Overpromise and Overdeliver: The Secrets of Unshakable Customer Loyalty

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Overview

Companies like American Girl, Best Buy, Washington Mutual, and TiVo came out of nowhere to virtually own their respective markets. How did they scoop their bigger and wealthier competition? It wasn't through a fat marketing budget. It was because they kept their promises . . . and not just any promises, but dangerously ambitious promises. In fact, these companies overpromised to lure customers in—and then overdelivered to keep them.

Rick Barrera, a respected marketing consultant...

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Overview

Companies like American Girl, Best Buy, Washington Mutual, and TiVo came out of nowhere to virtually own their respective markets. How did they scoop their bigger and wealthier competition? It wasn't through a fat marketing budget. It was because they kept their promises . . . and not just any promises, but dangerously ambitious promises. In fact, these companies overpromised to lure customers in—and then overdelivered to keep them.

Rick Barrera, a respected marketing consultant and business lecturer, has studied these word-of-mouth-driven successes and concluded that they are masters of what he calls TouchPoint Branding—the art of making sure that every point of contact between a company and its customers is well executed and fulfills an over-the-top brand promise.

Barrera explains how TouchPoint Branding's three major components—Product TouchPoints, System TouchPoints, and Human TouchPoints—can create dramatic market differentiation. The companies featured in the book start with an extraordinary product (like the Hummer), supported by smoothly running systems (like the Sumerset Houseboats Web site), and add satisfying human contact (like the service at an American Girl store).

It's an old cliché in business that smart companies underpromise and overdeliver. But in today's crowded market, that's not enough. Barrera's insights and case studies can help any company overpromise . . . and still overdeliver.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615514007
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/29/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Barrera is the president of Rick Barrera and Associates, a consulting company that designs and executes differentiating marketing strategies. An in-demand professional speaker, he is also the coauthor of Collaborative Selling and Non- Manipulative Selling.

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Read an Excerpt

PART ONE OVERPROMISE

Meet TouchPoint Branding, the approach that turns also-rans into winners, and it all starts with a compelling brand promise. This section shows you how to craft your own unique promise based on a thorough understanding of your market.

CHAPTER 1
What's Going on Here?

Everyone Can Overpromise and Overdeliver!

HARD TIMES CREATE amazing successes. Despite all the talk today of an oversupply of goods and services, industry consolidation, menacing imports, stalled prices, and shrinking margins, a few remarkable businesses have discovered how to make their brands irresistible to more and more customers. What is the secret of their success? More to the point, how can you apply what they have discovered to your business to make your products and services irresistible to customers?

After studying these thriving businesses, these contrarians, I've identified their key strength: a new approach to branding that beats the competition because it's infinitely faster and less expensive than any of the traditional methods. As this book will demonstrate, it is also far more accessible.

For the majority of the examples that follow, I've selected major brands and larger companies because they are more accessible when trying to build a shared understanding of the concepts. The principles of overpromising and overdelivering can be applied in exactly the same way with smaller companies, and in wholesale, retail, business-to-business, and business-to-consumer contexts. You can also overpromise and overdeliver within a company. Divisions, departments, project teams, sales teams, customer service teams, and even individuals can and should define a radically different brand promise and then overdeliver through their products, systems, and people. If unshakable loyalty is your goal, overpromising and overdelivering should be your methodology.

For reasons that will soon become clear, I call this approach TouchPoint Branding. As you read the following cases, see if you can figure out what they have in common. (You'll have the answers before the chapter is finished.)

How do you sell ten million dolls with a conspicuous lack of national advertising?

That's the breathtaking breakthrough of American Girl, a business that started as a tiny direct- mail operation in Middleton, Wisconsin, in 1986, and now sells more dolls than anyone except Barbie. American Girl's first retail store, near Chicago's Magnificent Mile, grosses far more than either of its mighty neighbors, Ralph Lauren and CompUSA. Some fifty million people receive company catalogs, millions more visit the Web site, and, altogether, American Girl sales for 2003 came to $344 million. For girls between the ages of seven and twelve and their families, this company has become a unique source of entertainment and education, a brand that has achieved nationwide recognition and approval.

