Category Archives: Practitioner

How a Case of Laryngitis Helped Me Find My Voice and Grow as a Leader

By Deb Gabor
 
As a brand strategist, author, and public speaker, I rely upon my voice and storytelling ability to make a living. I’ve observed that my interpersonal communication style is less 1:1 and more “broadcast” in nature. I get in a room full of people, position myself directly in the center, and hold court. At a leadership conference featuring 10-hour days of training and intense strategy sessions for 1500 member leaders and staffers of a global organization of chief executives of private companies, I lost my voice…and at the same time found it. Along the way, I learned how developing deep emotional connections with individuals and practicing the art of followership can contribute to my growth as a leader.
 
About two days into the conference, I conceded defeat to a case of laryngitis that rendered me mute. Unable to speak above a whisper, I carried around a handwritten sign detailing my name, my role, and my hometown. Without my voice, I could no longer rely upon my trademark extrovert friendliness and ability to get a conversation going among strangers. I couldn’t raise my hand to ask questions that make me look smart to the rest of the room. I couldn’t make insightful observations that position me as an expert in my field. Instead of the center of attention, I was an audience member, skirting the fringes of conversational groups. Instead of a speaker, I was a listener. Instead of a leader, I was a follower.
 
Throughout my career, managers have recognized me for my brusque and direct communication style and tough-but-fair management approach, which typify what the Chinese call the masculine “yang” side of my energy. However, abundance, emotional closeness, and nurturing come from our feminine “yin” side. While I value these qualities in my personal life, I never knew the potential they could have for me in business.
 
During my unintentional silent retreat, I came face to face – or rather mouth to ear – with fascinating people with whom I may have never had a conversation. I whispered in people’s ears, drawing them into my personal space so I could get my points across. Even though I could hear them fine, my new acquaintances reciprocated by leaning in and whispering in my ear, instantly forming intimate bonds. There’s something about feeling a stranger’s breath on your face that makes you dispense with traditional pleasantries and small talk. Through these deep, one on one conversations, I learned about other CEOs’ joys, fears, and vulnerabilities. I listened closely to their observations about the frenzied conference activity going on around us. We talked about global politics, employees, taxes, our kids, relationships. We formed bonds that normally take business people years to nurture. I listened; I learned, and I was inspired.
 
For about four days I practiced a type of leadership I’ll call “followership.” The business world has validated my compulsion to speak up and assume responsibility for the strategies and tasks that I ignorantly thought everyone else was incapable of. As a result of my unrelenting desire to assert my authority over everything, I missed the fact that there are others who are capable and desirous of owning and doing things. Most of them are smarter and better than I.
 
In my life as an extrovert with a loud, confident voice and a healthy ego, I did most of the talking – closing off conversational threads and ideas coming from others. I learned that much of my leadership style is based upon being a hero and feeding my own ego. And that has been at the expense of some really worthwhile relationships and ideas.
 
I had two big ah-hahs from my voice loss:
 
1) My assumption that the state of leadership is a lonely existence is largely incorrect. It really doesn’t have to be. Any loneliness I have felt as a leader has been self-inflicted. The “holding court” style of communication has blocked me from developing vital and meaningful relationships with other humans (employees, colleagues, clients, mentors, friends) that have the power to inspire and nourish me in ways I never thought possible.
 
2) No one can (or should) lead all the time. Followership is the other side of leadership. Followership is the ability to take direction, to enthusiastically support a program, to be part of a team, and to deliver on promises. The concept of followership doesn’t get a lot of airtime because being a follower isn’t fun or sexy. They don’t really teach it in business school, and it certainly isn’t trumpeted as a key to sustainable business success. But followership delivers great rewards. Sitting back and letting others share their ideas, strategies, and responsibility for executing lets creativity flourish and empowers other people to grow as leaders themselves.
 
I have since returned to my day job and regained my speaking voice. I am consciously letting others hold court - although, this is really difficult for me. I am letting others speak up, and I am actively and attentively listening. I am peeling off individuals to connect with them more on a one-on-one basis so I can really understand what drives and scares them. Perhaps most importantly, I am letting others step up to be in charge, putting my voice and my ego in check, with great positive impact in my business.
 
Deb Gabor is the author of Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything. She is the founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft, and NBC Universal, to digital winners like Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway and RetailMeNot, and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. For more information, please visit www.solmarketing.com and connect with Deb on Twitter, @deb_sol.

Should Innovators Reveal How Much They Let Technology Make Creative Choices?

