Price Chopper rewards deepen customer relationships

I like shopping at the Price Chopper near me. It’s clean, well-lit, and has a wide selection of products and wide enough aisles you don’t find yourself doing The Bump with a chunky fellow shopper. The produce is the freshest and most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere. And, as its name suggests, the store does chop prices. groceries

So happy!

So happy!

So I was delighted when I went in and was offered a new Price Chopper Rewards card to replace the battered Chopper card on my keyring. Now, if I buy X dollars’ worth of groceries between now and June 22, I can accumulate enough points to get $50 worth of groceries free!

But that’s not all. Because I registered for the card, they sent me a link to their new website, where I can find store specials, get quick, easy recipes, and even make up my shopping list and print it out to take to the store.

Has the quality of their products changed? Nope. They already were pretty great. What has changed is the way they are reaching out to me and letting me know they care about keeping me and even expanding their relationship with me. They’re claiming more space in my brain — the space that used to be occupied by other grocery chains.

Not sure who’s behind this new marketing effort, but it’s a great example of how marketers can build strong relationships with customers. It gives us a reason to pay more attention to Price Chopper and get more involved via the website. It’s clear they’re thinking about and offering what shoppers want and need — good prices, convenience, and helpful ideas. And the rewards program means we’ll be doing more of our shopping there, rather than spreading it out among several chains.

Soon, I imagine you’ll see similar programs from Hen House and HyVee. That is, if they’re smart. Hen House’s prices are generally higher than those of the other area grocery chains, though they do have a discount card good on special items. HyVee isn’t particularly cheap, and they don’t have a discount program at all, except for a couple of cents off gas at their gas station. Big whoop. The reason I go to HyVee at all is that they have a lot of gluten-free products, and the prices on them are lower than at Whole Foods, a.k.a. Whole Paycheck.

Side note: Gluten-free is one area where the other chains have dipped in a toe but not really committed to diving into offering a full line of products. As awareness of gluten intolerance grows, so will this market segment. Retailers eventually will realize that gluten-intolerant people are willing to pay more for the products they need and go out of their way to shop where they can get them.

So the key to marketing today is not “tell and sell,” but true customer service. Letting customers know you really want to help them out with better products, better ways to shop your store, and time-saving, value-added services. Online is the new grocery marketing frontier. Wagons ho!

Challenge: Get up early and network!

Me, an early bird? Fuhgeddaboudit! Never in my life have I ever leapt joyfully out of bed with a song on my lips before the real birds are awake. Until today. Well, minus the joy and the song. IOW, I managed to get up early and make it to a breakfast networking event.

Early bird? Me?

Early bird? Me?

This kind of behavior is entirely weird for me. Always has been. When I was in school, my mother — a happy, chirpy early bird — delighted in throwing open the door to my room at 6:30 a.m. and singing, “Good mooooorning! Rise and shine! Get up, get up, you sleepyhead!” Then she would grasp the windowshade, release it and let it flap, flap, flap loudly at the top. She greeted morning like a long-lost best friend. I didn’t, to say the least. One morning, while thrashing about to cover my head with the sheet, I accidentally kicked my dear mother in the head. Yes, it was accidental.

Theater hours used to suit me fine. Up by ten, in by noon, work a little, then get ready for the show, do the show, go to a bar ’til midnight or so, then do the same thing all over again. Perfect. Except I made zero money.

But theater hours are only a fond memory now. I need to get up and get out to network! Make connections! Get projects! Make money!

Amazingly, today I arose at 6:00 a.m. and appeared at a 7:30 breakfast event not far from home, with clothes on and everything. And I have another early networking thing on Thursday — this one about 20 minutes away — at 7:00 a.m.! Will I make it two days in the same week? Tune in Thursday and find out.

Someone at today’s breakfast (which I admit was quite productive) remarked that morning networking events were better than evening ones because anybody who got up that early was serious and not there simply to socialize.

I think that’s right. I had more good conversations this morning than at most evening networking events. So I’ll have to change my “system preferences” now, if I want to connect with the people most seriously interested in doing business. It might be worthwhile, despite the pain. Is it true that making money cures pain? I hope so.

