Tara Lasker

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5 Things Boston's Snowpocalypse Taught Me About Customer Loyalty

Posted by Tara Lasker

Fri, Feb 27, 2015

snow, boston, customer loyaltyMaybe you’ve seen the news? This winter, Boston ushered in a new ice age. I’m joking (sort of), but you’ll forgive me since we have had six, SIX consecutive snowstorms, dropping over 90 inches of snow on the region. Commuting has become a game of strategy, and shoveling and “roof raking” have overtaken hockey as the city’s top winter sport. You know it’s bad when The New York Times’ editorial board tries to lift their city’s spirits by reminding New Yorkers that at least they don’t live in Boston. Ouch!Of course these storms have been no laughing matter for area businesses and employees, and customer loyalty is critical for surviving these stressors. So what can companies do to leverage loyalty when their customers are buried under 7+ feet of snow?

  1. Make me love you so much I’ll go out of my way to get to you. Loving a brand can help a customer look past inconvenience. For example, I have been using a service to help me decorate my house. The appointment when we were going to make some final decisions just happened to fall during one of the many snowstorms. I should have rescheduled—it was snowing and the roads were awful. But I was so excited that I just couldn’t wait, and I drove through the snow to make the appointment. Are your customers willing to drive through a raging storm to get to you?  That’s an example of the true love and loyalty we strive for.
  2. Build a strong foundation of trust and confidence. Between commuting nightmares, school closings, and travel bans, much of our work was being done outside of normal business hours. When I explained our situation to clients and coworkers, they understood. Communication and transparency are critical—be honest and upfront, and your loyal customers will respond. But. . .
  3. Even the most loyal customers have a breaking point. A few weeks ago, my husband and I had highly anticipated dinner plans, but we ended up not going because we knew we wouldn't have the patience to handle the parking challenges. We weren’t alone, and because of this, restaurants in particular have suffered. Businesses can use this time to find other avenues to connect with customers, e.g., doing competitive research or communicating to your (snowbound and captive) customers via social media, getting them excited about when they can come and see you next.
  4. Alternative online experiences are critical. Even though I couldn’t get out, I still needed things to do, and the snowpocalypse gave me the opportunity to beef up my online purchases and explore new websites. This is just one reason (of many) it’s important for businesses to have a functional and enjoyable online and mobile experience for customers who can’t get to you.
  5. One man gathers (shovels?) what another man spills. Customer loyalty is truly tested during times like these. Our public transit system has been having major problems. It’s been over a week since our last snowstorm, but our service is nowhere near back to normal. My colleague, who just couldn’t take it anymore, called an Uber and paid $50 for a 3 mile ride to work. It is unlikely the MBTA will lose customers over its spotty service, but will Uber or Lyft gain new and loyal customers as a direct result from the MBTA’s limited service? It’s surely possible.

The fact is, we can’t control the weather, and we can’t control every touch-point in the customer experience. But we can make sure we’re prepared by building a strong base of loyalty that can see through stormy weather and won’t melt come spring.  

Tara Lasker is a Research Director at CMB who is a survivor of 7 school snow days in 3 weeks, limited bus/train service, and severe cabin fever. She is looking forward to a family ski trip to North Conway, NH where she'll actually be able to enjoy the snow.

Topics: Boston, Customer Experience & Loyalty

5 Questions with GSP's Kelli Robertson on Positioning Cisco's "Internet of Everything"

Posted by Tara Lasker

Wed, Dec 03, 2014

800px Cisco logo.svgGS&P.logo.with.name.1Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ Kelli Robertson talked with CMB’s Research Director, Tara Lasker, about a recent messaging study they partnered on for Cisco. This study aimed to determine the best way to communicate Cisco’s role in the “Internet of Everything.” 