BrainIs it true? Do the most creative people generate ideas straight out of their heads without any outside help? That's what most people would tell you. But the reality is that the best innovators boost their creative output with the help of structured tools like patterns and even technology.

David Pogue wrote a brilliant article in Scientific American titled, "Should Artists Reveal How Much They Let Technology Make Creative Choices?" He cites numerous examples of how artists and entertainers use various types of aides to create their masterpieces. From the article:

Apple's GarageBand program for Mac computers lets you create fully orchestrated “compositions” just by dragging tiles into a grid. Everything sounds great, whether or not you know anything about rhythm, pitch or harmony. At the time of GarageBand's introduction, its product manager told me that even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing. It could inspire a novice to learn music, maybe take up an instrument.

Agreed. But how can we gauge artists' talent without knowing how much of the work was theirs? Should it affect how much we pay for their output? And what about when commercial musicians use GarageBand to produce their tracks—as Oasis and many indie bands have done?

Everyone knows that technology assists almost every creative endeavor these days, from the moment a four-year-old drips paint onto a turntable to make spin art. We also are aware that Hollywood uses computers for its special effects and that most pop songs are Auto-Tuned and pitch-corrected. But in those cases, the audience is in on the fact that machinery has helped out.

It's not the same thing when technology's assistance is concealed from us and is credited to the human. That's why lip-synching at live concerts is still controversial and why athletes are disqualified for secretly using drugs or other performance enhancements. Disclosing when our creative works have come from canned parts isn't just important for intellectual honesty; it would also make a better barometer for the rising tide of robots entering creative fields. (If you hadn't heard, robots are now capable of composing chorales and painting portraits.)

These days even professional musicians, artists and performers can substitute an on/off switch for human talent. Shouldn't the public know which is which?”

David's point about whether the public should know is well-taken. But in the grand scheme things, what matters most is how humans can elevate their creative output. Extensive research has shown structured approaches do more to boost creative output than to limit it. For thousands of years, inventors have embedded five simple patterns into their inventions, usually without knowing it. These patterns are the "DNA" of products that can be extracted and applied to any product or service to create new-to-the-world innovations. Using these patterns is no different than using a human-engineered technology. The technology has within it the wisdom of its creator that is then transferred to others to boost their creativity.

Humans have evolved to create. Stepping on the shoulders of others, be it through a technology or a pattern, is our next evolutionary path.

 

 

Solution-to-Problem Innovation

FFFInnovation is the process of taking an idea and putting it into practice. Creativity, on the other hand, is what you do in your head to generate the idea, an idea that meets three criteria. An innovative idea must be new, useful, and surprising.

New means that no one else has done it before. Useful means that it delivers some new value for you or your customers. And surprising? It means that the market will be delighted with your latest innovation.

Most people think the way you create an idea is to start with a well formed problem and then brainstorm a solution to it. What if you turned that around 180 degrees - It sounds counterintuitive, but you really can innovate by starting with a solution and then work backwards to the problem. In the Systematic Inventive Thinking method, we call it the Function Follows Form principle. Here’s how it works.

First, you start with an existing situation. That situation can be a product. It can be a service, or perhaps a process. You take that item and you make a list of its components and attributes. Then, you apply one of the five thinking tools - They’re called Subtraction, Division, Multiplication, Task Unification, and Attribute Dependency. I know some of these sound mathematical, but they’re really not as you’ll see when you start applying them.

When you apply one of the five tools to the existing situation, you artificially change it. It morphs into something that, at first, might seem really weird or absurd. That’s perfectly normal. In fact, as you get more comfortable with this method, you’ll come to expect it. We consider this strange thing a Virtual Product. It doesn't really exist except in one place – right up here in your mind.

This step is really important. Take your time. You have to mentally define and visualize the virtual product. I like to close my eyes at this step and mentally see an image of the item once it’s be manipulated. As you practice the method more, this will get a lot easier.

At this next stage, you ask yourself two questions, and you do it in this specific order. First question is, should we do it? Does this new configuration create any advantage or solve some problem? Is there a target audience who would find this beneficial? Does it deliver an unmet need? We call this step the market filter. It’s a filter because if you cannot identify even the tiniest benefit at this step, you throw the concept out the window. You don’t waste anymore time on it. This is very different than other ideation techniques like Brainstorming where “there’s no bad idea.” Trust me! There are plenty of bad ideas, and if you realize one here, you eject it and you go back and re-apply the tool to generate a different concept.

