Monday, October 26, 2009

Encyclopedia Best Buy - Truly a massive amount of offerings from one company.

I have been wondering for a long time: What is the best way to educate customers as to who we are and more importantly why they should do business with us. During the keynote speech at the 09 DMA the speaker told a story about Accidental Death & Dismemberment Insurance and the takeaway is asking yourself how does the customer answer the question: "What's in it for me?" While he was talking about that, I started thinking a little more deeply about how I much love I feel for the company that I work for and the lack of a content in the messages that we currently send to our customers. In this blog update I am going to attempt to convey how I feel and some ideas for improvement. Bear with me as I try to get my points across, and please remember that the opinions and views that I express in this blog do not reflect or represent any thoughts, views, policies, or anything else of that nature for/of Best Buy LLC, and are solely the views and opinions of the contributing writer.

Features vs. Benefits has been a big part of the training I have received and coached to others during my tenure at Best Buy. I am very aware that no one buys a feature unless they are showing off, but that most people make the decision to purchase when the value of the product or service in question outweighs the price at which it is being offered. One of the areas where I feel we struggle the most is in explaining all of the benefits of doing business with us to our customers and sometimes even to our own employees. The question "Why [should I shop at] Best Buy?" can be answered a great many ways, it really depends on what product or service we are talking about, but can this be answered by the average loyal customer? What about our lapsed customers or even by the average associate? I would pose that there is going to be a wide range in terms of those who can truly answer that question and how they answer it. I believe it would be an interesting experiment to run and give us a lot of data around our message.

The Best Buy brand message is simple: "We improve people's lives by making technology and entertainment products affordable and easy to use, while learning from challenge and change, unleashing the power of our people, showing respect, humility and integrity, and having fun while being the best, while we promise to make sure you know all that we know, to delivery an experience that inspires you, make a difference, never leave you hanging, and blow you away with the latest and greatest.

Maybe it isn't so easy after all and I didn't even begin talking about Geek Squad services or Geek Squad Black Tie protection or Best Buy Mobile or Insignia or any of the other Brands that we currently offer for that matter. The point I am trying to make with all of that is that our brand message is more of an encyclopedia that can't be conveyed in a 30 second commercial, or even in a 5 minute conversation with a customer. Personally I have talked with customers for 20 minutes or more around specific reasons "Why Best Buy" is the place that will meet/exceed their end to end needs.

The fact is, right now in this current model we do rely heavily on the "blue shirts" to deliver our messages, and as someone who wears a blue shirt I am thrilled that Brian Dunn believes in us enough to give us the opportunity and responsibility to make or break our great company. I can't think of many companies that would let its front line employees control its destiny in such a way, and the companies that come to mind don't have hundreds of thousands of interactions with the general public every day of the year (excluding the three where we are closed).

The reason I am writing this is to spark conversation, and ideas around what ways we can improve upon the delivery of the information that we want our customers to know about us. It seems to me that at this point there are a million reasons why Best Buy is the greatest place to shop, and until we can get that message out to the public we will have to continue to fight with places like Walmart and Amazon on price, when price isn’t even one of the top concerns for technology customers ( Informed customers make the best decisions. They typically get the right product, coverage, and services to meet their needs. This is part of why Best Buy employees (current or former) make great Best Buy customers as they know why they want and know what Best Buy has to offer in terms of accessories, Geek Squad Black Tie Protection, services, financing/reward zone master card, etc. This is also a reason why so many Ex-Employees continue to shop at Best Buy even after they move on to other careers. So with that in mind here are some of my ideas.

Lets make the "Why Best Buy" message accessible. This fix is pretty easy, we already have tools in place (a dozen different .com sites, lots of social media: Facebook/Twelpforce/etc.., weekly flyers, buyers guides, commercials). The only thing that has to be done is to put more of the information into these formats and let our customers know the information is there for them in the interest of transparency. Maybe we could turn it into a marketing campaign where the goal is trying to get the customers interested in all of the reasons that make Best Buy such a great company, perhaps a hunt and find game with different quizzes that they can take to earn prizes.

We can print a Quarterly Catalog. Look at Ikea's success with this direct mail catalog. This is a great medium for informing customers as we can inform them as to what we offer and to go into more benefits of our products on each page. This is really the next evolution of the Buyer's guides we have been using. If we used a quarterly Catalog as a Buyer's guide, we could then go deeply into how each feature benefits different activities, and cast a spotlight on products that bring these features out. We can also educate customers around how Geek Squad can make it easy for them, and how we can help customers protect their products with Geek Squad Black Tie. We can talk about how our financing gives more buying power and streamlines large purchases and how Reward Zone Master Card will double your points and the life your certificate (6 months vs 90 days), and that you can use it anywhere to get back up to 2%. We can inspire ideas of how you can setup your camera to wirelessly transmit the pictures you have taken of your family vacation the moment you get back home to your computer, and how you can then instantly view those on your TV, or share them with family all over the world. I feel that the weekly ad has enough emphasis on selling and offering product, this would be more about fulfilling the promise of make sure know all that we know. I think a cool name for it would be "Encyclopedia Best Buy".

Have a presence at more community events to drive awareness. A while back I submitted an idea to IdeaX around a mobile team to support community events - by using a team like this we can educate customers who may never come to our stores, listen to our commercials, or our other marketing attempts. This is a way to have a very personal one customer at a time type of education much like our efforts in store and via Twelpforce. By putting our brand out there we also become a local business instead of a “giant faceless monster here to eat your babies”. Forgive my attempt at humor, but I really fail to understand how we aren't a local company. I understand that part of the profit goes up the ladder to Minnesota, but from there it is divided among shareholders who live in everyone's community. Also, it isn't as if we are being bussed in from corporate HQ, generally we live in the communities where we work, and thus we spend our earnings in the local community. Presence at community events would just help people understand that we do have faces and that Best Buy is a place to go for help.