TARA: There’s been a lot of buzz lately about using data to support strategic thinking. Can you talk a little bit about how you strike that balance between the two in your role?

kelli robertson, GSP, Cisco, CMB

KELLI: Well, I don’t think data just supports thinking—I think it also generates it. There’s nothing more exciting than a table full of data and going through that data to find ideas and the story. I think that’s one of the things we did with this study. I think you always have to start with hypotheses and use the data gathered to prove or disprove them, which is what we did. You also have to be open to the data giving you new ideas. For us, data isn’t just about validating—it’s about learning.

It’s also important to realize that data helps bring consensus. Marketing is hard today because everything is so uncertain, and I think it’s easy for clients to dismiss things you learn from eight or even thirty qualitative interviews. It’s a lot harder to dismiss data. So if you can combine the data with the new ideas, you’re more likely to create consensus and generate buy-in from the people you’re working with.

TARA:  That’s definitely true, and we see that throughout many of our client engagements. Moving on to our study, can you talk about how GSP and CMB partnered to help solve some of the challenges that Cisco faced?

KELLI: The first thing that CMB did really well was to quickly grasp the topic. This includes how technology influences business, the somewhat complicated concept of the “Internet of Everything,” and all of the product and technology solutions that create the “Internet of Everything.” There wasn’t a lot of explaining that I had to do because CMB just jumped in. I think that’s a testament to all of your experience with clients in the technology industry. You also recognized that the “Internet of Everything” might be a complicated concept for respondents to grasp, so you helped us craft a few different ways to talk about it in the survey, which allowed us to better measure true awareness and understanding.

Here’s another example. This was a global study, and CMB had a lot of recommendations including using max diff scaling to prioritize messages and alleviate any global scale bias. These recommendations allowed us to overcome a challenge that I wouldn’t have even known about if it hadn’t been for you. You also recommended that we test a few diagnostics within the top scoring messages. That helped us gain a better understanding of why messages were compelling instead of just showing us which ones were at the top of the list. Those diagnostics helped us feel confident in the messages that stood out.

TARA: We did a lot of secondary research on our end and asked colleagues at CMB with the most tech experience about the “Internet of Everything.” We tried to think from a respondent’s perspective when answering the questions to make sure that we were getting the most useful data we could possibly get and to ensure the respondents were reacting the way we wanted without misunderstanding.

KELLI: I think that background research you’re referring to was what allowed you to help us so much. I live in the “Internet of Everything” world. I have for the past two years. You allowed us to go deep into the “Internet of Everything,” but kept in mind the fact that people won’t view it with the same amount of understanding that we do. That helped us ask questions in a more broad sense and allowed us to have good juxtapositions regarding innovation, business, and technology.

TARA: Exactly. We also looked at the different roles within an organization and how they saw it. For example, the C-suite and technical decision makers understood and liked the more detailed messaging while business managers liked the broader, softer messaging. Speaking of, can you talk about what impact this research has had on Cisco’s brand messaging strategy? What’s happened since we’ve presented the results?

KELLI: Well, as you know, Cisco keeps coming back to get more data, and the study is really being adopted. It helped us form the messaging strategy for Cisco moving forward. For example, it helped us craft the right language to explain how Cisco is making the “Internet of Everything” possible. There’s been this question in the marketplace: what does Cisco do to make the “Internet of Everything” happen? The study helped us answer that question and address the skepticism our audience has had in the most compelling way.

The study also helped us define a sweet spot within our target audience. Prior to this, we talked broadly about C-suite executives, business decision-makers, and technical decision-makers. We summarize our audience as C-suite executives, but the study uncovered a very clear mindset that matched Cisco’s aspirations. Now we’re able to use that data to talk about our audience psychographically. We’ve found an attitudinal sweet spot because of the confidence in the data. Without the study, we could guess that C-suite executives and business decision-makers felt a certain way, but the data is invaluable in changing the way we think about who we reach out to, how we influence them, and the attitude Cisco needs to have. That’s been really invaluable, and it influences a lot of our decisions in tone and placement media.

The study also helped validate some of the Cisco product solutions that we should prioritize in our messaging. In the past, Cisco was primarily a networking company. Now, Cisco is offering a suite of product solutions way beyond networking. This study helped us uncover which of those product solutions triggered the most thoughts of innovation in our audience’s mind, which helped us prioritize where we should focus our product efforts.

