Marketing I Admire – Ibex

logo-ibexIbex is another company that clearly understands its customers, or “tribe,” as Seth Godin would say. I discovered this Vermont-based outdoor wool clothing company a few years ago when I was looking for a better quality vest than the ones on display at REI.

My older brother put me onto Ibex. I not only enjoy wearing their products (I refuse to share my ultrasoft, wooly hat with anyone), but I see them as a great example of a company that’s taken pains to know its customers and integrate its brand – “durable, evolving, active and modern” – into everything it does.

Their Web site ( exemplifies what I mean:

  • They openly involve and display their tribe. Ibex has a client base of dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. Each product features “verified customers” who have posted their ideas, opinions, and product reviews, even the rare negative ones. Ibex knows that their best advocate is the existing customer, not their own company copy. They have the confidence to let real customers speak for them. Not something you see often. AND they have Google+ and Facebook Like buttons for all their products so rock climbers, runners, and back country skiers can share their passions for fine wool wearables.
  • They gently educate their prospective customers. With only four main navigation elements, the site is clean and modern. The pleasant surprise comes when you mouse over one of these (Men’s, for example). Try it. Not only do you see the product breakdown, but you get a primer on their clothing lines (they call it Ibex 101). Their site navigation doubles as a dictionary! Phenomenal experience for a first-time visitor.
  • They reinforce their identity and engage their visitors with compelling content. Ibex does content marketing as well as anyone. They include high-quality video (including “The Art of Wool” on their home page), informative articles, and Instagram shots of their own employees wearing their products. Not overwhelming and enough to help bolster their brand. By far my favorite section is “Dogs Matter,” a jaw-dropping assemblage of the best dog photography I have ever seen. I’ve bookmarked this page and visit when I need an easy smile.

Sure, my own career (and the careers of many friends) is bound to business-to-business (B2B) marketing rather than business-to-customer (B2C) retail. Yet examples like Ibex are inspiring all the same. I only wish that the head of marketing had responded to my interview request for this post. It seems an odd miscue for a company that so clearly uses its customers as a tool in their sales process to ignore a customer request that would bring them positive PR. A broken process? Lack of staffing? Disinterested in small-time online media? High on maple syrup? I’ll never know.

Perhaps they are too busy trail running with their canine companions through the picturesque woods of Vermont…

Don’t Discount the Primacy Effect

Updating my iPhone 4 to iOS7 was pretty much a fiasco.

Not only did the process halt about 3/4 of the way through, but I was then forced to wipe my phone, start clean and  reload my latest backup. All told, this gobbled over an hour of my day, leaving me with a sour stomach, elevated blood pressure, and an aura of co-mingled sweat and fear. My reward for relying so much on technology. Thanks, Apple. I can’t wait to update the iPad.

safari-compareThe real surprise came when my iPhone returned to life. I mentally kick boxed myself for having reflexively clicked “yes” on the update request before first reading up on what to expect. As you probably know by now, while the past few “minor” iOS updates had essentially left the interface intact, this new operating system was…different. Brighter colors, less texture and shading, new icons, and new security. Like an alternate sci-fi universe that’s close but not quite like our own, simultaneously jarring and comforting.

I was forced to halt to my day a second time to pay serious attention to this unexpected challenge. A flood of questions: What was new? What was removed? What features switched places? Would I like this new interface over time? Was it better than the old iOS?

The Struggle of New vs. Old Users

Faced with the redesign, I immediately thought of what marketers know as the Primacy Effect. No, it’s not a hotly anticipated Tom Cruise movie. It’s the psychological tendency to remember and favor what we know over what comes later. The primacy effect is our bias towards the familiar. It dramatically impacts our initial experience with any new redesign, whether it’s a Web site, a car interior or a mobile phone, and it often reveals itself as an initial lag in adoption or acceptance. Smart companies and marketers recognize this phenomenon.

Which Test Won recently presented an excellent example of this effect (now in their archives). In an A/B test, marketers compared click thrus on two newsletter formats: the original text-only version (the control) and a new, slicker HTML version (the redesign). They segmented the audience by subscription date (newer vs. older subscribers) and ran an email test to see whether the new format increased the number of clicks on linked offers in the email.

