Benefitting from a Change of Perspective

Maximize profits by understanding the needs of your customer

Imagine you are at a dinner party and a stranger next to you starts a conversation. It only takes a few minutes before you realize: “This guy is completely self-absorbed.” No matter how hard you try, every topic leads back to him. Soon, you find yourself making away. Guess what? You can find the same thing on the web sites that are egocentric, what means that companies are more interested in talking about themselves than solving customer problems. However, unlike the dinner party situation, your escape from a self-absorbed website is quick and painless.

So, to get success in business you will have to be an owner of an attractive, unique and above all, customer-focused website. I believe that customer focus is the essence of the web economy. The web changes the dynamics of the relationship between the organization and the customer. The customer is more empowered, more in control. Most organizations aren't focusing enough on the customer. Their marketing material might talk about how important the customer is, but the culture of most companies is organization-centric—they focus on themselves. The problem with this approach is that organization-centric websites fail. The customer-centric websites are the ones that succeed.

Being customer focused is not some ‘nice thing to do.’ Customer focus is about hard-edged business. Customers are hugely impatient on the Web. They don’t need to hang around a website that is not directly focused on them. Customer focus is the beginning, middle and end of a successful web strategy in order to create value for the customer. It means how useful the site for a particular user goal is.  The way the website is put together is critical in achieving this objective. In order to create value for the customer our primarily attention has to be focused on content and customization. To heck with product benefits or helping prospects and customers solve their problems – the narcissistic website dwells on the company’s spectacularly engineered offerings, their superior manufacturing techniques, the brilliance of their people, the company’s offices. Is there a place for bragging? Sure, but it’s secondary to the customer’s issues. Too many websites forget this.

When you consider that the average visitor has an attention span measured in seconds, and that he scans the web instead of reading every word, a narcissistic website has the same effect as a narcissistic tablemate: it turns people off.

In contrast, an intelligent website doesn’t leave a visitor stranded, searching for the customer benefits of the company’s products or services but it:

  • Provides clear statements that are customer benefit oriented
  • Supports its claims (often using customer and third party support)  
  • Proactively addresses potential objections
  • Ushers the visitor into a dialogue
  • Let’s look at a very simple before-and-after example

Let’s assume we are at the website of a paint manufacturer of interior and exterior residential paint. Behr paint is known for their extensive range of available colors (over 1800 colors are represented in their paint swatches and samples with over 4000 colors available overall). Their target market? Home Builders. The homepage leads off with:

"Since 1947, Behr paint has manufactured more than 4000 varieties of colours. What’s the Behr difference? State-of-the-art technology – including the latest techniques of producing ecological paint – along with superior raw materials to ensure the highest quality."

Sound good to you? Where does the customer fit in? 

“Want a new look for your home? BEHR enjoys great brand presence and a reputation for unparalleled quality, innovation, value and performance. BEHR was recently awarded “Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Interior Paints” by JD Power & Associates. People know and love the BEHR brand.”

 “Whether you are looking for red for your living room, green for your frontage or purple color fitting your new bathroom, no other company offers a wider selection, higher quality or more ecological-friendly paints than Behr.

“Independent tests show that using Behr paint you do need as much as 35% less paint, while significantly increasing the duration of a fresh look of your newly painted walls.”
Download a white paper with the detailed test-results. There is also a white paper on the impact of paint on the health of humans available.

This time, the copy speaks to the interests of the customer. Customer problems – and Behr’s solution – stand front and center. Note, I still referred to the Behr's superior product quality. The difference here is that the reference is now linked to customer benefits. 

Imagine a paint buyer visiting two sites: one with the first copy, the other with the second. With the first site, the buyer learns a little about the company, but not enough to differentiate it from the competition. And not nearly enough to understand, and appreciate, the benefits of doing business with the firm. At the second site, the buyer learns about the company’s wide selection, fast delivery, exceptional production speeds and lower defect rates. All strengths he can quickly grasp. What’s more, the white paper provides third-party support – validation – for the company’s claims.

A Survey of Graphics, Visualization and Usability (GVU) Center of Georgia Technology Institute showed that the provision of quality information is the most important attribute of a vendor’s site. In addition, the greatest cause for customers to leave a site is not being able to find the information they are looking for. While prospects and customers care a lot about the companies they deal with, they care first and foremost about their own needs. In this instance: “How will Behr Paint solve my problems?”