American Girl doesn't simply sell handsome, eighteen-inch-high dolls. It offers the “whole world,” as the corporation's literature puts it, of each of its eight fictional characters: their clothing, furniture; all sorts of accessories; a series of books for each doll that tell her life story and adventures; and a selection of preteen clothes that match those worn by the characters. The Margaret “Kit” Kittredge doll, for example, is a nine-year-old growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the Great Depression. The Kit books describe the hardships she and her friends encounter, the plucky way they solve their problems, and how “Americans opened their hearts” to help one another survive the terrible economic slump. Other dolls include Kaya, an eighteenth-century Native American, and Samantha, from the Victorian era. Signing up your child for the entire Samantha package—doll, books, furniture, and clothing—will set you back $995, and that doesn't count the upkeep. If your daughter wants her doll to have a new hairstyle, for instance, the price at the Chicago store, and at its new sister store in New York City, is twenty dollars.

It's an expensive proposition, yet American Girl has sold more than ten million dolls and more than one hundred million books since its founding. And it has done so without peddling the dolls at other stores and with a bare minimum of paid advertising, largely local-store ads. How, you may well ask, is that possible?

Pleasant Rowland, the founder, tapped into a long ignored but obviously rich vein among preteen girls and their mothers by firmly grounding the enterprise on the premise of wholesome, girlish innocence. Rowland, a former educator, was convinced that girls these days grow up too fast, and that an antidote was needed to the girlhood role model represented by the likes of Britney Spears. She wanted her Pleasant Company and its line of dolls to teach history and inspire girls to learn strength and resourcefulness from the dolls' stories, which Rowland calls “the heart of American Girl.” (Rowland sold her company to Mattel in 1998.)

The books are researched carefully and well written. The story of the doll Addy, for instance, was written by respected novelist Connie Porter. Set in 1864, it tells the tale of an African American girl who experiences both slavery and emancipation. In general, historians praise the research and authenticity of the American Girl books but lament their simplifications of history and muted treatments of conflict and violence. Another complaint comes from feminists, who bristle at the dolls' stereotypical roles and emphasis on beauty. But from the beginning the line struck a chord with its intended audience, and the marketing, almost entirely by catalog and word of mouth, has been astonishingly successful. Less than twenty years after its founding, the organization claims that 95 percent of all American girls between seven and twelve know about its dolls and books.

The home store in Chicago has become a shrine for the seven million girls and their mothers who have visited it from around the world, and the New York store, opened in time for Christmas 2003, might well surpass it eventually. Both stores are huge, lavishly appointed, and beckoning “girl places,” appealing strongly to girls of all ages and descriptions. They feature smartly decorated restaurants offering classic teas and luncheons, comfortable restrooms, sleek marble floors, and lush red velvet couches that invite mothers and daughters to read a book or simply share a quiet moment.

In addition to the historical dolls the stores offer a line of contemporary dolls in twenty-one combinations of skin, hair, and eye color, as well as the popular Bitty Baby and Angelina Ballerina dolls and accessories. Each historical doll inhabits her own miniature world flanked by glass showcases that display authentic period artifacts to make the doll's world seem real. Each doll also comes with countless accessories. The “girl of today,” for example, has (among her many things) a computer that works, a karaoke machine, a martial-arts outfit with various colored belts, a picnic spread, hiking equipment, and skis—not to mention a cast in case she “breaks” her leg while skiing. There's also a full line of clothing that allows girls to dress like their dolls. And the displays are backed up by stacks of complimentary, brightly colored, postcard-sized pictures of each item that are suitable for saving or handing to Grandma when she asks for gift ideas.

Girls and their mothers flock to the stores for “A Day at American Girl Place” that begins with cucumber sandwiches, cinnamon buns, and chocolate mousse, followed by a fashion show with preteen models. Then they go downstairs to the 150-seat theater for a musical production featuring both modern characters and figures from the historical dolls' stories. The performers sing and dance and reinforce the American Girl themes of resourceful heroines behaving admirably in compelling situations. A girl and her mother can have these experiences, plus a CD of the songs, a doll T-shirt, and $120 in store credit, but it will set Mom back $250.