If you do identify some benefit, then and only then do you ask yourself the second question: Can we do it? Do we have the technical know-how to make this concept? Is it feasible? Do we have the intellectual property? Are there regulatory or legal barriers? This step is the Implementation Filter, because, once again, if you have a great idea in theory but you have no way to make it, don't waste anymore time on it.

If you pass through both filters, you move to the Adaptations step where you allow yourself some degree of freedom to modify the concept to make it even stronger and deliver even more value. You may have to iterate through these steps several times before you end up with what I would consider an idea.

The Principle of Function Follows Form - innovating from the Solution to the Problem.

Purdue University Students Dominate Using SIT

Recently, I was delighted to receive a message from my friend, Frank Grunwald, Visiting Lecturer at Purdue University, telling me of his plans to incorporate Systematic Inventive Thinking into his spring Industrial Design course. An expert industrial designer himself, Frank has extensive experience in consumer product design and new product development. Over the last several decades, he has designed small appliances, audio products, televisions, and other consumer electronic products for major corporations including General Electric. I couldn’t think of a better person to instruct these students on utilizing the patterns of SIT.

Frank’s teaching approach was fairly straightforward: after providing his 16 students with a two-session introduction to SIT he divided the class into four teams and set them lose to apply the five innovative templates to various products. Each group chose three products to run through the SIT process and subsequently picked the most promising of the three to develop into a final proposal.

Not only does Frank’s approach demonstrate how feasible it is to integrate the SIT process into academia, his students’ final products show that SIT is accessible, applicable, and advantageous to users of any age and field of interest.

The following are the final products from Frank’s students. These rising stars clearly put their best innovation foot forward. Click on the images below to read more about their products.

 

Ceiling fan

Hava: Ceiling Fan Redesign

by Mallory Evans, Reed Fansler, Bridget Lisec, Walker Mardis 

 

Grillain: Grill SIT Design Modification

by Johnnie Coats, Justin Harner, Maris Park, Courtney Rolland

 

Grill
RELIEF resized

RELIEF Atmosphere Enhancer

by Becca Alderink, Aaron Frutchey, Carter Gerard, Jack McGann

                                                                                     

Tazman Blend: Stand Mixer

by Dom Atibil, Casey Keyler, Ben Stibal, Sophia White

Mixer

 

Innovation Leadership: Managing Your Resources

BudgetAs an innovation leader, you are now responsible for a bundle of resources that you’ll need to get the job done. Those resources include human resources - your team - and also include financial resources in the form of a budget.

But a good leader thinks about resources beyond just human and financial. You may have tangible resources like physical products and distribution outlets. You may have intangible resources like brand reputations. And you have resources in the form of relationships. You have internal relationships like with your peers, and you have plenty of external relationships, with your customers, your suppliers, and your marketing services firms.

So, start your new role by taking a careful inventory of your resources and commit to being a responsible steward of them. Ask yourself, what exactly do I have on hand? What condition are they in? Do I have the right resources and enough to accomplish my goals?

Now, you may not be able to answer those questions right away, but you have to keep them in mind now so you don’t lose sight of them later. Let’s explore some issues you may face when managing your marketing resources.

In terms of human resources, you need to build a competent team. So keep these guiding principles in mind. Ask yourself, who are my A players, who are my B players that can developed into A players, and who are my C players that need to be moved off the team...as soon as possible? You’ll want to work closely with your HR partner, beginning Day One.

Now look at financial resources. You probably got some direction from your boss, but now it’s time to dig a little deeper. Meet with your financial partners and learn as much as you can about your budget. What is the process to set the budget? What is the process to spend it? How is it allocated? What have been the trends in spending? What areas of spending are getting the most bang for the buck?

Now, take a close look at your products and services. How are old are they, and when were they last updated? How do they perform, feature by feature, versus the competition? What needs to be improved? And, which ones may need to be retired to free up resources for new opportunities?

How do you sell your products and services? Examine your channels of distribution. What assets are there like warehouses and distribution centers? What channel partners do you have, and what role do they play? Most importantly, what information about your customers is being collected and who has it? How is that information being used?

Finally, what is your brand equity? Are customers loyal? What is your rate of retention? How satisfied are your customers?

This resource - your base of customers - may be your most important. You need to understand what gives you the right to win in the marketplace. THAT is your golden egg as we call it, and you want to take very good care of it.

 

Learn more about Leading a Marketing Team.