TARA: Let’s talk a little more about the buy-in. This is the second time we’ve worked together on a project like this, and we’ve always had a great partnership. You understand your client and the questions they need answered, and we work through the research design and analysis. Ultimately, the goal is to get buy-in and adoption. So, can you talk about the adoption throughout Cisco?

KELLI: We’ve presented this countless times at Cisco, and we’re still getting requests to present it. We also just presented all of the work to the global regions in Cisco to help inform their work. They use a lot of the work we do, but they also do a lot of work on their own, so I’m sharing it with them so that they can use it to help inform what they do. Certain people within the organization are even using the data in their day-to-day work, which is amazing.

One of the things I’ve been most excited about is that we’re working with the thought leadership team at Cisco, who help set the agenda and public relations initiatives around key themes and topics. They’ve spent a lot of time pouring through the results, and they ended up coming back with a huge list of questions that are going to drive their thinking for the next year. So it’s helping set thought leadership, which is great.

One of the biggest things we tested is Cisco’s mission statement—“Changing the way we work, live, play, learn.” That is a statement that has always been on paper, and it has always been referred to as Cisco’s mission statement. The data we got back showed how compelling this statement was to our audience. It came back as one of the top messages if not the top message. I think that’s been giving Cisco a lot of confidence that they need to do more with their mission statement and that it needs to become not just words on paper, but something that drives all action within Cisco. I think this study is going to breathe new life into this big, bold mission statement and give them the courage to use it more overtly to make bolder decisions. There’s a difference between having a mission statement and being on a mission, and I feel like this data gave them the confidence to be a company on a mission—on a mission to change the way we work, live, play, learn.

TARA: Over the years, you’ve been one of my favorite clients for several reasons—one of them being that you really approach the relationship like a true partnership. We really work together. We get to a place where you know the client, challenges, political environment, and research questions that need to be answered. CMB brings research expertise, which allows us to design the study in a way that is going to answer your questions, so you don’t have to worry about the technicalities. I feel like both times we’ve partnered, we’ve ended up in a good, clear place at the end because of the way we work together throughout the process.

KELLI: I agree, and I will say that who we chose wasn’t necessarily my decision. I worked with the head of our research group. When we were going through RFPs, it became clear that few research companies are so thorough. There’s just this reality that not a lot of other research companies are as strategic, bring the breadth of experience, dive in, and ask questions of other experts in the organization the way you do….and these were things we noticed from the first RFP. There’s just something special you have bottled over there.

TARA: Thanks, Kelli! Hopefully we’ll get the chance to work together again in the future.

Tara Lasker is a Research Director at CMB and Kelli is a Group Brand Strategy Director at GSP. They both enjoy good beer, good music, commiserating over the trials and tribulations of motherhood, and telling a great story with primary research data.  

Topics: Technology, Strategic Consulting, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), B2B, Researchers in Residence, Brand Health & Positioning, CMB Spotlight Series

Strangers with Influence: The Mysterious People Behind Online Reviews

Posted by Tara Lasker

Tue, Oct 22, 2013

By Tara Lasker

Like a lot of people, I rely on user reviews for virtually all of my purchase decisions. For example, in the last week I’ve read reviews on:

  • Yelp for restaurants (and even which dishes to order from said restaurants)

  • Overstock.com to give me a better idea on the quality/color of a mirror I was about to purchase

  • Airbnb to decide whether the location and appearance of a vacation rental was all it was cracked up to be

While I’ve come to depend on these reviews—I’d be hesitant to buy something that didn’t have some kind of rating— this mountain of data can be paralyzing. My husband and I are notoriously slow decision makers, and the cartoon below (from the always spot on xkcd.com) pretty much sums up how relying on user reviews has lengthened our purchase process. At one point we found ourselves wondering: who are these people anyway? 