Few stop there, however. A recent visitor at the Chicago store, from Wisconsin, her eight-year-old in tow, bought two ninety-dollar dolls, several books about each, and an array of accessories. The bill came to $650, more than twice what she had planned to spend. “It's a racket, but it's a good racket,” she cheerfully told a Forbes reporter. “The kids get strong historical role models and stories that teach them a lot about life. You actually feel good spending the money.”

So of all these tactics, which is the real secret of American Girl's success?

How did Google become a global verb in only three years?

No, it's not spelled like “googol,” which means the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeroes, but it might as well be. Launched in September 1998, Google has become a supernova of the Internet. It is one of the five most popular Web sites in the world and executes half of all the world's Web searches. The gateway to more than 4 billion Web pages, it is also home to more than 150,000 advertisers. Google's long-awaited announcement that it would go public came in the spring of 2004, creating the kind of market excitement that had been missing since the tech-stock meltdown four years earlier. And Google has won society's ultimate accolade by having its name turned into a verb: Surely you've Googled someone or been Googled in your time.

Yet it might never have happened. When Sergey Brin and Larry Page, graduate students in their twenties, first developed a better way to run a search, they tried to sell it to Web portals, including Excite and Yahoo! There were no takers. When they received a one-hundred-thousand-dollar check from a would-be investor, it languished in a drawer for weeks. Since Brin and Page hadn't bothered to set up a corporation, they had no bank account to put it in. Once they took care of the formalities, though, they had a company that was well on its way to becoming a winner. Within four years Google had captured 33 percent of all global English-language searches. It has its home page set up in ninety- seven languages, including Klingon, Latin, and Urdu. And while the dot-com industry in general waded through still more red ink in 2003, Google earned over one hundred million dollars in profit on one billion dollars in revenues. In fact, thanks to disclosures the normally tight-lipped founders had to make as part of the planned initial public offering (IPO), we now know that Google has been in the black since 2001, and will probably be valued at around thirty billion dollars when its stock is sold to the public.

The amazing levitation of Google is already the stuff of business legend. It is the story of a service that has captured the allegiance of millions of people worldwide and leveraged their support into a huge source of advertising income. Yet the company is a throwback to the days of dot-com gusto and glory, a Silicon Valley nest of geeks in cluttered, toy-strewn offices with a grand piano in the lobby. They call their campus, in Mountain View, California, the Googleplex.

The heart of Google is its search method, a set of algorithms that can search through those fourteen billion Web pages in 0.2 seconds, on average. (If a person could perform the same task, taking just one minute per page, he or she would need 5,707 years to finish.) Brin and Page got their initial edge by devising a way to rank the quality of a Web page according to the number of links it has to other pages, which thus focused Google searches on the page most likely to be of greatest importance. Other search engines can now match Google's technique and speed, but Google counts on its long lead and established record to stay on top of the market.

It has other assets as well. One is its way of marketing the ads that bring in most of its revenue: Rather than selling random space on its pages, Google asks for bids on specific words and phrases that appear in customer searches, and hitches the winning advertiser's display only to results of those searches. That way the advertiser can choose a phrase related to his or her product and be sure the searcher has an interest in what's being offered. What's more, the advertiser pays Google only when a searcher clicks on the ad.

Google is also careful to keep searchers happy. Its prime assets, its people maintain, are the users' trust and attention; a search shouldn't take long, and users shouldn't be distracted or annoyed by intrusive advertising. So, unlike other search engines, Google never sells its search results to companies that pay for preferred positions. Its home page is starkly understated, with no flashy graphics and seldom more than thirty-seven words of text. Its ads are restrained, without pictures, pop-ups, or gaudy display type, and a maximum of eight clearly labeled ads appear on a page of ten search results. And if an ad doesn't attract a specified minimum of clicks from searchers, it will be bumped, the theory being that showing people things they're not interested in is a good way to kill the business.

