Fast Company

How to Run Your Brand Like a Therapist

jerry springerIf ever there was an argument for function, it's the Jerry Springer Show.

Dysfunction is the natural way of things. Instinct, amped-up denial, neurosis. That's why there's psychotherapy. To bring a bit of order. To close the gap between the psychological landscape where we all live alone, and the actual one where we all live together.

Know anyone completely functional? I don't. Know any companies that are?

When was it that businesses started speaking the language of therapy? "Bill shared his plan with us." "Alicia reached out to her direct reports." Once Bill would have just showed it and Alicia would have just told them. Now successful companies are "intuitive" (that computer company), and "transparent" (not Enron). These are marriage counseling ideas.

Delight. Now there's a therapy-age concept. Lots of companies seem keen to upgrade from satisfying their customers to delighting them. But while satisfaction suggests a full belly, delight suggests a giggling child skipping through wildflowers. That's a tall order.

Everyone's got favorites. Oakley and The Economist are a couple of mine. They're immaculately designed experiences, forever of their time, and I recommend them. They are, in the language of therapy, very present. But that's just me. Probably that's my inner child speaking to you from a spring meadow.

Which brings us to the Net Promoter Score (NPS), the "come-to-Jesus" of all market research metrics. NPS only asks one question, "How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?" If elegance is the absence of the unnecessary, this is elegance. Talk about user-centered design. The simplicity is breathtaking.

Fred Reichheld introduced the idea in 2003. There are bad profits, he said, and good. Bad: steroid profits from short term growth, using tactics that leave customers feeling mistreated or coerced. Result? The customer can't wait to shop around. Good: profits made with the customer's enthusiastic co-operation. Result? The customer will work with you, gladly promoting your brand. Enter NPS.

The Net Promoter Score isn't Viagra. Without desire Viagra can't work, and neither can NPS. Companies that move from a low score to a high one have to put in plenty of relationship work. NPS is a measure of loyalty, and loyalty is about trust, the deBeers diamond of lifelong customer-ship.

Andy Warhol DiamondWhich brings us back to therapy, and function. If it's used right, NPS can weed out the trashy transactional behavior: "Let's make a deal!" And help you replace it with high-functioning relationship behavior: "You complete me!" But the couch time is a commitment.

It's a recession out there. A time for pragmatism, but not the full Jerry Springer. What an opportunity for a company to find its true self and get in touch with all our feelings.

"A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Oscar Wilde. Lousy businessman, but pretty sharp on designed experience.

[Diamond image by Andy Warhol]

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Graham Button is a writer from London who worked in advertising for more than twenty years. He took the scenic route to Genesis, passing through agencies in Hong Kong, Toronto and finally New York, where he was a creative director and executive vice president at Grey Worldwide. He has created advertising in most media for every kind of brand and all sorts of companies, including Diageo, Kaiser Permanente, Molson Breweries, GM, and South China Morning Post Newspapers. Beaver Creek, one of the Vail Resorts brands, chose to follow him to Genesis from Grey. Work he originated as a copywriter or championed as a creative director has been recognized in awards shows in Los Angeles, Toronto, New York, London, Cannes, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sydney and has been featured on America's Funniest Videos and Larry King Live.

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3 Comments

  • Yannig Roth

    The quotation of Oscar Wilde is very clever, and I love the "steroid profits" expression too, not only because I practice competitive cycling ! What distinguishes a good company is, as you said, it's ability to satisfy customers in the long term : I think of Oakley and "that computer company" indeed.
    The top companies not only satisfy their customers, but surprises them too, in a positive way of course ;)

  • Steve Portigal

    Graham - I love this stuff! I might have suggested Dr. Melfi (or Paul Weston) as the iconic representation of therapy (versus Springer as the icon for dysfunction) but I enjoy the ping-ping through NPS, therapy, and Viagra. Agree that organizations are good at buying into their own myths, both good and bad, and a dose of outsider perspective (say, oh, I dunno, their CUSTOMERS?) can be a bit of an intervention...