What kind of person has the time to deconstruct and rate every detail of a lamp? I mean, you can find user reviews on anything—it’s remarkable.  Can these people even be trusted? And whose businesses are they hurting, or helping in the process?

xkcd onlinereviews

As a market researcher, I think a lot about these people and the information they’re providing.  Sampling is such a critical part of research design but it’s often overlooked by data users. Here are some questions we should be asking about the people we entrust our hard-earned money to:

  • Representativeness: This is a pretty simple concept, we need to ask: does this data represent the population it’s intended to?  Are Yelpers different than the average person? Do they care about the same things as me?

  • Authenticity: Are the responses real or are people gaming the system? If authenticity weren’t a real concern before, the recent government crackdown on consumer review fraud should make us wonder who is actually writing some of these reviews. Even if nothing illegal is going on, it makes sense to ask whether there are incentives or disincentives for a sincere evaluation.

  • Disposition: Are we only hearing from those who need a platform to vent or conversely those who are thrilled? Will reviews skew negative because consumers are much more likely to share a negative experience than a positive one? It's an important question and for Yelp's part, they share the breakdown of reviews by number of stars. In the chart below we find more positive reviews on Yelp than negative. 

Yelp ratings distribution

User reviews have changed the path to purchase for many industries, some are slower to adopt (e.g., health care) but even the stragglers will have no choice but to accept that these strangers are influencing their brand perceptions and purchase likelihood. It's worth our time to ask just who these influencers are.

Tara is Research Director at CMB, she's also an avid user review reader who doesn’t have the time to write her own reviews.

Topics: Consumer Insights, Research Design

When a Store Becomes an Experience: Jordan’s Furniture

Posted by Tara Lasker

Wed, May 09, 2012

If you live in Eastern New England, I am willing to bet you’ve seen a Jordan’s Furniture ad. Like Giant Glass (1-800-54-Giant!) and Bernie and Phyll's (quality, comfort and price—that’s nice!), it’s a brand we New Englanders recognize instantly. For those of you outside the Northeast, Jordan’s is a 5 store chain in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.  And whileWally at Jordans they are known for their creative ads, the store's core message is always the same:

  • We have a wide variety of products at low prices

  • We’re local and we serve the locals

  • We offer “shopper-tainment”—an experience above and beyond a typical store

Our work with brands at CMB tells us that defining the brand promise and how it matches up with a customer’s experience is more effective than measuring satisfaction in a vacuum. And when CMB works with clients to measure and understand customer experience we take the components of the brand’s value proposition and measure them for all the possible ways customers experience the brand—from how customers research products, to the promotions, to the in-store shopping experience. 

A recent trip to Jordan’s with my husband and 2 year-old, had me thinking about the multiple elements that make up the customer experience. I hadn’t been to Jordan’s in years, but I remembered a lot of activity, including a trapeze.  Back then, I walked right by and did what I needed to do.  But this time the “activity,” which was a bit distracting the first time around, was a welcome addition for entertaining my daughter. There’s an enormous Wally the Green Monster, mini-cars for the kids to drive, ice cream, and a ton of other fun stuff that allowed me to shop – dare I say—leisurely.  

My trip to Jordan’s highlighted how the different elements of shopping have changed for me over the past few years—I’ve gone from single girl to married with a 2 year old and another baby due any minute. Long gone are the days of casual shopping.  But now the experience is a greater consideration for where I will shop, and the shopping experience is something Jordan’s has mastered.

I can’t ignore the big question, did I buy anything? Not this time, but let’s just say that Jordan’s is high on my list the next time I need to shop for furniture. Would this type of experience deter the singletons who could do without the trapeze and fountain show? Maybe, but, Jordan’s knows their market, how to speak to them, and how to deliver. They kept their brand promise and have increased my likelihood to return. Well done.

Tara Lasker is Director of Project Operations at CMB, she welcomed a brand new baby boy on Monday, and will no doubt have many more opportunities for buying furniture in the future.

Topics: Advertising, Brand Health & Positioning, Customer Experience & Loyalty, Retail