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Making your packaging company a cult brand

What do Jack Daniels Whiskey and packaging have in common? Both are price-sensitive commodities with distinctive characteristics operating in highly competitive markets. But, how many packaging companies command such customer devotion that price is not a major consideration?

What are the attributes customers look for in a packaging company? Quality, reliability, assurances, on-time delivery, safety, and price are important attributes of the customers’ value mix. But these attributes do not create a distinguishable brand marking or the cultlike following that characterizes many Jack Daniels fans. The story of the Tennessee Squires I am a devoted fan of Jack Daniels; but I wasn’t always. Sure I enjoyed it from time to time, along with other brands. Not anymore. If I’m in a social situation where someone offers me an adult beverage and they don’t have Jack, I just settle for a glass of water. How did I go from satisfied consumer to devoted customer? A few years ago a friend recommended me to be a member of the Tennessee Squires, kind of a JD fan club. A few weeks later I received a certificate and what was claimed to be a deed to part of the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchberg, TN. I dismissed it as a slick marketing ploy until I received a K-1 to include with my tax return indicating I had a loss of 34 cents due to flood damage on my “property” in Lynchberg. I began to get letters from folks in Lynchburg. There was one from a fellow who ran to the hardware store wanting to take horse worms from my property to use as fish bait. The Lynchburg Mule Traders Association wrote to me encouraging me to use mules instead of a tractor when I worked my property. The best one came from a guy trying to raise a herd of Black Angus cows. He kept getting a few white-faced calves. When he spotted a white-faced bull on my property, he wrote to seek my ideas on how to fix the situation. I was asked to be a part of the taste test for Gentleman Jack‚ a new brand for Jack Daniels. The company once asked me to write my U.S. congressman to influence a particular piece of legislation it was trying to get passed. I was honored that the company valued my influence. The local package store keeps asking for my feedback, as if it’s a rep for Jack Daniels. I’ve gotten calendars, coasters, and catalogs for ordering JD paraphernalia. I could keep going, but you get the point. Five principles of customer devotion What are the principles Jack Daniels Whiskey uses to up their customers’ ardor for their brand? Below are five principles reflected in its clever Tennessee Squires Club. Enlistment: Customers care when they share Jack Daniels invited me to write my congressmen! Devotion toward a packaging company can ratchet up dramatically when customers get an opportunity to put some “skin in the game.” Inclusion not only captures the creativity and competence of customers as they serve with you, but their commitment and allegiance rise as well. Granted, there are some customers uninterested in participation. And sometimes the inclusion of customers is inappropriate. Like Jack Daniels, the secret is knowing when and how to include. Only ask customers for what is reasonable—a request appropriate to a loyal customer. Make the request like your mother taught; use the “may I” and “please” courtesies learned growing up. Be sure to make inclusion something unique, not the beginning of a habit. Provide customers a brief background when making a request for assistance—no complaining or whining. Remember that customers must have complete freedom to take a pass—and without a guilt trip. Finally, never forget to express your gratitude. Engagement: The power of straight talk Jack Daniels uses the package store owner to get feedback, up close and personal and without defensiveness. Dramatic listening is a contact sport, not a research project. Market research and survey results give you data, not loyalty; information, not devotion. Stanley Marcus, co-founder of Dallas, TX–based Neiman-Marcus once said: “A market never purchased a single item in one of my stores, but a lot of customers came in and made me a rich man!" Customer devotion is built on face-to-face engagement laced with straight talk and responsiveness. “Think of customer complaints as diamonds with the coal still attached,” says Bern McPheely, chief executive officer of Hartness International, Inc., a large packaging machinery manufacturer in Greenville, SC. “We teach our people how to polish the diamonds by positioning our complaining customers as candid problem solvers.” If you ask for an evaluation, you only hear from the extremely happy and the extremely angry. But if you ask customers a problem-solving question such as, “If this were your firm, how would you … ,” customers are willing to build. Enlightenment: Growing customer love Customers have learned their thrivability is anchored in their capacity to keep up. They seek learning in practically every facet of life. As customers, we want software that not only instructs in application but also offers insights into possibilities. Inadequate knowledge can cause receptionists to get dinged much quicker by customers than rude interchange. The real estate firm able to implant enlightenment into the experience will win customer devotion. “Today’s suppliers have to expand their service offering beyond delivering a quality product at a competitive price,” says Paul Russell, director of enterprise packaging for Hewlett Packard Company. “It pushes into the areas of providing customers intelligence about regulatory issues and pending legislation. As the economy gets tighter so will the supplier-customer relationship.” “One route to increasing my loyalty,” Russell continues, “is to have suppliers bring me the kind of performance benchmarking data formerly we had done by third parties. We have several suppliers work together in collecting raw data (material costing, structural design elements, forensics photographs, etc.) then fashion it into a usable form that allows us to make smarter business decisions faster. These suppliers are rewarded with greater business opportunities.” Entrustment: Affirming the Covenant Reliability, according to customer research, is the attribute most critical to customer loyalty. Customer service is an implied covenant—a promise to exchange value for value. When that promise is broken and the customer is left feeling disappointed, smart real estate firms use the event as a tool to solidified trust. Research shows that customers who have a problem and have that problem spectacularly solved end up more loyal than customers who have never had a problem. It is through the effective management of betrayal that customers come to truly trust. This does not imply packaging companies should intentionally mess up so they can fix the problem well. It does mean that we take enough risk to create a likely potential for a mistake and then handle the service betrayal with the care of a great friend. Such powerful restoration takes a culture in which associates view mistakes as a chance to learn and customer complaints as a valuable gift. Customers do not expect you to be perfect; they just expect you to care. How packaging companies demonstrate that caring can make a major difference in the adoration of those served. Taylor Provisions has always been a loyal customer of Schroeder Machines in Syracuse, NY, ordering two different case-packaging machines in the ’70s and ’80s. When the need surfaced in the late ’90s, they again called on Schroeder. However, when it came time to install the equipment there was one major problem: They couldn’t get the machine in the door. Over the years Schroeder had modified the original design of their case packers, incorporating new technology that would save floor space. Unlike the modular design of the late ’80s, it was one solid piece, too big to go through the door. “We met with the folks of Taylor,” said Schroeder sales manager Matt Brown. “We concluded the most practical solution was to cut the machine into two pieces, but it would need to be done at our plant. The machine was shipped back, cut in half and it was ready to go back out, this time in two separate sections. We installed the machine successfully, and it is still running today.” Enchantment: Making the process magical Every letter I received from the folks in Lynchberg was a creative masterpiece. I tear it open faster than a check from the IRS. Regardless of the modifier, service with a surprise still builds customer devotion. We cannot rely on “wowing” the customer as our mainstay. At some point we run out of room trying to one-up the last experience. But, most of us still enjoy an occasional unexpected gesture or the thrill of making a moment unique. Cult brands have devoted customers! Like the fans of Jack Daniels, they don’t just recommend you; they insist their friends do business with you. They not only forgive you when you make mistakes, they defend you to others who have bad experiences with you. They give you candid feedback when they spot a problem, even if you take their feedback for granted. The path to customer devotion is not complex. But, it by no means is easy. It begins with treating customers in new ways. If you include them, connect with them, teach them, trust them, and wow them, they will passionately reward you with their devotion, their advocacy, and their funds.

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