During the COVID-19 crisis, governors across the nation have declared certain businesses “essential.” Liquor stores, thank goodness, were deemed essential, as were grocery stores and pharmacies. Barber shops were not categorized as essential, yet dog groomers were. Golf courses are open in some states but not in others. Church services have become a true controversy. These seemingly arbitrary declarations of what’s essential to us has me wondering, on a long term basis, how does a brand make itself essential to its customers?
If you are like me, you’ve had a lot of spare time in the past few weeks, sequestered in your home, social distancing and consuming loads of media on the COVID-19 pandemic. Your choices of activities include cleaning the closet, walking the dog (again), scrolling through Facebook, starting the cocktail hour early, or watching more news. Sometimes, the latter two go hand in hand.
In Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, one character asks another, “How did you go bankrupt?” The other answers, “Two ways. Gradually. Then suddenly.” Failure in a brand happens the same way … very small missteps and breakdowns in the brand experience that initially reveal themselves as slowing same-store sales growth or softening market share. Then, all at once, the bottom falls out. That’s what happened to my former favorite grocer, Whole Foods.
Many businesses today feel compelled to create a “loyalty program” as part of their marketing mix. From airlines to grocery stores to gas stations to financial services to drugstores to sporting goods chains, it seems most industries have loyalty programs. To many marketers, simply having such a program means ipso facto that they will have more loyal customers.
Experts in business and economics have been writing for years about the move from a manufacturing to a service economy. More companies in the Fortune 500 derive their revenues from service and services than from manufacturing products. Yet, some of the Fortune 500, with their big revenues and big footprints, tend to forget the very basics of service—of focusing on their core customers, treating them well, making them feel valued, and thus keeping them coming back. With the economy increasingly reliant on service, why is it that we experience so many instances of bad service on a daily basis?
I grew up in the Gulf South and was, from the first time I heard it, mesmerized by the magic of a word my dad taught me, lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap). Originally a Spanish word, it was adopted and adapted by the Louisiana French. It is used widely in the Gulf South and means “getting a little something extra.”