Google's ten thousand networked computers can handle more than eight million searches per hour, and capacity is constantly being increased. The company is also remarkably transparent. Anyone who wants to take the trouble can open up Google products still in development and take them for a spin. With Google Smackdown, for instance, you can compare the number of citations in those more than four billion Web pages for any two contrasting words: “War” references outnumber mentions of “peace,” and “money” beats “love”—but not by much. Sure, Google researchers say, competitors and random hackers can see what we're doing and steal or even sabotage promising technology. But the advantages of enlisting the whole world in Google's research and development are so overwhelming that they outweigh the risk.

True to geek principles, there is no strategic planning department at Google. Innovation erupts when someone has an idea that's judged promising. And Google isn't marketed. Instead, its staff observe and listen, poring over figures on searches and results, trying to improve links between sites and their judgments about their relative importance and studying the e-mail they receive to find out what users want. Ten full-time employees do nothing but read e-mail, looking for complaints and relaying them to staffers who can fix the problems. User feedback is essential to pinpointing the areas that need attention.

Google still taps only half of the Internet; another three billion pages are tucked away in unlinked computers or behind corporate firewalls. In the long run Page, Brin, and Eric Schmidt, the company's chief executive, dream of having access to the whole Internet, along with billions more pages of archival material, and searching it all so efficiently that every user finds exactly what he or she is looking for—every time. They know that will never happen, if only because people will always run searches for “spiritual enlightenment.” But it's a goal worth chasing.

Okay, we know Google started out with an impressive technological insight, and we also know that the breezy Silicon Valley style that doomed all those other dot-coms somehow hasn't hurt it. But what specific techniques have lifted it to such heights so rapidly?

How do you make people want a gizmo when they don't even know what it does?

TiVo knows the answer. TiVo makes the magic box that has changed television viewing forever for 1.3 million American families. That's not many, a scoffer might say; there are 109 million U.S. households. Right. But TiVo's biggest achievement—and the reason it is exploding from a profitless company with revenues of $141 million in 2003 into one with widespread success—is that most of those families have at least one member who knows what TiVo can do and really wants to try it.

TiVo is a company, and it's also the name of a DVR, a digital video recorder. Unlike the videocassette recorder perched atop your television set, a DVR makes it genuinely easy to record an entire TV show for viewing later. Or, if you're watching a television program and the phone rings, it allows you to pause the show and resume viewing later without missing a thing. You can also let TiVo record the first fifteen minutes of a show before you start watching and then fast- forward past the commercials. You can stop the action and rewind for your own instant replay. You can tell it to record every episode of your favorite show, and it will continue storing up episodes all season long. It can record two shows that air at the same time. And after it's been working for you long enough to learn your tastes, TiVo can suggest a few other programs you might like. What's more, TiVo is working on pairing its recorder with a DVD (digital video disc) burner, so that a customer can copy a show from the recorder's hard disk and archive it in a permanent library of stored performances.

Chances are, you already knew most of that, because you have heard about TiVo on Friends, or Live with Regis and Kelly, or The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. You may have seen the episodes of Sex and the City in which Miranda, the attorney, vowed to give up men in favor of her TiVo, because it understood her far better than any man ever could.

That was marvelous publicity for TiVo, but the company didn't pay a cent for the product placement. The writers of Sex and the City just thought TiVo was a hot product that added a humorous plot twist. The mention by Leno was less serendipitous, but only a bit more expensive: He was one of a group of showbiz and sports celebrities who got TiVo service free of charge in hopes they would bestow influential endorsements. More than one promising gadget has tried the same promotion strategy, to no avail. Why did TiVo succeed? Because it's a terrific product. The people who try it can't wait to tell you how, for the first time ever, it puts them in charge of their television sets.

But TiVo, the company, had to learn the hard way how to get its message across. Founded in 1997 in Alviso, California, it spent $178 million on sales and marketing, including a national television advertising blitz, in its first five years—only to wind up in financial trouble and with a disappointing number of subscribers. The celebrity-endorsement strategy was born of necessity after the stock market crash squelched any further prospect of using Wall Street money to subsidize price cuts or marketing costs aimed at creating a mass market.

