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Time to bring back the human touch

Cegos Team

It’s the small clues that lead to brand transformation!

At our recent Business Transformation Summit, brand futurist and best-selling author Martin Lindstrom gave a fascinating keynote on customer experience. Here, we reflect on the key messages from Martin’s presentation.

No matter what our culture, age, gender or any other feature of being human, we all have much in common. And we are, at heart, fairly irrational creatures.

It is this thinking that lies behind Martin Lindstrom’s approach to business transformation, and he has plenty of experiences and stories to back him up. After all, this is the man who helped LEGO go from near bankruptcy to becoming the biggest toy company on the planet.

Picture: Critical woman looking trough a lens for clear observation

In a world where – according to research by McKinsey – 95% of transformation strategies fail, we need to examine why we are getting it so wrong. The answer may surprise you.

At this critical juncture in human history, we are overwhelmed with data. IBM reported recently that 90% of all the data we have in the world today was created in the last two years. That is a staggering statistic and explains our obsession with Big Data.

In our quest to make use of this Big Data, however, we often lose sight of what Martin calls Small Data, which he defines as the data that tells us what people like and don’t like, what they need and what they want. Big Data gives us results, but rarely shows the reasons behind them.

Transformation from a dirty pair of sneakers

Take LEGO, for example, back when the toy giant saw a drop in its fortunes. Managers assumed youngsters were no longer interested in spending time putting plastic bricks together. Instead, it seemed that kids wanted the fast, easy thrill that came from video games, which were far more popular. LEGO’s answer was to reduce the number of bricks in its toy sets and made the bricks bigger. Sales plummeted.

So, Martin and his team were tasked with getting into the minds and hearts of LEGO consumers, and help turn around the brand.

The team visited and observed the type of kids who would normally use LEGO and came across some interesting insights. But the ‘eureka’ moment happened when they talked to a boy whose prize possession was a dirty, worn-out pair of sneakers. Why was this? It seemed an unusual thing to be so proud of. The boy claimed to be one of the best skateboarders in his neighbourhood, and the sneakers were proof that he had achieved that status because the sneakers were scarred a scuffed from so much use. It had taken him hours and hours of practice, determination and application to become the best skateboarder in town, so his sneakers were like a trophy.

Picture: Martin Londstrom, Brand Futurist, at the 2018 Business Transformation Summit organised by Cegos

Kids, it seemed, were not shy of putting in the hours and the mental effort to win. Indeed, they prefer a difficult challenge that brings kudos amongst their peers.

LEGO went back to the drawing board, literally, and put more and smaller bricks back into their sets. They also created a culture around the brand with The LEGO Movie, and sales rocketed to an all-time high.

It was only when LEGO looked past the Big Data and examined the impulses that made consumers want to use their product that the true transformation happened.

That’s not to say that Big Data is useless and should be ignored. Far from it. Martin suggests the ‘sweet spot’ comes from using Small Data to understand the causation of what the Big Data tells us. You start with the hypothesis and Small Data tells you the thinking behind it.

“If you want to study animals, don’t go to the zoo, go to the Amazon.”

Organisations must research the experience their customers have of their brand to fully understand the subconscious choices consumers make when buying. And that can only be achieved by talking to customers directly.

However, you must ask the right questions.

Picture: Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) sitting on a tree in Tambopata National Reserve, Peru

When Martin and his team were brought in by SWISS airlines to help boost sales in economy class, passengers were asked what they would like to see improved. They came up with the answers you would expect about more space, better food and a greater choice of entertainment on longer flights.

But when the team dug deeper, they saw that a big issue people have when flying is anxiety; not just anxiety from a fear of flying, but anxiety from the stresses and strains of going through immigration, baggage reclaim and getting out of the airport.

The answer was to retrain the crew to respond to these anxieties and make the flight a much more comfortable experience. This included the captain announcing details of the gate they would arrive at, the status of queues at immigration, and expected time from touchdown to leaving the airport. People could be reassured and plan accordingly.

Importantly, the crew understood their role in this transformation and so were motivated to make it happen. It made a big difference and economy passenger sales grew as a result.

The search for empathy

In the end, it all comes down to emotions. The most successful companies are good at creating empathy with their customers. They invariably offer a service which has the customer at heart, with profits a secondary, although important, consideration.

That’s why Martin thinks we should forget about old-fashioned distinctions between B2B (Business-to-Business) and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) marketing. Instead, we need to think about the human touch and should always aim for a H2H (Human-to-Human) approach.

Indeed, the whole market is changing in such a way that those companies who focus on community, culture and authenticity will win. Big corporations will probably lose here, says Martin, because research shows that people don’t trust them. Unless the big brands of today change their approach, many will be all but extinct within as little as 10 years.

Picture: Martin Lindstrom, Brand Futurist, at the 2018 Business Transformation Summit organised by Cegos

Martin suggests we return to basics if we are to make headway in the next decade. People have become so obsessed with technology that the first thing they reach out for when they wake up in the morning is their smartphone. Every waking hour, they are connected, increasingly spending more time in the online world and less time conversing with others in the real one.

Even when people are alone, they connect online and never get bored. Yet true innovation comes through boredom. It is among the quietness and lack of stimulation that our imaginations fire up. People need space to innovate, and that includes giving them the right conditions to think, imagine and tell stories in their minds.

It’s time, says Martin, to bring the human touch back into the customer experience. And you should be radical in your approach, not timid. Shake things up so much that people notice.

As Charles Darwin said:


Much of what Martin Lindstrom said resonated strongly with the L&D professionals who attended the conference. In fact, you can learn how customer experience principles help you develop sustainable, efficient and memorable learner experiences in this previous article.

If you need help transforming your customer experience and training your people to make it happen, talk to Cegos about how we can help.

Written by

Cegos Team

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