Insuring Success (with Net Promoter)

When I was just out of college, my oldest brother sold me a life insurance policy.  He needed customers and I was too naive to say no.  Every year since, when that premium’s come due, I’ve cursed my brother and the company for whom he once worked. Had Net Promoter existed back then I would have been identified as a dangerous “detractor,” the kind of customer whose profit does more harm than good, and undoubtedly my brother would have been shifted out of sales sooner.

This annual experience had shaped my impression of the entire insurance industry until just recently when I had the pleasure of hearing executives from Progressive and USAA address their impressively relentless focus on customer satisfaction.  These presentations were part of a two day Net Promoter conference that celebrated the power of monitoring and addressing customer satisfaction at every point of contact.

Richard Watts, General Manager at Progressive Insurance, started his talk with a family story not unlike the one I told above.  Richard, being English, told of his “mum’s” disappointment when the company’s automated system deactivated her account simply because she’d forgotten to return what proved ultimately to be an unnecessary form.  By simply eliminating this form, Progressive retained thousands more customers and fulfilled a new internal rallying cry, “Would you do that to your Mum?”

Then Watts delved into the math behind their extensive customer satisfaction activities.  With $14 billion in annual sales, extending retention one month represents $1 billion in annual premiums.  That’s big money to any company but few have integrated customer satisfaction measures to the extent of Progressive.

An employee dashboard reports real-time satisfaction by customer, by product and by region.  Customer verbatims are treated like “treasures” and bonuses are awarded based on retention figures.  Employees with the highest Net Promoter Scores are also celebrated at annual events.

This attention to customer satisfaction has also led to the development of new services and coverage areas.   Progressive’s 52 “concierge” service centers across the country allow customers to simply drop off damaged cars, select a loaner and return when the repairs are completed. Additionally, Progressive added pet insurance, and did so much to the joy of their customer base, that can now share photos with fellow dog lovers via a community site the brand hosts. And their “name your price” offering was developed in response to customer requests via c-sat surveys.

Another insurance company that goes to extraordinary lengths to please its customer base is USAA.  Focused on the needs of men and women in the armed forces, USAA has over 7 million customers, 97% of whom renew their policies each year.  This puts USAA 9 percentage points ahead of its next best competitor in the insurance arena.  As one happy customer put it “USAA is the best relationship (next to my wife / she’s sitting next to me) I’ve had my entire life.”

At the Net Promoter Conference, Wayne Peacock, Executive Vice President at USAA, noted that his company’s dedication to c-sat starts with their mission “to facilitate the financial security of its members” and in the process be “the provider of choice for the military community.”  It’s also embedded in their tagline “we know what it means to serve.”  But this dedication to extreme customer satisfaction is far more than lip service.

Mr. Peacock noted how the company stays focused on its members and integrates military life into their corporate culture. It starts with the hiring process, with almost 1 in 5 employees having served in the military or having a spouse who served.  From there, new employees go through a sort of “boot camp” that includes wearing 40-pounds worth of field gear and consuming MRE (meal ready to eat) rations.  Executives and employees are also encouraged to attend military events on a regular basis and “respond with empathy” to any customer inquiry.

The result of this dedication to service is the extraordinary loyalty I mentioned above and the highest Net Promoter Score across all industries according to Satmetrix’s 2009 study.  With this kind of customer satisfaction, it shouldn’t be a surprise that 90% of military officers who sign up with USAA remain customers for life.  Like Progressive, USAA is avoiding the “bad profits” made from poorly conceived sales efforts (like my ex-agent and brother!), insuring both short-term and long-term success.

Guerrilla PR Teleseminar

Had an interesting conversation today with fellow guerrilla practitioners in a “teleseminar” hosted by Bulldog Reporter. Other participants included Julian Aldridge of Ammo Marketing, Christian Jurinka of Attack! Marketing and Drew Livingston of FreeCar Media. The moderator did a great job keeping the conversation moving and hopefully the folks listening found it as interesting as I did. Before the call, I prepared some notes that I thought were worth sharing here since most of these didn’t make into the call. Please note that these are pieces of the puzzle and not whole answers since the other members of the panel brought lots of insights to the table.