At its high end, TiVo is a pricey gadget, costing $399 for hardware that can store up to 140 hours of programming, plus $12.95 a month for the service. But early in 2004, the company achieved its goal of getting the price of its basic forty-hour model down to the magic figure of $199. Meanwhile, as TiVo engineers strive to make the box ever easier to use, Mike Ramsay, the company's chief executive officer, is busy forging partnerships with big players such as AT&T, DirecTV, and Sony, in hopes of incorporating TiVo software into their products, similar to the way Intel got its chips into computers. Sony is already using TiVo in a video recorder it is marketing in Japan, and DirecTV and AT&T are offering set-top boxes that enable users to have TiVo service also.

TiVo is also trying to encourage word of mouth by organizing parties, Tupperware style, to which current customers invite their friends to watch such major events as the Super Bowl and Oscar night. The goal is “to build a new category and brand and change human behavior on a mass scale . . . on a shoestring budget,” Brodie Keast, a TiVo senior vice president, told Fast Company's Scott Kirsner. The parties let nonusers sample TiVo's capabilities firsthand in a comfortable setting with trusted friends—but without the hard sales pitch associated with Tupperware parties. Although copycat products pose a problem for TiVo, its strategy appears to be working: TiVo signed up its millionth subscriber late in 2003, beating its own time line, and then expanded its customer rolls by a whopping 33 percent in the first three months of 2004.

Sure TiVo has a nifty product, but so do lots of companies that no one can name. What is it, exactly, that has brought TiVo to the brink of the kind of success many entrepreneurs can only dream of?

So What's the Connection?

When I first started studying these brands at the request of a client I was perplexed and curious about how such a diverse group of companies had managed to build their brands so quickly and inexpensively. What could explain their remarkable success? Was there actually an approach that these breakaway businesses shared? If so, was it something that could be helpful to all sorts of enterprises, whether old or new, large or small? I set out to find the answers.

What I discovered was that American Girl, Google, and TiVo weren't isolated cases. Dozens of similarly surprising brands—names like Altec Lansing, Best Buy, Blue Man Group, Cardiac Science, Chico's, Diesel, HardiPlank, Hummer, Samsung, and Washington Mutual—now virtually own their respective markets. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, these brands— which thrive in all sorts of sectors, from manufacturing to wholesale to retail—have been built far more quickly and inexpensively than brands that rely on traditional approaches, most notably advertising. How? They overpromise and overdeliver.

Promises Made

Part of what makes a company like American Girl or others you'll read about in the following pages so successful is its ability to craft unique, attention-grabbing promises that radically differentiate it from its competitors. (Think of it as “outpromising” one's competitors.) American Girl promises dolls that enchant girls and teach them how to live a life of substance. Google vows to lead you to virtually anything you want to know—in 0.2 seconds. TiVo's pledge is: TV—your way! And in a crowded business environment in which everyone seems to be shouting the same message simultaneously and at peak volume, exciting, breakthrough brand promises like these are the best way to stand out from the throng.

New companies must develop unique brand promises to battle their way into the marketplace. Established businesses, faced with fighting off upstarts and differentiating themselves from their rivals, have to periodically overhaul their brand promises to adjust to changes in their environments, their competitors, and their customers.

After brand promises have been established clearly, managers need to get their entire organizations aligned to deliver flawlessly on those big promises and, above all, consistently, every day, with every sale or interaction.

Why? Because a promise is, by definition, a serious commitment, a pledge to do or deliver something by a particular time, without fail. Now, I've just told you that you want to overpromise, which may strike you as a little crazy. After all, any business can promise the moon or anything else, from instant sexual potency to thin thighs in thirty days.