Political Distrust Breeds Brand Distrust

In case you hadn’t noticed, distrust and mistrust are at an all-time high in our great country. Not just among Tea Partiers, either. The citizenry at large are grumbling and muttering. They’re discontented with the way things are and they distrust the people who are running things. angry-mob

Goldman Sachs, the Pope, the government, the courts, preachers and politicians, local school boards, the police department — all of them are suspect these days. And not entirely without cause. But who ever thought such a crabby, suspicious mood would extend toward products and brands? Advertisers, afraid to rile already angry consumers, are putting out bland, inoffensive messages, just to be safe.

“Safe” and “effective” generally don’t go together where advertising is concerned. But these are peculiar times.

When you think about it, with public figures’ statements and product messages trying to lead us on every day, is it a wonder branding is dead, or at least gravely ill? I don’t think so. And that may even be a good thing.

When lying and puffery fail to attract buyers, brands (and politicians, though I wouldn’t hold my breath) may begin to deliver on higher quality. Products will incorporate more “green” methods and packaging. And create a better customer experience.

Or marketers may retreat from product benefits and go the superficial way of “design” as a differentiator. Nothing wrong with that, except that it doesn’t give you a better product, just a cooler-looking package and a higher price tag.

Where does this all lead? Perhaps in the near future, to greater simplicity.

Remember when “branding” was simple, before the dawn of sophisticated marketing requiring a squadron of MBAs and creative artists to develop? It used to be, you got a good product? Tell what’s good about it for the consumer. Branding done. Maybe the company owner and a couple of guys in a back office figured it out.

I guess I yearn for the simple days (way before my time, and even my parents’) when crackers came in a barrel, and nothing went through focus group testing. If people bought it, it succeeded. If not, it didn’t.

Today’s consumer is much more hard-nosed and wary than the eager homemaker of the 50s. Then, in that golden time after WWII, everything seemed hopeful, bright and shiny. New labor-saving devices were invented to help the housewife lighten her burden. There was really something new and improved to talk about.

Today, in a darker political and economic climate, with shelves crowded with parity products clamoring for attention, marketers must re-assess the value of the products and services they sell to consumers who are pinching pennies and worried about the future. You can’t sell “fluffy” or “fun” products to people who are hunkering down (except for chocolate or very inexpensive “cheap thrill” items).

As always, marketing and “branding” will adapt to the new reality. What form that adaptation will take is anyone’s guess. My hope is that the clutter of marginal brands will disappear, and the best and strongest brands will remain. In a rational world, that’s what *should* happen, anyway.

Here’s an interesting food-for-thought article from Rance Crane, of Advertising Age, which inspired this blog post. Take a look. Let me know what you think.

Small Biz Needs Social Media

According to a Small Business Administration Opinion Poll:web2-0starfish

* 52% believe having a social media presence is important for a company

* 59% of small businesses with a social media presence say it has provided value

* 16% of those polled have a business account (representing 4,752,000 based on SBA data)

* 49% say that their social media presence has produced advocates for their business

* 65% with a social media presence say they actively use it for promotion

52% of small business owners believe having a social media presence is important, yet only 16% use social media to engage their customers.

Interesting, no?

How can your small business have a meaningful social media presence — one that gets more business for your business?

If you’re just thinking Twitter or Facebook, and who has time for those, then think about e-mail newsletters to your customer base. Think about having a blog with helpful information for your customers. One they can subscribe to.

See, the idea of all social media is to get and keep your name in front of prospective customers and current customers alike. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if you don’t occupy the “room in the box” (your customer’s or prospect’s brain) by keeping in touch, your competitor can move into your “room” and set up shop.

Did I mention I write blog copy and e-mail newsletter copy? So if your small business needs help retaining your “room in the box,” call me for excellent writing on your website, your blog, or in your e-mail newsletter. Don’t have any of these yet? I can hook you up with the best Web design talent in town. Call me. And PLEASE, even if you have the time to do it, don’t try to write your own copy. Results may vary, depending on how good a grasp you have on writing skills.