Define Guerrilla PR
For Renegade, Guerrilla pr is an attitude not a tactic. It is the belief that you can make up for a lack of resources with ingenuity. As such, the possibilities are limitless even if your budgets aren’t. Like all marketing, guerrilla PR needs to be grounded in strategy with a keen understanding of your target. Once you know thy target, then ask yourself, what can you DO for them NOT what can you say to them. We call this approach Marketing as Service. Samsung figured out they could help road warriors by putting charging stations into airports. This service spoke volumes about Samsung and offered proof positive of their commitment to helping the mobile professional. KFC recently started filling potholes as a service to its customers who had to drive to their stores over bumpy roads. A Colonel Sanders look-alike did the repair work and spray painted KFC logos on the fixed potholes ensuring that the brand got lots of exposure for their efforts. Every company big or small can do something for its customers—the trick is to find something to do that is also newsworthy.

Some Emerging Categories to Consider in Non-Traditional PR Programs
There is definitely a rush by marketers to capitalize on the iPhone app craze. Zippo has enjoyed tremendous success with its virtual lighter (that you can blow on to affect the flame) and is currently the #1 downloaded app in the lifestyle segment. Kraft created the iFood Assistant which for $.99 puts 7,000 recipes at your fingertips. Consumers don’t mind paying the cost of one song if the app delivers real value. But this is definitely a category in which the early bird catches the worm. With over 25,000 apps already out for iPhones, you better make sure you have a fresh, fun and simple idea for another one.

Guidelines When Planning Guerrilla PR
Obviously knowing your target is critical to any successful marketing effort, guerrilla or otherwise. For guerrilla, it is particular helpful to understand the pain points of the target on both a general (lifestyle) and a specific (product category) basis. Knowing this will help identify things you can do for the target rather than just what to say to them. For example, we knew that New Yorkers have a love hate relationship with taxis, they love the convenience but hate to pay for them. So for HSBC customers, we created the HSBC BankCab which gives free rides all over Manhattan. HSBC customers simply can’t believe its free and feel like they’ve won the lottery and end up telling at least five friends about it after every ride.

Guerrilla PR Makes News When You Don’t Have It
Ideally, if you have some real news about your product or service, then it will be a lot easier to spread the word. If you product is better, faster, cheaper or ideally, a combination of the three, then the press will want to talk to you. If not, then you need to use marketing to create the news. And if what you are planning to do isn’t newsworthy, I would reconsider. If its not newsworthy, don’t’ bother. To make sure the press noticed the HSBC BankCab, we launched with a “search for the most knowledgeable cab driver in NY” that generated over 20 million PR impressions.

Low-Cost PR Tactics

Facebook can be very low cost and very effective for the right brands. Renegade recently created a social media program for Toasted Head Wine. Since no wine brand had gained more than 1000 friends there was a lot of question about this being the right place. But our research suggested that TH had a passionate yet down to earth following that just might enjoy engaging with the brand and other fans. Positioned as brand that can “fire things up,” our goal was to fire up Facebook providing provocative conversation starters like “its 60 minutes before the bachelor party and the stripper just canceled, now what?” The answers were hilarious and a real stripper chimed in defending the professionalism of her peers. We also used applications like Social Calendar to encourage Toasted Head fans to share their love which they did. In the first four weeks of the program, Toasted Head has picked up 3300 fans. Better yet, these fan are highly engaged, joining the conversation with “Barry the Wine guy” and leaving a steady stream of comments about their favorite variety of Toasted Head.

Twitter is another low cost option. Despite all the hype about Twitter, there is one really profound reason to use this channel and that is the role role Twitter can play in crisis management. Domino’s used Twitter and other social media to fight back when a couple of employees filmed themselves sticking cheese up there nose and then putting it on a pizza.

Real-World Tips for Incorporating Guerrilla Tactics and Techniques into Traditional Programs

As I mentioned earlier, it really helps to have a deep understanding of your target. When we developed the “Hell Cuts” program (see video) for Ubisoft’s Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway game, we were fairly confident that our hard core gamer target would do just about anything to get a free copy of this game. Sure enough, it took no persuading at all to get 157 “recruits” to have the head’s shaved and the word Hell spray painted on top. Seven of the recruits were reporters and the resulting PR coverage was extraordinary. And while this was a stunt, it related directly back to the product, a highly realistic WWII action game which required players to recruit a squadron to take on the Germans. And of course, no soldier entered the service without getting a buzz cut first.