But not just any business can deliver when it overpromises, and that's where you have the advantage, because you are going to do things differently. When you overpromise you are putting your whole reputation for honesty on the line. You are saying that you are confident your brand will perform, and you've made a solemn contract with hundreds or thousands or millions of customers. If even a few customers find you reneging their contempt may well spread like a California wildfire. A wise manager knows that trust is the hard currency of business success. The price for squandering trust—sabotaging a brand's promise—is always too high to pay, because at the end of the day, the priceless intangible called integrity is the richest asset on any company's balance sheet.

In the simplest terms, then, capturing customers is all about creating brand promises and keeping them. But in today's tougher-than-ever markets both the promises and the means you use to keep them must be truly outstanding: imaginative, dynamic, unique. Just as you can't merely promise but must overpromise, simply keeping your promise isn't enough. You must overdeliver. You must give your customers more than they ever expected from you. This book will draw on case after case of unusually rapid success to show you how to create and keep your own breakthrough brand promise, the kind that can separate your product or service from the look- alikes struggling in the shadows of anonymity. And just as important, if not more so, it will explain how masterful use of three distinct contact points—I call them Product TouchPoints, System TouchPoints, and Human TouchPoints—can help you overdeliver your promise to customers and inspire their unshakable loyalty.

The TouchPoints

In researching breakthrough businesses I found that what separates business winners from the also-rans is that their key customer contacts came at three different types of moments of interaction between a customer and a brand, or TouchPoints.

Product TouchPoints occur where customers interact with the product or service a company is selling. In other words, these TouchPoints describe contacts in which the customer actually ex-periences, handles, buys, uses, and disposes of a product or service, and they are the primary factors in most buying decisions. For Google, a Product TouchPoint occurs every time a visitor types in a query and gets a search result. When a little girl hugs her American Girl doll, reads its story, changes its clothes, or shows it off to her friends, Product TouchPoints are manifest. For TiVo, Product TouchPoints occur when a viewer uses its features—controlling his or her television experience by recording and playing back shows, pausing or replaying scenes, and skipping commercials.

It almost goes without saying that Product TouchPoints become less powerful as products and services become commoditized. When one airline's flight hardly differs from another's, or when two brands of laundry soap are virtually the same, the user's experience plays only a small part in the decision about which to buy. But I assume that you are intent on avoiding commoditization by differentiating your product, so Product TouchPoints will be essential for you. Taking your cue from breakthrough brands such as Google, you will make sure your customer's experience is fresh, clean, and unadulterated by false economies in the secret mix, or uncluttered by intrusive advertising in the search results. Or following the lead of American Girl, you will work to keep expanding the number of wholesome experiences your customer can have with your product or service. And like TiVo you will try to stretch your customer's experience into new product areas and strive to come up with innovative pairings of products and services. In other words, you will offer a really big promise, and then deliver it in a really big way.

Human TouchPoints occur when the customer directly interacts with an organization's people. As you will soon come to understand, I believe that most companies rely far too heavily on human interactions. But I am not in favor of eliminating them. They make it possible to deliver on your brand promise in ways that only fellow humans are capable of—for instance, by empathizing with customers, clearing up misunderstandings, and tailoring solutions to a customer's particular circumstances. It is at the Human TouchPoint that frontline people can bend, and sometimes break, the rules in a customer-friendly fashion. The sales and service people at American Girl stores represent the Human TouchPoints at their respective locations.

When it comes to Human TouchPoints Google is different from the other companies I examined. In fact, it is close to my exemplar of a business that relies very sparingly on Human TouchPoints. Other than through its highly limited, interactive help lines Google customers have no access to the enterprise's people.

At the other end of the spectrum are organizations such as the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, that have built their brands on their overpromising, overdelivering frontline employees. The brand promise at the Ritz, whose fifty-seven hotels and resorts span the globe, is not clean sheets and an edible breakfast, but rather its incredible standards of human service with a smile. No staff member is allowed to say or even think “That's not my job,” and the lowliest busboy is authorized to spend as much as two thousand dollars to solve a guest's problem. The hotel manager will pick up the phone if it rings three times unanswered. To support its Human TouchPoint the hotel chain spends about 10 percent of its payroll on training and education, four times the hotel industry average.