The evaluation of product information is not about passively viewing product blurbs. Instead customers seek out information and interact with web sites, and a business, to find out what suits them best. Useful interactivity focuses on the questions what the product offers them, how much it will cost, and how easily they can get it. The more usefully interactive product information is, the more the customer will use it. Mortgage calculators provide a good example of useful interactivity. To my mind, content is rich, when it provides something that other channels can’t. Often this means more detailed, in-depth information to support the buying process or product usage. However, often online product catalogues simply replicate what is in offline catalogues without adding extra information, images or example applications.

Behr initiated a trial visualization project, named “ColorSmart”, to help in-store customers with their color selection. The goal was to provide consumers with an easy-to-use, ‘point and click’ kiosk-based application in the retail environment that allowed customers to pick colors and experiment with recommended coordinating colors in photo-realistic room scenes. Their key objective was to help improve the overall in-store buying experience for customers, allowing them to make a much faster purchase decision, with satisfying results. In solving this visualization problem, Behr hoped to increase paint sales, shorten the selling cycle in-store, and reduce customer purchase anxiety, promoting sales and customer satisfaction. The Linux/PC-based kiosk application lets customers choose colors and apply them to walls and ceilings in photo-real room scenes. In addition, it recommends other coordinating colors and sheens, provides lightening or darkening of color tones, and then allows customers to print out the results. The application lets customers experiment with paint products in millions of combinations – in real-time. All visuals both on the monitor and printer are color-calibrated to achieve accurate photo renderings. The kiosk currently features Behr’s Premium Plus paint brand, which is sold exclusively through Home Depot stores with over 4000 colors, 5 interior rooms and 5 exterior rooms. Behr plans to continually update from this baseline with new rooms, alternative lines and products, including stain and faux finishing programs.
Results: The 6-week pilot produced results far exceeding expectations – recommended paint coordinates were tracked to purchase. They proved out that paint customers (and in-store staff) not only used the kiosk but enjoyed it! Most importantly, customers were purchasing recommended paints as specified by the application. Behr then has also launched a web-based ColorSmart application that allows customers to research color selections from home and print out visual summaries to take into their local Home Depot store. Color Smart improves the overall buying experience for consumers, by making the paint selection process easier and faster by enabling the customer to make confident color selections for his home decorating projects. (Winner of the Web award 2004 for outstanding achievement in website development.



The underlying concept is simple and an underlying marketing communications truth. The most effective marketing communications puts your customers and prospects first, not your company. By focusing on customer and prospect needs, you are more likely to fulfill your company's needs.  As obvious as this statement would appear, it is similarly obvious that many marketers don't really follow it. 


A Quick Check-up is going to help you to find if your company website is a narcissist one:

Pretend you are a customer visiting your company's website for the first time. Write down five key concerns you have related to purchasing these kinds of products or services or choosing a company that you feel (or marketing research indicates) reflects the key concerns of your target market when researching companies like yours. Spend up to one minute at your website. Close the browser. How many of your five key concerns were addressed? How well did they address your concerns? A brief amount of copy addressing a key concern and a link to more detail is fine; no mention of these concerns is not. Did the web page copy get to the heart of your concern or was it focused on the itself instead of the prospects needs? Use what you have learned to further test your website in front of real prospects and customers. Find out their most important problems they are hoping your website will help them answer and re-design your website around helping them.    

In order to be successful in the future, companies have to find out what their web visitors want and start thinking of their web site as a communication tool, rather than a printing press. In do so; companies are well on your way to true online customer centricity. It’s your choice: propaganda that only ends up stroking your company's ego or profits. 