Common Traps When Venturing into Non-Traditional Outreach
• Don’t bother with the Protest thing. Its been done a zillion times and its fake.
• Don’t bother with stunts that have nothing to do with the brand or the story your trying to tell. You can always get attention by putting a gorilla in a jock strap but unless your selling jock straps, monkey suits or bananas, find another idea to get attention you so crave.

Measurement and ROI Tips: How to Track and Show Value for Non-Traditional PR Efforts
Net Promoter Score—one simple yet instructive measure to consider is Net Promoter Score or NPS. Developed by Bain consultant Fred Reicheld who determined that customer likelihood to recommend a product/service to a friend is the single biggest factor in determining a brands success. To measure your NPS, ask your customers “on a scale of 0 to 10, how likely they would be to recommend your product to a friend.” You then add up the 9-10s and subtract them from the 0-6’s and you have a net promoter score. We use this on pre/post basis for all our programs.

Measuring Success at Events

Event Marketer ran an interesting article on the importance of using research to increase the effectiveness of experiential marketing programs. The article includes some great quotes from Renegade client, Tom Hantson who talked about some research we conducted while activating Panasonic’s sponsorship of the AST Dew Tour. The following provides some additional thoughts on the subject of research at events.

Pre/Post Surveys are Mandatory

Because event marketing is “live theater,” you need to monitor impact from get the go and adjust accordingly. For 95% of the events we execute, we run pre/post experience surveys with typically under 10 questions and always including Net Promoter Score. We use Net Promoter Score to provide benchmarks from event to event and also because it is the simplest measure of potential word-of-mouth. For Panasonic which was a four-year sponsor of the AST Dew Tour, our pre/post surveys were particularly helpful. We were able to make subtle adjustments to the experience after each stop (it ran in 5 markets each year) based on the input we received from the consumer. We also made adjustments from year-to-year based on the feedback and reactions to various program elements.

For example, 2 years ago, we signed skateboarding phenom Ryan Sheckler to do appearances for Panasonic headphones at their booth and retailers. Unfortunately, the number of fans that wanted Ryan’s autograph were far greater than we could accommodate and some expressed their disappointment. We made a couple of adjustments at the next event that helped. First, we began to offer 50 VIP guarantees to anyone who purchased Panasonic headphones. Second, we added a brand ambassador to take photos for the fans to speed up the process allowing us to accommodate another 25-50 people per signing. Third, we created a couple of life-size cut-outs of Ryan that everyone could stand next too and thus get a photo with Ryan! Since we had digital cameras and printers handy, we were also able to give the consumer a positive experience even if they didn’t mean the phenom himself.

We have found that the most important thing when surveying is the speed from start to finish. As such, we have found that asking no more than 10 questions and filling out the forms with the consumers, increases both the accuracy and the timeliness of the responses. Ironically, after trying self-administered computer surveys, we went back to old fashioned clipboards. The consumer experience is better and faster and arguably the results are more accurate since the consumer tends to blow through the PC tests like they’re a joke. We are typically looking to gather 100 pre-event surveys and 100 post-event surveys per location which is sufficient to be statistically significant but not so many to make hand tabulation overwhelming.

Track Online Comments From the Beginning

It is also imperative to track blog comments. This was very much the case for the Ubisoft Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway “Hell Cuts” promotion which received comments on over 30 gaming blogs. Since all the feedback was extraordinarily positive from the opening minutes of the show, we didn’t have to make any program adjustments.

Make Adjustments to Your Experience Based on Experience

Another important aspect of measurement is less quantitative but no less important and that is having a feel for the pulse of the crowd at live events. If your experience is fun but the consumer is not getting into it, then adjustments need to be made then and there. Sometimes this means upping the volume on the music, getting your MC to spice things up with competitive giveaways or changing the way the crowd winds around the exhibit. In some cases, it can even mean replacing brand ambassadors who simply don’t have the spunk needed to create a memorable experience. It is amazing what consumers will do just for a free t-shirt so there is always something you can do to crank up the crowd.

