The top four business buzzwords used today define how sustainable businesses are winning customers in the 21st century. These four key buzzwords (in order) are:
These buzzwords are the building blocks upon which sustainable companies design products, operations and marketing. The following are best practices tied to these four business buzzwords that are proven to win customers:
Content is by far and away the number one business word. It used to be that advertising volume defined customer awareness. Today customer awareness is defined by what people are saying about your business and its product.
Content marketing is an outreach strategy that uses social media to engage the customer on the customer’s key issues. The best marketing content for a business is a satisfied customer posting on a positive experience. The worst content is a customer’s post that exposes your company as untrustworthy and your products as harmful.
Sustainably run businesses have a huge competitive advantage in content creation. The key market segments of millennials and moms are actively looking for price competitive “in me, on me and around me” solutions. A company that posts content on its price competitive solutions will engage these key customers.
More importantly, a sustainably operated company will win customer postings on their experience using the company’s “in me, on me and around” product solutions. These customer postings are the top business path today for winning new customers. For example, the majority of millennial generation purchases are based on third-party product recommendations — sourced from a complete stranger to the procuring millennial. Similar to “build it and they will come,” having a sustainable and price competitive product will generate invaluable customer-sourced content that will attract more customers and grow revenues.
Social is closely tied to content. Social is the collective engagement and sharing between your customers, and most especially, your potential customers. Social is what they are saying about your company and products without your direct participation.
The key business question is how to get customers and potential customers talking about your company and products. One sure fired path is to do something that is either really wrong or very right. Here are the top five product recalls in U.S. history and the social lessons-learned for how to win (or lose) customers:
- Tylenol. The crime of inserting poison into a Tylenol container while it sat on a retail shelf reshaped the product container industry. Johnson & Johnson had to immediately recall 31 million Tylenol bottles costing $100 million. What turned this from a disaster into an increase in Tylenol’s brand equity was the tremendous credibility Johnson & Johnson earned from aggressively removing Tylenol from retail shelves and then not restocking product until they had figured out a safer container. The social lesson learned is that customers will say good things about your company and its product (and buy your product) if your company acts responsibly.
- Ford Explorer/Firestone tires. Graphic pictures of horrific accidents swamped the efforts of these huge companies to “contain” the damage inflicted on their credibility and sales. This is my No. 1 supply chain coaching lesson on the value of green supply chain practices for minimizing operating and product risks. This product crisis resulted in Ford ending its historic supplier relationship with Firestone.
- Westland/Hallmark ground beef. This recall was sparked from a video posted by an undercover Humane Society person. Today, nothing is secret. Everything your company does will be captured on video through smartphones, and it will be posted on social media. Do right or perish under an avalanche of viral videos.
- Lawn Darts. This product endangered children. It was sold in the 1980s before social media. Can you imagine the viral YouTube videos if it was sold today?
- Sunland peanut butter. This product was recalled over product safety. There are now more than 2 million mommy bloggers. Sites like Care2 are followed by tens of million of women tracking human health causes and information on product safety. An absolute business best practice is NEVER sell a product that threatens the safety of a mom’s love ones. This is a lesson the fast food industry is learning the hard way.
Sustainability is directly linked to the top two business buzzwords of content and social. Sustainable actions by companies create the content that sparks social messaging.
Yes, a price discount coupon will generate a ton of social media hits for a business. But it is content generated by a company’s sustainable practices and then virally shared by consumers through social media that will win new customers searching for products that align value with values. The classic example is Patagonia, a company that generates $500 million annually in sales and is strongly followed by the millennial generation. Their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign set the bar on viral messaging tied to sustainability.
Transparency is the marketing path for winning customer trust. Or, as a Walmart executive defined transparency, “We are all naked. So get buff.”
A transparency challenge for many companies is the economics of doing right. A failure in government policy from not assigning a price or tax to externality costs like obesity, diabetes and climate change is a huge challenge for CFOs — who allocate capital based on an economic return on investment. Social media is radically challenging ROI decision-making based upon increased transparency on the total cost to the consumer from buying a product. Customers are looking past the retail price to assign a value proposition on a product that includes the externality costs it places on the consumer.
A dollar-menu item is viewed as costing much more than a dollar to an obese person with diabetes. Moms are looking past price to evaluate products based on how they impact the wellness of their loved ones. The millennial generation was born into climate change. They view the lower greenhouse gas emissions of an urban lifestyle and use of digital products as “cool with a purpose” alternatives to cars and suburbia. Transparency is the mirror into which all businesses must look to win customers who are using social media content in deciding what to buy and from whom.
Image credit: IMN Marketing
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017