We live in a multiplex world where we are continually exposed to media stimuli (advertising). In Greece, it's in other forms: crude signs, in-your-face point-of-sale, television commercials that are a riot. SMS messaging has grown to be quite interruptive; I just found out I won 850,000 euros via a text message on my cell phone.
In the States, everything is large-scale. It didn't dawn on me why, until I sat with a group of locals and we were discussing our careers in general. I mentioned some of the clients I work with, the size of their databases, and the business problems we are faced with. Many in the group just sat there listening, scratching their heads, and I wondered why. They were fairly influential people in their communities, with their own businesses, so why were they confused or skeptical of some of the things were doing with search, media, email, CRM in general?
I realized this: It's all about scale! This is an island of 1 million tourists a year, with 250,000 inhabitants that are a mix of many nationalities. They market their businesses in many countries (many tourists come from England, Spain, Germany and Scandinavia). When I speak about a database of 5 million customers, they have little context to the problems that arise from 5 million vs. 5 thousand.
In their world, customer relationships are very personal, their services are very closely scrutinized. and some of the mass marketing activities that don't identify with a single view of a customer are hard for them to grasp. It wasn't that it was too complex an undertaking to think about lifecycle marketing or advanced targeting or response modeling, it was all about scale. It all began and ended with the customer experience and word of mouth.
As you can imagine, the questions persisted as to why you'd do segmentation, what value it really brought, but what was so interesting was their general lack of focus on a channel, more so on the experience and service.
It's refreshing to see people with real businesses and customers they touch day in and day out think about the customer experience on such a small scale. They all seem to think alike, whether they are operating a hotel, a restaurant or a car rental place, or renting out watercraft. It makes me wonder if we have made our corporate marketing worlds too complex for our own good. Have we created disparate operating groups, split our vision and operating scale to a point where we are swimming upstream?
As I sat in this relatively skewed focus group of locals and asked some basic questions about how they viewed their customers and how they were trying to develop relationships with them, it became abundantly clear that marketing and promotion can't outweigh the connection and customer experience. And as scale increases, so does this imbalance between the activities.
Think about it. How close a relationship do you feel you have with your favorite restaurant? In Greece, it's amazingly intimate. Life revolves around relationships, the connection with the dry cleaner, caterer, retail shop, maintaining a community connection that is fostered at all points of the customer experience. While businesses want repeat customers, there are no fishbowls on the counter asking for business cards or email addresses. Instead, they rely on great experiences at the time of purchase. They ask simple questions to determine customer satisfaction and they deal with bad experiences with the kind of personal attention I haven't seen in a long time.
Whether your business is large or small scale, the core of success is the same: great experiences. Build relationships through the experiences and support the route your customers take to get through these experiences.