1 Kommentar 31.1.09 14:50, kommentieren

Topic: Digital Software Distribution

Statement / Thesis: Digital Software Distribution is becoming more and more important to the computer and entertainment industry. All companies related to the topic should act now and deliver working solutions within the next month. 1. Technical Development As described in the Microsoft research „Being Human“1 the computers developed from big mainframe systems in the 1960s to personal desktop computers in the 1980s. As the technical development went on the machines got smaller and more powerful resulting in the mobility era in the 2000s. This era of computing - and the near future - are the points the focus will be on in this assignment.  
Graphic 1: Trends in mobile era, mid-picture from „Being Human“1
 Nowadays there are two clear trends concerning the technical development2. First, computing moves towards small devices and gadgets, phones are becoming quite impressive computers already and the size of gadgets is not necessarily mean a device is not usable. The second aspect is that people have access to information technology almost wherever and whenever they want. This is an interesting aspect especially for companies, as they can gain an even higher customer-connectivity through permanent connection to the user/customer. Think e.g. of facebook3: with mobile applications for facebook people are even closer to this social network and tend to use it more often. It will be even more integrated in everydays live. This „being connected“ is important for the digital distribution of content as it means that customers are able to consume it anywhere and anytime. To explain why digital distribution is interesting for companies and why products (which were normally shipped on a data medium like a CD or a DVD) are nowadays or in near future distributed via the internet, the Long Tail Theory is looked at in part 2 before getting closer to Digital Distribution in part 3. 2. Long Tail Theory Like mentioned above many products are distributed digitally. The main reason is the price and the speed. It is clear that companies try to have the cheapest possible solution to distribute content. On the other side the customer gets the content faster (not necessarily cheaper). But why is it so interesting to distribute so many different things? To explain this, the Long Tail Theory is quite interesting. Normally, niche products are hard to sell. E.g. special interest books or music are hard to find in a normal shop. For conventional businesses or shops the costs are often to high because they have to pay staff and expensive sales area. The Long Tail Theory describes the possible niche strategy of businesses, especially internet businesses. The idea is to sell a large number of different, unique items, each in relatively small quantities, but all together the enormous number makes a good turnover. Exactly there the digital way of selling and the internet as marketplace comes into action. Amazon for example did exactly this by selling all kinds of articles, even those products customers could never find at Amazons competitors. As a result, a big profit is achievable. To sum it up one can say that the internet as a channel can offer a variety of products with much lower costs on the supplier side. 3. Digital (Software) Distribution So far the focus was on regular products which have to be shipped. Only the channel and sales process was digital yet. But what about products that can be distributed digitally? All of the mentioned products are already available fully digital. Mp3- downloads replace CDs, video-downloads make up for DVDs, e-books can be an alternative to the paper version, video games can be downloaded via own channels for all the major systems. And software? Software can be downloaded often from the producing company itself - but what is missing here is a centralised platform for different software from different producers. Something like the Amazon Music Download or Apple's iTunes Store concerning music, videos and TV-series.
So what is the trend with digital distribution for software? Is there a chance for a platform? The answer is that there is already a centralised platform for applications. After introducing the iPhone in mid of 2006, Apple didn‘t want third parties developing native applications running on the iPhone (the only planned online applications in the browser). Due to the hacker scene and the fact that the iPhone OS4 was hacked and applications could be installed directly on the device, Apple was forced to do open the OS to external software-developers. To mange the software available for the device, they started the AppStore which is available via the iTunes Software on any PC or Mac and directly on the iPhone itself. Developers can produce all kinds of applications (with some restrictions, e.g. no sexual content) and upload it to the AppStore. A fair 70/30 regulation ensures 70% of the revenues for the developers, 30% stays with Apple for running the system and marketing purpose. Of course customers have the advantage, that they only need the AppStore for getting software. Due to the digital distribution the prices are moderate - for example if one compares the price for a game from the AppStore to a similar game on a classical videogame-system (e.g. the Nintendo DS) which comes on a physical medium, the price for the game from the AppStore is much cheaper. A further advantage is, that software is available anywhere and anytime. Even directly from the mobile phone software can be loaded via mobile data services. Altogether, Apple already brought a cheap and more important global and easy distribution for software. This is especially interesting for small developers with niche products or just small applications. Thinking on the last end of the tail (compare point 2, Long Tail Theory), also products for special intents can be sold globally with financial profit. To sum it up one can say that digital software distribution will get a big market in future as the amount of technical devices will grow and because other big players as Microsoft announced application platforms as well. What will be interesting is the question, if there will be a platform offering „real“ applications for PC and Mac or even other systems like Linux. The main topics for that are, if a company like Apple or Microsoft can convince big software companies to publish their desktop software and if there will be adequate DRM5 to prevent companies from piracy. As mentioned in the statement it is absolutely necessary for companies to be aware of the digital distribution now - it will be one of the main topics in computer industries and no one can afford to ignore it - not without an enormous cause of losses and power.

6 Kommentare 23.1.09 20:50, kommentieren