What’s In a Name? New Research Suggests We Look Like Our Name

Name pic
What’s in a name? Perhaps more than we might think, according to researchers at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. Most of us are familiar with the dynamic of “judging a book by its cover,” making quick judgments about a person based on initial appearance. But in a recent study led by Dr. Ruth Mayo and Yonat Zwebner, researchers investigated the opposite: can a person’s facial appearance be significantly influenced by their given name? The research suggests, “yes!”

In eight separate studies, independent participants were recruited and shown color headshots of random people. Participants were asked to choose the name of each individual from a list of names provided with each picture. The outcome: time and again observers chose correctly more than not. For example, when looking at a photo and considering four names – Jacob, Dan, Josef, or Nathaniel – participants chose the correct name “Dan” 38% of the time, which is above the 25% chance level for a random guess. Researchers found consistent results when controlling for ethnicity and age. And, even computers surpassed the odds by matching the correct name to a face to a clinically significant degree.

An interesting dynamic that researchers suggest from this study is the existence of shared face-name prototypes. It was remarkable that participants were unable to match names to faces from a culture other than their own, which indicates the possibility that shared face-name prototypes (eg. stereotypes) which are common in various cultures are necessary for the face-name matching effect to happen.

The study also suggests that the dynamic of self-fulfilling prophecy might be at work. Researchers found that participants still chose correctly above the chance level for random guess even when they could only see the participants’ hair style, suggesting that people may choose a hair style according to a stereotype that matches their name.

Though the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy is not new, researchers believe their contribution is innovative by demonstrating that the way we look is possibly impacted by the social tag we’re given at birth, one’s name. And since this name is given at birth, often before birth and independent from one’s face, researchers find it statistically plausible that the connection between facial appearance and social perception is a two-way street.

Researchers of this study are hopeful that their work will bring increased understanding of the important role social structuring plays in a person’s development. Gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are all understood social structures that impact a person’s individual formation and identity. But the possibility that a simple choice – the giving of one’s name – might have a significantly greater impact on one’s development than previously imagined is both intriguing, innovative, and worth increasing consideration.

To read more about the study, click here.

Segmentation is Killing Your Brand: Five Reasons To Find Your Unicorn Customer

by Deb Gabor

Brand deadA store is a place you go to buy stuff, usually out of convenience or habit. In contrast, brands inspire irrational loyalty and yes, even love. How does a company build itself into a brand that people can fall deeply, madly in
love with? The old model says segmentation is the key to business success. This involves strategically dividing your potential customers into groups based on who they are and why/how they’re buying. Segmentation is a fine marketing tactic, but it won’t help build a brand people can wholeheartedly rally behind. In fact, segmentation can even work against a brand by diluting the brand identity. In order to build the type of brand that customers can fall in love with, you must first create a detailed picture of your ideal "unicorn" customer.

Let me start with a real-world example of one brand that I personally worked with. This company is one of the world’s largest retailers of hookahs and hookah supplies. When I asked them who they thought their ideal customer was, they described an older Middle-Eastern man. In fact, their ideal customer – the person most likely to bring in the most amount of revenue for this company over time – was a young guy between the ages of 18-28, who wants to bring people together around the hookah. He is a discerning, curious, fun-loving hookah enthusiast who knows that the most memorable and fun hookah experiences start with the right equipment, accessories, and shisha tobacco. He wants to be the life of the hookah party. You can see why he’s the ideal customer.

This example clearly demonstrates how to define this ideal customer. First, start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is the customer who will be worth the most over the long haul?
  2. Who will be the customer who is the most profitable and delightful to serve?
  3. Who will not only keep buying from you again and again but will recommend you to others?

Then, create an in-depth profile of this customer – the person who is most highly predictive of your brand’s success. Imagine the ideal customer in excruciating detail: What kind of car do they drive? What clothing do they wear? What’s their perfume? Every minute detail must be worked out in your mind so this person becomes as real as possible. To help you fill in the details, consider doing the opposite of segmentation. Think about what unites your customers, and create a singular brand that is for a singular customer archetype.

What are the benefits of identifying the ideal “unicorn” customer?

