Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's behind taste and preference?

Are you a dramatic, exotic bird of paradise? A simple, happy daisy? Or a fine lacy heather? These three different flowers grow wild along the side of Quail Garden Road, and I get to enjoy them on my morning walks. Each beautiful in its own way, and oh so different. What makes someone prefer one over the other? I have a definate preference and I suspect most people do.

Line me up next to someone with the same background, same age, same gender, same career, same stage in life, and yet it's very likely we'd both pick a different flower. The choice of a preferred flower may be no big deal, but think about the places where the aesthetic of taste has big financial impacts. Line me and that person who appears so similar to me again and ask us to pick a car, a pair of shoes, a color of paint, or any numer of consumer goods and we'll behave like the individuals we are.

Each with our own sense of taste. Not just members of some demographic group (which of course we are), but individual people with our own personal taste and preference. So for product designers and communicators everywhere our jobs depend on an understanding of this illusive aesthetic of taste.

I'm left wondering about that illusive chicken and egg debate. Does something become popular when it's liked? Or is it liked because it's popular. That's a matter of taste I guess. For now, I'm enjoying my dramatic and exotic bird of paradise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Will you take yours standard or do you prefer customized?

It's the age of the customer, and they are in control, right? Right. I've been reflecting this past week on the number of ways, opportunities, products and experiences impacted by that frame of reference. More often than not it shows up as an "either/or" equation. Take homebuilding for example ... it's EITHER the 300 home/market/year national builder OR the 65 home/market/year more regional builder. The differences get further explained like this. The national can build homes faster, often less expensively, with more standardization. The regional may take a little longer, be more open to adapting to buyer requests, and in some cases it may cost a little more. This comparison is courtesy of Matt Jones, partner of Sabal Homes, as quoted in the January issue of BUILDER magazine. See page 147.

There are degrees of black, white and grey in this comparison for sure, as some of the best builders in the country are wrestling with. Whatever the space, or industry product-based comparisons are easier to identify than some others. But they are everywhere...

Take services. It's always peeved me as a client when requesting a proposal or an overview of services to be provided by an ad or PR agency when I get a templated response to a request. {Pull out last proposal with standard language and insert new potential client name here}. Ok, so it's just the start of the relationship, and it may result in zero new business, but show me you care, and that you want to dance baby! Show me a little interest and understanding of my unique problem or business opportunity. Show me you can customize your approach in this first moment of truth. I'm not saying give it all away, but don't just show me the standard. That's just boring, and easy. It's not an "either/or". Just like the homebuilder example, there are shades of grey.

Take medicine. My brother the pharmacist has drilled the importance of "evidence-based drug therapy" into my brain. So in medicine the paradigm would be follow the protocol (standardize) or personalize (customize) the care for the patient. That could get tough. Every human body is different and will react to the most tried, tested and true drug therapy differently, but the theory is the protocol gives physicians and pharmacists a place to start.

So maybe that's it - standard is just a place to start. It's a repository of knowledge and learning. Trial and error, and evolution over time. It could be the sweet spot visible only if you can embrace the ramped up, customer-driven speed of evolution.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

DR Horton's authentic, personal follow-up ... there IS hope!

Just got a call back to a customer information card I filled out when visiting DR Horton's Alegria model in Palm Desert in November. It was the first EVER call back I've received after completing one of those forms in a model home. True story. And you can bet I have visited and shopped hundreds (ok, so I don't always) give a real number but most times I do.

Imagine my surprise when my iPhone rings, it's a 760 number that I don't recognize, and I answer it to be greeted with, "Hello Teri?". This is the first clue that it's potentially a sales call - the caller is tentative about my name. I go with it. Yes, it's me.

Marcie from DR Horton deserves huge kudos for sensing my pace and matching it. She had unapologetic confidence but played to her customer - me. Her first statement was "You visited us a while back. Now, I wasn't here when you came in, but you work for a builder as well right?" Wow. Not exactly, I work for Newland, a developer, but I am seriously impressed that she says she wasn't there, but is taking the time today to make a connection with me. Now I am listening.

She proceeded to ask me if I am looking to purchase a second home. I told her we were just beginning, when if I am totally truthful it's more likely that we were curious about the new product being put up in a development that stalled just as the housing recession caused so much grief. In any event, I tell Marcie yes, we are just in the early stages, not sure what our real plans are. Not missing a beat, or getting desperate, or trying to close me when that's clearly not my intent, Marcie is a pro.

She again acknowledges when we were there by saying, "I think when you were out we had just started on our new phase. Now it is much further along and we'd love to have you back out to visit us again." That was her ask, subtle, and related to the specific timing and phase of construction of the project when I last visited. She continues and tells me if I am interested there is still time to select flooring in these units, and DR Horton has added some nice upgrades.

No pressure, just acknowledgement. I thanked her, and hung up feeling that was a great exchange. It may seem small, but here are the take aways from me that Marcie delivered:
  • She knew me: when I was out to visit, where I work, and that I own a home.
  • She made an offer that related to me, not her: If I am interested I can still select flooring
  • She listened: No pushines, no threat to call back later, just clear, pleasant exchange of information
Bottom line ... she left me with the information that this particular development is healthy and proceeding, she didn't try and force me into anything, nor did she give me a sense she was at all desperate. She simply listened and used what she heard to tell her story. Awesome.

And for those so inclined, Alegria is a very cool single-family attached product with great amenities already in, located just off I-10 at Cook, and Frank Sinatra in Palm Desert. Comfortable floorplans, high level of fit and finish and well-priced. Check it out. Great job Marcie, thanks for a fabulous follow-up experience.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sea of sameness - "jaded is the new stoned"

I drove out to Palm Desert today to see my parents who are in town on vacation from Vancouver (escaping a wet winter). Meant I missed my STAR 123 chapter motorcycle ride, sadly. So I drive along the 215, which then turns into the 60, in the heart of Riverside County, trying to stay awake. You know that whiplash feeling? Head drops, snaps back, drops again? So I cranked the music, and the A/C and kept drinking cold water.

This area is home to multiple new home communities and builder subdivisions, and with the IBS show coming up this week in Florida, and predictions from many of my favorite market researchers that this year will be the uptick we all hoped the middle of 2010 would bring, I paid more attention to the billboards and directional signage than on previous drives along this stretch. Or, maybe it was another technique to stay awake - keep reading.

Wow. And not in a good way. Cover the logo, or the company name (out of respect, names are withheld to protect the innocent) and most every sign out there said something like, "Own from the low $200s" ... or "Own in the desert from the low $200s" ... or "Brokers welcome, new homes from the low $200s". Sure doesn't make me want to take the next exit and see what all the fuss is about. Or give me any reason to think there would be anything particularly compelling or meaningful if I did.

As I thought about this, and the observations made by many other than I that new home sales has become not much more than selling a commodity, I thought about one of many killer lines in Youngme Moon's book, Different that I finished last weekend - "Jaded is the new stoned". Maybe so. But if this is the kind of compelling call to action our customers face when trying to make a decision to buy, they might just all wish they all were.

I'm going to give us all a pass. It's been a tough few years in real estate and perhaps it will take a while for the creativity to rise from the ashes like we hope the economy does. One things for sure, there's lots of white space there for those with the passion and energy to grab it. KC and team?