The test data showed that newer subscribers significantly and more frequently clicked on links in the new HTML format. Success! However…long-time or repeat list members  clicked less frequently on the HTML version and at about the same rate as they’d previously done on the text-only version. Follow-up testing suggested that this was merely the primacy effect in action, not a dislike of the new format. The HTML version became the standard, and long-time members eventually adjusted.

What can we learn from this experiment?

  • First, understand your audience. The segmentation of repeat vs. new subscribers was a savvy approach to analyzing the short- and long-term effects a redesign. There’s no other way do detect the primacy effect.
  • Second, test over a longer period of time. The Which Test Won case study shows how the primacy effect can give the control version a short-term advantage over the new variant. Don’t be in such a hurry to conclude your testing.
  • And third, consider incremental change over radical redesign. If the lion’s share of your business depends on repeat customers, ease them into change through communication and experimentation.

Back to my iPhone

After learning enough of iOS7 to regain control of my phone, I launched an informal survey of my iPhone-loving acquaintances. It revealed that while few of us love the new iOS7, we’re all resigned to accepting it. Apple’s most certainly got a handle on this, having tested and retested the interface, curried the favor of influential analysts and reviewers, and adjusted iOS7 enough to limit any customer backlash. They know that the abundance of cool, Android-like features will be a hit with new customers and that the majority of us existing customers will fall in line, as we always do.

If you feel that learning this new iOS is a waste of your time, go ahead and blame Apple. But in the end, as we grit our teeth and rewire our existing phone habits, recognize that we have the primacy effect to thank as well.

Marketing I Admire – Caribou Coffee

As of late, I’ve been frequently asked: “Which companies’ marketing programs do you most admire?” I’ve never loved this question, in part because I’m not wired for blind marketing hero-worship, but more because I view companies over the axis of time, as their campaigns swing from delightful to dreadful and back.

No one, no matter how amazing their marketing prowess, can hit it out of the ballpark every time. Just look at Apple’s less-than-inspiring “Designed by Apple in California” campaign.

That said, I do feel a distinct thrill when I interact with a business that uses its brand to truly understand and engage the customer. Caribou Coffee does this so consistently well that after heading to the coffee line, I always take a moment to scan the signage, merchandise, cups, napkins, etc… for their latest messaging. They’ve generated a loyal following because they (1) totally grok the needs of their customer, and (2) carefully bake their brand into every possible customer-facing opportunity.

caribouAs an example, take a look at the coffee cup and holder pictured here on the right. After sucking down half my latte, I finally focused on the copy, which:

  • Perfectly captured their friendly “personality” (brand),
  • Teasingly asked for my opinion (compare this to my less salutary Excel Dryer experience), and
  • Succinctly delivered their memorable tagline on why most of us are really drinking coffee: to stay awake and alert for the moments that matter most. Like driving or interviewing.

Notice what’s missing: fuzzy bromides on the superb quality of their coffee, their exclusive bean selection process or why they’re so much better than the competition. They’re not talking about themselves. Instead, they’re purposefully dedicating this valuable space to build a connection, an ongoing conversation about values. It’s an essential two-way dialogue, like my friend Casey Demchak discusses in his books and Web site.

I bit down hard on the bait and found myself hauled onto their Web site, creating a custom cup message and even uploading a photo to match my note. For my time and effort, they rewarded me with a memorable, interactive moment and a downloadable jpg of the cup. In exchange, I gave them my permission to email me and even supplied my zip code, which I am sure they will use to track and target me. I also liked them on Facebook.

caribou3And I didn’t mind at all. They gave me a unique experience, made me stop and consider what I valued, and thanked me. That’s rare and refreshing, like the guy you meet at a party who – instead of monologuing his dreary life story – leads off by asking what you’re passionate about. The next time I am passing a Caribou Coffee store and need to stay awake, they’ve got my business, hands down.

They’re producing powerful, well executed brand and content marketing. I can’t vouch for what they will do with my data, if and how well they will nurture me to spend more money with them. Follow through is half the battle, and many marketing organizations still haven’t got that down.

But I will say this: I admire you, Caribou Coffee. Keep up the stellar work.