  • Build a stronger brand identity. If a brand can clearly define who its biggest brand champion is, then more doors will open than previously imaginable. The creative process will become easier, and everything the brand does will be more thoroughly informed by this one anchoring concept. The brand purpose becomes unified and less fragmented, making it stronger and more appealing to customers.
  • Create a brand that your team can rally behind and be truly passionate about. When you build a brand with a strong identity and purpose, you can then recruit people to be part of the team who also feel strongly about the brand purpose. It’s much easier to inspire the team to put in extra work when they feel like the brand is something worth working for. In fact, it starts to feel less like work and more like plain old fun.
  • Make the brand more human. Thinking about the ideal customer as an actual person will help you think about the brand in more emotional terms. The result is a brand that people can relate to on an emotional level.
  • Inspire irrational customer loyalty. A strong brand identity makes for a strong company that instills customers with confidence. This means that people come back even if they’re dissatisfied simply because they love the brand and they know the brand will redeem itself.
  • Help to better inform segmentation. Without a clear brand identity, segment marketing is like driving around without a clear destination in mind. You might find some interesting things along the way, but you’ll waste time and gas, and you will probably find yourself getting a bit lost. Build a brand first, and then use segmentation to help spread your awesome brand identity far and wide.

Is Segmentation Dead?

Segment marketing has its place, and identifying the ideal customer archetype shouldn’t replace segmentation practices. But if your boss has asked you to go out and segment the market, you are probably putting the cart before the horse. First you have to identify the ideal customer, and then you can think about segmentation. Remember, you’re building a brand for ONE and segmenting the market to get your actual product or service in front of many.

If you want to make yourself more attractive to the man or woman of your dreams, you don’t start off by researching all the people in the world who might find you attractive. You focus in on that one person – your ideal mate – and learn everything you can about them – their favorite flowers, what TV shows they like, what they do on Friday nights. In order to build a brand, you have to approach your customers in a similar way. Learn more about the ideal customer and let those insights inform the brand identity. Segmentation can help in marketing, but it’s not going to help build a brand that customers can fall in love with. Finding your "unicorn" customer will.

 

Deb Gabor is the author of Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything. She is the founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft, and NBC Universal, to digital winners like Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway and RetailMeNot, and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. For more information, please visit www.solmarketing.com and connect with Deb on Twitter, @deb_sol.

Getting the Right Talent for Innovation

TeamPerhaps the most important role of the innovation leader is creating a competent team. For that reason alone, it’s one of the most challenging. It’s a constant fight for talent. You may have the best products and services in the market, but without a strong, talented marketing team behind them, you’ll start losing ground to the competition.

Building a competent team begins with recruiting and hiring the right people. But it takes much more than just telling your human resources department to go fill open slots. Top innovation leaders get actively involved. When is the best time to recruit marketing people? All the time! What I mean by that is you should think of recruiting as an ongoing activity. You need a pipeline of potential marketers ready to step in when a position opens up.

When I hire innovation team member, I always look for certain characteristics beyond just job experience and track record. I look for people who are competitive by nature, who have a high tolerance for ambiguity, who are great at networking, and who have a good head for numbers. Creating new products and services is a cash generating activity, so you’ve got to have solid financial skills.

Notice I didn’t mention specific commercial skills like branding or marketing research. That’s because innovation can be learned like any skill. You, as the marketing leader, need to establish a strong, well-defined training and development program for your entire organization. Be sure to make it an annual, on-going activity, not just a one time event. Training is an investment. For some examples, check out my other fundamentals courses on marketing, innovation, and branding. They’ll give you a good head start.

Innovators like to perform at high levels, but they have to be motivated. You, as the innovation leader, play the key role in doing that. Innovators are at their best when they feel a sense of purpose. They have to feel good that the products and services they put into the marketplace are valued by their customers. Innovators need to feel appreciated for the work they do and the risks they take. And they need to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments.

Be sure to use a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and do it throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting. Now here’s a tip. A great way to recognize innovators is to have one of your key customers present an award in front of their peers. That really ties it all together - a sense of purpose, a sense of appreciation, and a sense of recognition.

Creating a competent teams means getting the right talent, but also dealing with under performers. The mistake you can make is thinking that just hiring a few superstars will make up for the weaker talent. Just the opposite will occur. The superstars will get frustrated, demotivated, and they’ll eventually leave if they don’t think you’re dealing with the poor performers.

Your under performers either lack the skill to do the job or the will to do it. You have to have clear conversations with them to understand why they’re not performing, then set clear expectations and deadlines when they need to turn things around. If they don’t improve, they’re a liability to you and your team. You’ll lose credibility inside and outside the department if you don’t take action.

So take a look at your talent pool. Understand your team’s strengths and weakness, then put the right hiring, training, and motivational programs in place to keep upgrading your team year after year. That way, you’ll keep winning the fight for talent.

Getting the Right Talent for Innovation

TeamPerhaps the most important role of the innovation leader is creating a competent team. For that reason alone, it’s one of the most challenging. It’s a constant fight for talent. You may have the best products and services in the market, but without a strong, talented marketing team behind them, you’ll start losing ground to the competition.

