April 17, 2009

The Rubber Duck: Driving Talkable Moments in Your Consumer Experience

This week I’m going to dodge the Oprah/Twitter hype and unfortunate Dominos incident in favor of a little reminiscing. In 2001 I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk given by Professor Bernd Schmitt as a prospective student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. He is known for his expertise in experiential marketing, and was sharing the story of an upscale hotel chain that placed rubber ducks in guest bathtubs as a delightful touch to make the stay memorable. The ducks then traveled home with the guests as a reminder of their stay at the hotel, a daily visible cue to return.

Recently I was reminded of this example when asked if companies can truly harness word of mouth as a marketing tool. In a prior post I mentioned that customer satisfaction does not predictably drive word of mouth: customer delight does. For many of us, delight seems a bit ethereal.Savvy brands engineer or amplify delightful “talkable” moments in their customer experience to drive word of mouth. What’s a talkable moment?

The Colonnade Hotel uses rubber ducks to drive word of mouth.   What's your duck?

The Colonnade Hotel uses rubber ducks to drive word of mouth. What's your duck?

Take a hint from your consumers. How do they describe you to a friend? At the Colonnade Hotel, many guests returned from their pleasing stay and mentioned the unusual rubber duck to their friends. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for rubber duck aficionados, this was copied widely and became less noteworthy. For Virgin Atlantic’s business class passengers, flyers return raving about the posh and entirely unexpected Heathrow Clubhouse with a spa pool. Do many flyers use the pool? No. But it certainly drives word of mouth!

What are triggers of discussion? Let’s use Facebook as an example. I was lunching with a colleague who had just returned from a reunion with her best friends from camp. They lost touch 20 years ago and found each other on Facebook. After hearing her story, I was similarly inspired to track down my best friend from camp, and proceeded to barrage anyone in my vicinity with the story. Was I likely to spontaneously articulate that I find Facebook rewarding because it allows me to connect more deeply with the people and interests in my life? No. Meeting my best friend from camp for drinks thanks to Facebook? Very easy to relate. And often led to a more in-depth conversation on why someone should join.

Amplifying. Can you guarantee that your potentially talkable moments will work predictably on everyone? Well, no. But you can use the insight to increase the odds that each consumer experiences that potentially talkable moment, and measure the outcome. Walk into the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and you’re greeted by a concierge who will give first-timers a tour of the amenities. Hear a few heart-warming stories in the press about reunions driven by Facebook? What if users were asked to update their status with the most interesting person they connected with? You too may be inspired to give it a go and talk about it.

So, what’s your duck?


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