We always budget for a senior partner at Renegade to attend the first stop on a mobile tour or a traveling trade show experience. If you have been doing this a while, then you know how to get valuable qualitative feedback from the consumer right away and make any needed adjustments within the first 24 hours. Sometimes this means working with the sales force to help them sort out the tire kickers from the real prospects. Sometimes this mean increasing the frequency of the “live show.” Sometimes this means removing a component that is bogging things down. The key thing is to make sure that everyone on the team knows that continuous improvement is not only possible but also mandatory for a successful tour.

4 Tips for Brand Experiences that Stick

This article appeared on iMediaConnection on July 7, 2008.

Check out these simple ways to convert prospects into customers and then into card-carrying brand evangelists.

#1. Consider marketing as service

Brand experiences, whether physical or virtual, if done correctly can convert prospects into customers and then customers into card-carrying brand evangelists. These experiences are by definition interactive, encouraging dialogue and ideally an intimate and unforgettable dance between brand and consumer. Here are four thoughts on how to turn your brand experiences into dances of a lifetime.

When brands create experiences that provide a real service, magical things happen. Because “marketing as service” provides a real value, the brand pulls customers and prospects into it, rather than pushing a message at them. This natural engagement deepens relationships with existing customers, forms strong bonds with new ones and helps generate favorable word of mouth.

Charmin showed its get-up-and-go when it installed restrooms in Times Square, providing welcome relief for more than a half million holiday tourists. The service was unexpected, memorable, relevant and good clean fun. Samsung has electrified road warriors by installing mobile device charging stations in five major U.S. airports. Given the annoying paucity of outlets in terminals, this service is pumping up Samsung’s image as a friend indeed to the mobile world.

#2. It all starts with an insight — even chotchkes!

In order to cut through effectively, the experience must derive from a sound strategic insight relevant to the brand. While handing out fun premiums might drive traffic, it rarely builds brand loyalty unless it extends the conversation and reinforces what the brand stands for. When my company’s client, Panasonic, wanted to engage action sports enthusiasts, they needed an insight that gave them permission to “hang” with this otherwise skeptical crowd. The insight they found was that capturing and sharing tricks was an inherent part of the action sports lifestyle. Since Panasonic made the video and still cameras that captured the tricks, and the TVs to see them on, they had a legitimate reason to “Share the Air” with this community.

Panasonic’s Share the Air program featured a camera loaner program at each of the five stops of the AST Dew Tour. With the swipe of a driver’s license, attendees got their hands on a new video or digital still camera to record the cool tricks that they saw during the day’s competition. And to make the experience memorable, participants could take a Panasonic-branded SD card home containing all of their pictures. The Share the Air microsite kept the experience alive, allowing attendees to blog with their favorite athletes on a daily basis, and deliver incentives to purchase Panasonic products at local dealers. All of these elements combined to make Panasonic a brand of choice among action sports enthusiasts.

#3. Extend the experience seamlessly

Ideally, an event will accomplish a variety of goals beyond informing and engaging an audience and generating buzz/PR. One essential function of an event is to drive prospects and customers to a complimentary online experience. Not only will this help amortize the high cost-per-touch of an event, but also it will lead to a long-term customer relationship by extending the experience.

In a perfect world, a single agency should have the capabilities to execute these complimentary event and online experiences. This approach is the most cost effective and ensures consistency of look and tonality across all channels of communication.

#4. Measure, measure and measure again

The goal should always be to cut through the first time. To accomplish this, metrics for success must be established upfront. Marketers need to set benchmarks via pre-event research to compare with post-event data.

In addition to tracking event attendance; time with brand and perceptual changes and sell-in and sell-through, consider adding Net Promoter Score to your measurement arsenal. NPS is a simple and reliable way to measure the likelihood of someone recommending your brand to a friend (i.e., word of mouth). Since NPS can be measured online as well, it will also help you understand if your online experience is as strong as the offline one.

Additional online metrics, including unique visitors, time-on-site, pre/post NPS and online commerce data (if relevant), will help complete the tally, ensuring you know which elements should be cut and which cut through.