Book Review of Can't Buy Me Like - How Authentic Customer Connections Drive Superior Results by Bob Garfield and Doug Levy (March 2013)
"If you are still selling goods and services by blanketing the world with advertising, trying to persuade or entertain or flatter consumers into submission," Bob Garfield and Doug Levy explain, "you are doing things all wrong. Because the world has changed. A lot."
We're now in the Relationship Era. The authors believe that the important qualities for every company to have are authenticity, trust, loyalty, and pride.
Fifty years ago, The Beatles sang that money can't buy you love. Today, consumers are swamped with ad campaigns and marketing slogans. If Lennon and McCartney were writing the song's title today, they might have chosen "Money Can't Buy You Like."
Business owners have to see all of their stakeholders as friends, the authors believe. That includes customers, prospects, employees, and suppliers. If Garfield and Levy were writing about the software development industry, no doubt they would include eCommerce companies, copywriters, download sites, press release professionals, Internet marketers, industry trade associations, and trade show organizers in the list of important stakeholders.
"In the Relationship Era, brands can no longer project the image of their choosing."
The authors believe that there are four forces that are changing the rules of marketing: First, mass media is costing more and delivering less. Second, the Internet has made it impossible for businesses to buy the image and reputation that they want to project. Third, social media sites have turned news into conversations. Fourth, trust is at least as important as quality and price.
Quality and price are no longer enough. Reputation matters.
The authors tell us that we can't make a gradual shift from the Consumer Era to the Relationship Era. We have to change our focus immediately, and adopt marketing methods that meet today's needs.
There was a time when you could turn a huge advertising budget into product sales. Today, it's much more difficult.
The Consumer Era ran from 1965 thru yesterday. Consumer Era TV ads no longer work cost-effectively. Nearly half of the people in the US have DVRs, and many industry experts believe that they're skilled at ignoring advertising messages.
"Genuine relationships are built on equality, not subservience," Garfield and Levy tell us.
Money Can't Buy Me Love
The authors cite a problem with "buying love." They suggest that we type "I love Apple" into a search engine. You'll find a few million hits. By contrast, swap out "Apple" and see how many hits you'll find for people who profess their love for Citibank, AT&T Wireless, ExxonMobil, and Dow Chemical. These four companies spend a combined $2 (US) billion each year on advertising. The Beatles were right: "Money Can't Buy Me Love."
Consumers judge you by your actions, and not just the quality of your product or service.
"...doing business in the Relationship Era has many requirements. Ethical conduct. Seamless customer relations. Constant contact and cooperation with all stakeholders, including not just investors but also employees, suppliers, distributors and retailers, neighbors, governments, and the society at large."
The authors believe that you don't need to advertise. You need to amplify the word-of-mouth advertising that good companies naturally get. Organizations must entirely retool to accommodate the Relationship Era. It has to happen right now.
This conversion "means attaining full understanding of social media, most especially Facebook and Twitter, not as channels for sending out ad messages but as virtual salons for sharing what humans share: observations, discoveries, ideas, concerns, interests, opportunities, and just plain cool stuff of mutual relevance."
The authors cite a recent Nielsen survey. Trust in TV and magazine/newspaper ads dropped 23 percent in just three years. By contrast, the trust level of word-of-mouth, online reviews, and publicity gained through press release campaigns (earned media) is 92 percent.
The most basic level of trust is that your software will work as described, and that you will stand behind it if it fails to deliver what you've promised.
Because there is so much information on the Internet, today's consumers know about - and care about - how a company conducts its business. You have to behave well to get customers to buy from you.
The most admired brands thrive because of a loyalty loop of trial, satisfaction, and advocacy. These firms are profitable because they can get the word out without spending a lot of money on advertising.
Trust starts with credibility. Most companies strive to be credible. Trust is a huge asset in the Relationship Era.
Your Purpose Matters
In the Relationship Era, marketers need to have a purpose, and to be clear about it. The purpose entices people not just to buy the brand, but to join it. People want to join brands that conduct themselves well in the public arena.
The authors talk about United Airlines' attempt to get customers to buy their services. United had a long-running advertising campaign in which they urged people to "fly the friendly skys." In 1987, they started a 25-year ad campaign that featured TV advertising with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue playing prominently in the background.
Despite the moving, uplifting music, the authors tell us, United's service got uglier and uglier. "High fares and surcharges. Shrunken schedules, Surly, mistreated employees. Reduced services. No pillows. Pay-as-you-go food. Fees for ticket changes. Fees for bags. Fees for child escorts. Lost luggage. Long waits and a litany of petty humiliations."
Billions of dollars of Rhapsody in Blue brought in the paying customers. But one incident in 2008 changed everything.
Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell had a very unpleasant experience with United. A United employee was seen throwing the duo's musical equipment onto the tarmac. United declined to take responsibility for damaging the guitars or to pay for the damaged equipment. So Dave Carroll wrote a tune called "United Breaks Guitars" and posted it on YouTube in July of 2009.
"Correlation isn't necessarily causation," the authors explain, "but in the aftermath, United's market capitalization fell 10 percent."
You have to have a purpose. And your actions have to be consistent with that purpose. You can no longer tout the wonder of your company, behave badly, and retain customers.
In the Consumer Era, the goal was to claim that your brand had a bunch of features and benefits that made it a good marketplace choice. Today, you have to engage people with the purpose of your brand. Prospects need to hear about your purpose and vision, and not just about the features and benefits of what you offer.
It's no longer about positioning, the authors tell us. It's about inspiring people to join your brand. Success comes when people believe in your brand's authenticity.
I'm not so sure. Formica is a successful brand because the very word is what people think of when they talk about any type of laminated kitchen counter. Scotch Tape is a successful brand because it's the term that many people use to describe cellophane tape, regardless of the name of the manufacturer.
The authors, by contrast, point out that KFC uses Twitter to "sell, sell, sell" while Krispy Kreme uses it to "engage, engage, engage." It's easy to find examples of old-school companies who continue to use Consumer Era sales techniques and who are failing. And it's possible to find examples of forward-thinking firms who use Relationship Era techniques to succeed.
The Bottom Line
I'm not certain that everybody in the software development industry should abandon traditional marketing techniques immediately and fully embrace engagement as the predominant way to attract and retain customers. Don't ignore everything that you've learned about software marketing and blindly embrace Bob Garfield's and Doug Levy's ideas.
It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the authors. They make a powerful argument for moving in a new direction. Their book is an easy read. It's entertaining. Their ideas are based on well-researched examples. Check out "Can't Buy Me Like" and think about how their ideas can boost your software sales.
Buy it Online
Can't Buy Me Like on amazon.com