Literally, billions of dollars and millions of hours of time are spent every year trying to determine the best way to attract, keep and urge a customer to purchase, use, and recommend a company’s products and services.
But to undertake the process properly, comprehensive and wide-ranging (and sometimes expensive) commitments in both time and budget are devoted to numerous intensive activities like researching customer behaviour, collecting and analysing vast amounts of customer data, profile segmentation, determining customer long-term value (LTV), conducting and collecting customer surveying information, social media campaigns and tracking, customer profiling, SEO & keyword searching, training employees to be responsive to the needs of customers, etc.
That is all well & good — but what if there is another way?
A better, more efficient, more customer-embracing way to accomplish the types of outcomes company executives desire with their customer base.
An idea comes from the world of comic books.
More to the point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Now sure, you are saying to yourselves, “They’ve made several films (and television series on Netflix) that have grossed billions of dollars over the past decade, entertained billions of people all over the world. So how do I go about replicating that type of retention and customer “buzz” within my business unit at my company? I don’t have a ‘Hollywood entertainment franchise’ to help me leverage and sell my product!”
While this all may be true — but there is one unique point that has stood out to me after watching some of the recent MCU films — and you may not even realise it at first.
Its called the post-credit cutscenes.
Let me explain – You’ve spent two-plus hours sitting in your seat at the theatre watching a Hollywood Marvel Studios blockbuster…and film ends…and people continue to be glued to their seats — to watch the entire closing credits – and more importantly to the customer, the post-credit cutscenes.
Why is that? More importantly, ask yourself, why don’t people watch the credits of other movies? What’s so special about Marvel that keeps people in their seats to the very last frame of the film?
Marvel has done an excellent job at changing the expectations of the customer — rather than trying to adapt to the needs of that customer, they have shown them a “different way” forward. They have provided the “value” in terms of not only further entertainment possibilities from extra content — but more importantly compelled the customer to change their usual expected behaviour because there is something to be both gleaned and gained from adapting to a new behaviour.
Now some of you still may be sceptical — as you don’t see how a radical idea like this can be applied to the “widgets or flanges” you hawk to your customer base in “the real world.”
But other companies have successfully managed to do it too – and very successfully.
Imagine someone asked you a decade ago to pay a standard yearly fee to get items you’ve already bought delivered to you in a more expedient manner (of course, it’s Amazon. Amazon has built the opportunity out even further – using it as a platform to further integrate and intersect with the lives of their customers on multiple fronts — Amazon Video, Music, Web Services, Whole Foods, Alexa, “Exclusive to Prime Members” offers, etc.)
They have taken an idea and grown out the business model to not only attract new customers, retain the existing ones, but also make the lives of their customer further enriched by the new opportunities presented to them over the time that they are paying members — often at their own provocation and recognition of the needs of their customers.
This is shown in the total value of Prime benefits has been pegged at $785 a year in value, according to JP Morgan analysts — not bad for something that costs $119/year USD — and with over 100 million annual subscribers worldwide, they seem to be very well from it — recently passing Google to become the US’s second most valuable company.
You happen to like to bulk shop at big box stores, so you willingly pay a yearly fee to do so (Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.) Costco is the second-largest retailer in the US, growing to over $100 billion in sales in just over 30 years.
Employees make more than $20/hour on average, keeping turnover among the lowest in the industry; customers love its unbeatable prices, and investors rave over its market-beating returns as the stock has more than tripled since the recession of 2008. Lest you tie all these efforts to the “power” of advertising, one of the keys to Costco’s success, and its profitability, is that the company spends next to nothing on advertising. Other than sending out direct mail to prospective members, and sending coupons to existing members, Costco does no traditional marketing at all.
Costco offers a range of products unlike almost any other business, including eyewear, wine, pharmacy, apparel, and electronics, allowing customers to maximize their memberships, and consumers overwhelmingly approve of the quality of the merchandise. They also love the little things about Costco, like the $1.50 hot dog and soda deal (it sold over 100 million hot dogs last year) and the free samples peppered around the store. Costco has had no problem growing its membership, and with renewal rates above 90% in the United States, it’s had no problem retaining members, either.
This is not a new phenomenon obviously — it has been happening for decades. One just needs to look at Santa Claus. It’s no coincidence that Santa Claus sports the same as the world’s favourite soft drink. Coca-Cola is the company responsible for popularizing the most well-known image of good old Saint Nick. Santa’s red and white suit is in fact based on the same colours associated with Coca-Cola and their branding.
Santa Claus was prominently featured in Coca-Cola advertisements since the 1920s and continues to be in today’s more modern features. They have continued to “own” Christmas by crafting the image of Santa in their own way every year over the decades – which the public has not only accepted but popularised throughout the modern-day culture as a jolly fat man with a big white beard and red fluffy suit — the exact imagine attributed to Santa by Coca-Cola back a hundred years ago.
De Beers diamonds helped popularise the need for getting a diamond engagement ring. The campaign was set in motion during a time when big spending was considered to be irresponsible. Instead of trying to work within the context of the societial expectations of the time, De Beers (and their ad agency) aimed for a more disruptive approach. But before trying to sell diamonds with an insane profit, De Beers had to monopolize and stabilize the industry.
Through extensive research and surveying of customer attitudes, De Beers determined that they needed to link the process of buying a diamond to an emotional experience. Their slogan, “A Diamond is Forever,” became a top advertisement in the United States and popularized the now standard practice of purchasing an engagement ring with a diamond.
What should companies glean from the lessons of these types of examples?
You must be willing to turn over the expected behaviour and try something different — don’t always follow the well-tread path that your competitors have already travelled – much to middling results and low expectations – particularly from your customer base.
There is a specific reason that Marvel has changed the paradigm of what is usually expected from companies to their customers and reaped the benefits from changing the expected root behaviour.
It takes work, you always won’t be instantly successful — but if you can manage to change your customer’s behaviour to something that works, not just for the company, but for both parties involved — you’ll certainly be on the path to long-term success.