, making each topic “bite size”, and perfect for consumption on public transportation! Most are based on “stories” of Social Media … or “Customer Experience” (as per the subtitle) … being done well or (more frequently not) by various companies and organizations. One thing that is notably different in UnSelling is that there's a “model” being floated. Scott's books have generally been off in a grey zone between “philosophy” of Social, and rants-in-print about clueless practitioners. However, it appears to be de rigueur for any guru putting out a marketing book to come up with their own “system” about how things work, and I guess that Scott (and Alison?) decided that they were falling behind not having one of their own.

Hence the “UnSelling” model. Now, I want to point out that the authors don't beat the reader over the head with this concept, but they do return to it every now and again, so it's important to “get” in the context of the book. Here are a couple of bits where this starts to get framed:
UnSelling is what happens when you understand the humanity of your market, produce a quality product, and create experiences that lead to trusted referrals. UnSelling means stepping back from the funnel and focusing on everything else but the sale. …
In UnSelling you will see how your experiences as a consumer matter and shape your choices and the choices of those around you, and you will see that your experiences as a business matter and can change industries and create growth. In UnSelling, good experience is good business.
To preface the UnSelling model, first marketers need to breakout of “Funnel Vision” … the traditional concept of the “sales funnel” (and assorted new permutations of this). Stratten cites figures that “60 percent of all purchase decisions are made before customers enter your funnel”, and points to Sprout Social's research that “74 percent of customers {rely} on social networks to guide purchase decisions”, with consumers checking with as many as “20 resources before making a click through to purchase decision”.

The key concept in the UnSelling model is called “Pulse”, and it's represented as a graph like what would be traced out by a heart monitor. The background is divided into three bands: Vulnerable - ”where people are most open to competition”, Static – this is the main zone in which the customer and the brand interact, and Ecstatic – where you find “brand fans and ambassadors” (“Static customers exist, but ecstatic customers refer. We should be doing everything we can, every single day in business to move individuals into this space.”). The graph is further defined:
Each point of contact between the brand and individual is called a pulse point. This is where we can measure the relationship between the brand and its market at any time. Because there is no such thing as a neutral brand experience, the line is always moving.
Except that it can also stop moving … or flatline, this is when brand experience has become sufficiently bad that the consumer walks away from it.
When the bottom falls out on pulse, we see a flatline. This is the definitive end of the relationship and an opportunity for competitors. The flatline is very important in solical media because it is extreme. Extreme experiences, both good and bad, are always shared the most online. When a flatline happens, people will take to social media … to share their horror stories.
The pulse points are determined by two sets of influences, external factors, forces from the brand (not within control of the individual), and internal factors, which are the customer's purchase decisions and reactions to the brand, and these are broken down into “AIM” – Aspiration, Information, and Motivation.

While I was being a bit snarky up above when I noted they return to this model “every now and again”, I don't think I'm being unrealistic. Once the UnSelling/Pulse model is sketched out, the book largely shifts to Scott telling his stories … which are, of course, delightful and/or horrific. Now, I've been an “UnMarketing consumer” for quite a while and have heard Scott talk in person, on video, and via podcast, as well as reading his blog posts, tweets, and Facebook entries (not to mention having read and reviewed his three previous books), so I've had a lot of opportunity to have been exposed to his favorite examples, and I have to admit that a lot of the “case studies” here are at least somewhat familiar. From the heart-warming story of how the Ritz-Carlton rescued a young lad's favorite stuffed animal (and created a whole “vacation story” of what said critter had been up to in its absence), to the equally heart-warming story of a developmentally disabled kid whose whole childhood (really, it could have been that bad) was saved by some Disney staffers making an extra effort to make sure he had the Star Wars experience that he'd fixated on, to Scott's journey through Hell with Delta (or the rage-induced “Detla”), which through some fast response turned him into a fan … I've heard them before. Of course, these are “big finish” stories that I'm sure he tells regularly from the convention dais, but a sense of “what else ya got?” is likely to creep in a bit among his fans. This is not to say that there isn't a wealth of horror stories that made the “UnAwesome” side of Awsome/UnAwesome such a festival of schadenfreude, and fun examples of organizations using social in delightful ways (like the York Regional Police responding to a Twitter-scheduled drug deal with “Awesome! Can we come too?”) … but you do sort of feel the struggle to balance re-using "core material" with moving forward with new stuff.

Towards the latter part of the book, another concept, the “pivot point” (where the pulse line changes directions dramatically) is thrown into the UnSelling model mix, with examples of “successful companies {that} were not afraid to make big changes when presented with industry and technology shifts” ... with Scott amusingly comparing what these various organizations and company founders did, versus his response to similar triggers.

Again, UnSelling is an entertaining and informative book, but could have been better with a bit more focus. As interesting as the “Pulse” model is, the book wasn't structured to support it, rather being much more about “The New Customer Experience”, with the Pulse stuff being a particular frame for that, but hardly being the definitive element (i.e. had this been a book titled Pulse: Achieving the Ecstatic, Avoiding the Vulnerable). Of course, maybe that's Scott. Maybe he doesn't have the hubris needed to issue an “I Am A Marketing Guru And This Is My System” book that would take itself seriously cover-to-cover. That's not a bad thing, but in this case the two poles of the book never seemed to develop a central stable theme. UnSelling came out just a few weeks ago, so it should be out there in the brick-and-mortar booksellers, and the on-line big boys have it, of course, at about a quarter off of cover price. Generally speaking, I really liked it, but then again I'm a Stratten/Kramer fanboi … still, if you have any interest in marketing, social media, and related niches, you should get quite a bit from picking this up.

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