The blog or e-mail newsletter you put out needs to reflect your professionalism. So let a professional — like me — handle the writing for you. You’ll be pleased, I guarantee.

“Going steady” with customers

Remember when you first realized you really liked someone you’d just met? You wanted to see that person more. So you invited them to coffee or lunch. If that went well, then you invited them to dinner. And if things really went well, maybe you did something very special for your companion, to let them know you thought they were really swell. You’d give them flowers, candy, compliments, whatever you could think of, so that person would think you were swell, too. rose

You wanted to nurture and deepen your relationship. That meant creating a positive experience for that person every time you saw them, and maybe even in between, with phone calls, e-mails, little gifts sent to them. Finally, you might have convinced that person you were so wonderful and appreciative of them that before long, you were “going steady.” Aaah. What a feeling.

Know what? Customers or clients need to be wooed, too.

These days, with so much competition around, It’s not enough to provide good service. You’ve gotta provide a “wow” experience, so that customer will remember you with a kind of glow — and want to come back for another “wow” or even “wowie” experience with you. Maybe you have some other services your happy customer will try, so your relationship deepens.

How do you court or woo a customer? Well, first, the trick is to get them in your door. You network, you shmooze, you advertise, you send out e-mail newsletters, you develop a dynamite website, whatever. And you find someone on your doorstep. What now?

1. Invite them in.welcome-mat

The person doesn’t know what to expect when they do business with you. So invite them in, meaning, make it clear that you’re there to help with any issue they have (assuming it’s related to what you do; or even if not, sometimes), and how your business operates.

2. Ask what the customer needs.

When you go to someone’s house, they generally ask, “Can I get you something to drink?” When a prospective customer comes to your “business house,” ask what they need, then explain how you can provide it. Don’t assume anything. Listen to what they need and respond to the need.

3. Provide “WOW” service.
Remember how you’d do anything short of leaping tall buildings to please your prospective “steady?” Same in business. You not only perform the service, but you do it *excellently.* You think of little extras that make a big difference.

Here’s what I mean by “excellently.” The best plumber I ever saw put on paper booties before entering my house and was dressed in clean, pressed clothes. He listened carefully and thoughtfully to everything I had to say, repeated it back to me to make sure he had heard correctly, then went to work fixing the problem.
The whole time, he explained to me what he was doing, and why, and I learned a heckuva lot about plumbing during his visit. When it came time for him to leave, he made it very clear that he and his company wanted to take care of any problem I should have in the future. He was so polite, it was actually as if he was courting or wooing me. I have nothing but good things to say about him and the company he worked for. And as you probably know, word-of-mouth and personal recommendations are the most powerful forms of advertising. So think of how you can do your job *excellently,* not just *adequately.*

4. Keep the fire going.

Your first date with your customer went well. You want them to remember that “wow” experience so they’ll come back for more. So you send them e-mail newsletters with information they will find interesting and helpful. Maybe someone at your company calls customers a day or two later, to see how they feel about the way the job was done. Hospitals do this after you’ve had an outpatient procedure. It makes you feel they care how you’re doing. Even if it’s for insurance purposes, it’s also good for PR. It’s impressive.

5. Stake out “room in the box.”
Rosser Reeves, an advertising legend, talked about the concept of “no more room in the box.” The box being a customer’s mind. If you don’t keep occupying your space in the box, before long, some competitor may claim that space, and there goes your customer. So send customers coupons for discounts on their next project, send e-mails directing them to helpful info on your website or blog, or call to remind them it’s the season to start thinking about using your services. Whatever it takes to make sure you keep “going steady” with your customer.

How many businesses woo their customers and keep on providing “wow” experiences through time? Not many. There’s where you have the advantage. So go out there and start wooing your customers. Show them you care and think they’re special. Deliver “wow” experiences every time they come in. They’ll remember you. And they’ll tell their friends how great you are, too. And, as Martha would say, that’s a good thing.