Building a competent team begins with recruiting and hiring the right people. But it takes much more than just telling your human resources department to go fill open slots. Top innovation leaders get actively involved. When is the best time to recruit marketing people? All the time! What I mean by that is you should think of recruiting as an ongoing activity. You need a pipeline of potential marketers ready to step in when a position opens up.

When I hire innovation team member, I always look for certain characteristics beyond just job experience and track record. I look for people who are competitive by nature, who have a high tolerance for ambiguity, who are great at networking, and who have a good head for numbers. Creating new products and services is a cash generating activity, so you’ve got to have solid financial skills.

Notice I didn’t mention specific commercial skills like branding or marketing research. That’s because innovation can be learned like any skill. You, as the marketing leader, need to establish a strong, well-defined training and development program for your entire organization. Be sure to make it an annual, on-going activity, not just a one time event. Training is an investment. For some examples, check out my other fundamentals courses on marketing, innovation, and branding. They’ll give you a good head start.

Innovators like to perform at high levels, but they have to be motivated. You, as the innovation leader, play the key role in doing that. Innovators are at their best when they feel a sense of purpose. They have to feel good that the products and services they put into the marketplace are valued by their customers. Innovators need to feel appreciated for the work they do and the risks they take. And they need to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments.

Be sure to use a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and do it throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting. Now here’s a tip. A great way to recognize innovators is to have one of your key customers present an award in front of their peers. That really ties it all together - a sense of purpose, a sense of appreciation, and a sense of recognition.

Creating a competent teams means getting the right talent, but also dealing with under performers. The mistake you can make is thinking that just hiring a few superstars will make up for the weaker talent. Just the opposite will occur. The superstars will get frustrated, demotivated, and they’ll eventually leave if they don’t think you’re dealing with the poor performers.

Your under performers either lack the skill to do the job or the will to do it. You have to have clear conversations with them to understand why they’re not performing, then set clear expectations and deadlines when they need to turn things around. If they don’t improve, they’re a liability to you and your team. You’ll lose credibility inside and outside the department if you don’t take action.

So take a look at your talent pool. Understand your team’s strengths and weakness, then put the right hiring, training, and motivational programs in place to keep upgrading your team year after year. That way, you’ll keep winning the fight for talent.

How Innovation Affects Brand Loyalty

Brand loyaltyA company that retains a high percentage of its customers must be doing a lot of things right. That’s why Retention Rate is the best indicator of a company’s long term viability.

But keeping customers can be very challenging. To succeed, you need to understand how and why your customers buy your products and how innovating can affect their type of loyalty they have. There are four types of purchasing styles.

First is Brand Laziness. That’s when customers want to exert minimal buying effort. They don’t want to be bogged down with a lot of information. They just want to buy something.

Consumers use this style with old, familiar products and services that have worked well in the past, so they buy them out of habit without even thinking about it. They have no commitment to the brand. Think about how you buy flour, for example. This approach is highly efficient for low risk, simple products because it saves time and effort.

The key here is to be careful not to disrupt anything about your customers’ purchase flow. If you change the shelf location, packaging, or anything that makes them have to think too much about the purchase, you may lose them to another brand.

Next is Brand Loyalty. Truly brand-loyal customers are highly involved with the brand. They’ve had a good experience with it, and they know a lot about it. Instead of buying it out of habit, they buy it because they’re emotionally attached to it.

The key here is to continue to deliver high levels of quality and service. Consistency is the name of the game. If you let them down, they start drifting away.

Next are the Variety Seekers; people who shop for new alternatives over more familiar ones. Variety Seeking is the opposite of Brand Loyalty. Consumers use this style because they have yet to fall in love with a particular brand.

Try to get your customers out of this style as quickly as possible; otherwise, they’ll keep switching back and forth between you and competing brands. Try to lock them in with free trials, follow-up service, discounts, and loyalty programs.

And finally are the Problem Solvers. As the name implies, consumers use this style when dealing with complex products involving a lot of risk and uncertainty. They need to be highly involved, and they need to gather lots of information, especially if the product or service is expensive and purchased infrequently.

Think about buying a car, for example, or shopping for a plastic surgeon. It takes time and information to make a good decision.

As an innovator, you have to help customers when they’re using this style. First, provide as much information about the product as you can. Make sure it's where people can find it—in your stores, online, or with your salespeople. And, show comparisons between your product and the competition.

Loyalty drives high retention rates. The best innovators are those that understand each type of loyalty so they can continue to give their customers exactly what they want.