Better employee education. I read posts everyday on the Internet that an associate didn’t have knowledge to meet the customer’s needs; then I read feedback that that an associate at Best Buy blew me away because they knew so much. Clearly every store is going to be different, and beyond that every employee and every interaction will be as well. What this shows us is that most customers have come to expect a certain amount of knowledge from us, which can be a double-edged sword. At our store part of our local culture that helped us through our Grand Opening was L2T2. Despite the visions of druids L2T2 was really simple - everyday your goal was to learn two things and teach those two things to other people. We don't really focus on this anymore and it is easy for mature stores move away from their foundational excellence. I think the best way we ensure that we have the most knowledgeable employees is moving 80-90% of the head count to full-time. Employees that are in the store more often have a better chance of having more knowledge. The next part is to require that all associates become board certified quarterly. The board we be composed of employees from across the district, the questions would range from general Best Buy knowledge to general product knowledge to more specific product knowledge based on rank. Very much like the old ranking system of Magnolia Pros. Employees then would have their rank on their name badge so everyone would know where an individual stands. In terms of the logistics for this program we would use a Net-meeting program like Skype and each session would be a 5-10minute process and the board would meet for 8-10 hours a day meaning each board would be able to process 48-120 employees a day. Meaning each store would take a day or two to process making this a two week rolling process with a huge speed impact given to having multiple boards. The advantage to this over the current process is that employees and training dept gains better localized knowledge of where we are succeeding and struggling.

Let the customer decide which is the most relevant part of Best Buy. The issue that consistently comes up when I have conversations about this with people is that there is a too much to deliver and it is nearly impossible give weight to one piece of what we do over another, which leads to why I am so frustrated with our current marketing: no one seems to know everything we offer, or at times anything we offer, beyond product before walking into the store. Its great that they came in, but the next question is the one I ask most customers, "what brings you in today?" The answer is usually the product, although sometimes they still give their trained response "just looking". The point is that we are doing some amazing stuff, and other retailers can't or won't compete with most of it, but because we haven't given this knowledge to our customers they don't have to compete. If customers knew the differences between Best Buy and the other retailers I can't think of a reason they wouldn't shop here for most products other than just price, which we match vs. other local retailers. If its price alone Amazon is a great place to shop, but what if you would like to have an expert come out to your house before you buy anything and recommend the best solution for the room, then help you pick it out in store, hook you up with an amazing 0% interest financing plan, schedule delivery and install, and be there if something goes wrong even four years after you bought it. I don't think Amazon can compete with that even if you do save a few hundred bucks when you buy it, who cares if you can't use it? There was a recent study that many people only use 20% of the features/capabilities of what their currently technology can do. They have the products in their house, but simply aren't using these products for many reasons such as not having the know how to do it, using the product on the wrong setting, or not using the right cable.

So I guess the question then becomes how do you let the customer decide what is the most important part to them? It’s easy; you ask them. Lets start giving lists of our features/benefits to our customers through the many forms of surveys that we offer now. Lets also start polling customers that are shopping the competition, and putting links up all over the Internet. We can find out what is most important to a wide variety of customers. We can then sort and target them with the messages that fit them. Essentially letting the customers decide how they want to be marketed to based on the answers they give us. It would be interesting to try it.

The last idea I want to talk about… Advertise! Apple is a great example of how advertising is supposed to work. With a legion of loyal fans and giant success with their iPod this company knows how to use advertising to accomplish its goals, like forcing even Microsoft’s hand at times. Let’s stop and look at the iPod for a moment. Apple wasn’t the first company to produce an Mp3 player (or a DAP for those in the know) the first MP3 player was Saehan’s MPMan which was quickly followed up with Rio’s PMP3000, and this all happens three years before Apple places the iPod on the market. Apple leveraged its fan base for its initial release of the iPod, then turned to advertising to move beyond Apple fans and into the mainstream, there was nowhere you could turn without seeing those silhouettes wearing the iconic white earbuds against brilliant backgrounds. Maybe it doesn’t exactly drive home my point about giving customers knowledge around what we do, because those ads didn’t tell people much about the product, but it did get them excited enough to find out what it was. What if we created an ad campaign for each of the features we offer? ROI be damned. We just move to educate customers around all of the Why Best Buy. A commercial for Geek Squad Black Tie Protection would be easy, as we have already filmed one that we ran in our Home Theater department. (The customer accidentally knocks over her “Big Sip” spilling liquid on her camera, a Geek Squad Agent comes to the rescue and uses the force to undue the damage). It would be an easy task to reshoot this with new actors, or get a new release drawn up and have the existing actors paid for their work to go national. It would be great to see a 30 second commercial focused on Financing, or Reward Zone Master Card. I would love to see a print ad for Home Theater Installation. What about an ad for Geek Squad Autotechs installing a GPS in a Car Magazine? What about our Appliance department being featured somewhere (wait Best Buy carries appliances?) The list goes on and on, and I don’t want to leave Best Buy Mobile or Rocketfish or Insignia out of this random list at the end (or Init, or 5-Star, or Speakeasy, or BBFB, or Pacific Sales, or Magnolia, or Dynex, or AudioVisions, or Napster, or Future Shop, or Carphone Warehouse).

Anyway, I guess that about sums up my portion, if you are still with me I encourage you to post your ideas, views, theories, or miscellaneous comments. Keep in mind the question, “How can Best Buy let customers know about the millions of great things we have to offer?”

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