And does this extreme attention to service pay off? Because the Ritz-Carlton is a subsidiary of Marriott International, a breakdown of revenue and earnings figures is not available. However, we do know that the Ritz-Carlton is a two-time recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and has been recognized for its sterling service by numerous hospitality industry and consumer organizations, including Business Travel News and J. D. Power & Associates.

System TouchPoints include all other points of contact between a company and its customers. They occur when customers encounter processes (paper invoices, for example, and frequent-buyer programs) or systems (technological tools such as ATMs and Web sites) that facilitate transactions and interactions. A System TouchPoint is in play when the American Girl catalog arrives at a customer's doorstep, or when a customer shops for a doll on the company's Web site, or still another when a little girl visits the restaurant or picks up a postcard-sized picture of a doll's new costume to show to her grandmother.

Seattle-based Amazon.com, which racked up $5.26 billion of revenue in 2003 and had operating income of $270.7 million, is a prime example of a business whose online retailing systems and processes are so intuitive and so helpful that its customers seldom have any need for traditional customer service. They find what they need and order it, get progress reports by e- mail, pay online with their credit or debit cards, and get their goods by express shipment. It is here, by the way, in the promise of technology, that companies can make their biggest gains in overdelivering, by reducing the variables that hinder consistently excellent service.

All three TouchPoints are vital to an organization's success, though to differing degrees. All three require a substantial and continuing investment of funds and managerial energy if they are to do their job properly, although I should point out that you don't have to be a billion-dollar corporation or have access to vast sums of venture capital to build a terrific brand. Small and medium-sized organizations can do it as easily as large ones—and sometimes even better.

Leighton Dorey, a real estate broker in my hometown of San Diego, has differentiated himself by using TouchPoint Branding, and it has paid off. In 2003, Dorey and his associates sold their properties at 98 percent of list price in only 31 days, compared to a zip-code average of 91 percent of list price in 129 days. Key TouchPoints are: a slick brochure mailed to twenty-two thousand potential buyers; accurate floor plans done by an architect, aerial photography, inspections, and reports before the home is listed; and an interior designer who “stages” sellers' homes.

What counts is not the size of the organization, but willpower—the determination to take your company's brand to the heights by honing the TouchPoints needed to fulfill the brand promise. I can't overemphasize how important the job is. There is no point in laboring to devise a unique brand promise if you aren't going to go the extra mile to overdeliver.

Why, exactly, is TouchPoint Branding so superior? Because it erases that age-old barrier to companywide excellence: insularity. In too many companies, when a brand promise is created, it's created at the top of the organization, but fulfillment is left to frontline employees, who either don't quite get the promise or lack the products, systems, skills, and tools to carry it out. When promise and delivery are disconnected brand value is derailed before it ever leaves the roundhouse. But when the whole organization is pulling together to fulfill the brand promise, brand value becomes a reality. My research shows that properly executed TouchPoint Branding enables managers at every level to inspire their employees to overdeliver on the company's brand promise. This is the breakthrough that can revitalize your company, just as it has propelled the trailblazers you will meet in this book.

What's Next

The promise of TouchPoint Branding is both clear and powerful: It can enable you to build your brand far more efficiently and economically than you ever could with traditional advertising- based marketing. How, exactly, do you go about it? It's all in your over-the-top brand promise and TouchPoints—and you create them based on a thorough understanding of your market.

In the chapters just ahead we embark on a detailed tour of TouchPoint strategy, starting with the basic building blocks—brand and brand promise—and how you can tailor them to your best advantage. So turn the page and let's get started.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 What's going on here? 3
Ch. 2 What's a brand promise? 21
Ch. 3 Understand your brand promise 41
Ch. 4 Make your brand promise unique 65
Ch. 5 Optimize your product touchpoints 95
Ch. 6 Optimize your system touchpoints 122
Ch. 7 Optimize your human touchpoints 150
Ch. 8 A case in touchpoint : Washington Mutual 185
Ch. 9 A case in touchpoint : Lexus 199
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