The Invisible Touch

A review by Andrew Forward, of Harry Beckwith's book on modern marketing

epistemology - the study of what we know

Too easily do we decide that people are like us

Reality is nothing more than collective hunch, you need to question everything especially your own observation. Research may be the weakest tool

Data can be misleading. Life is real, hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. We spend our hypothetical time and money must differently than we do real time and money. The more innovative the idea, fewer people will understand, and most have a hard time buying what they do not understand.

Research supports mediocre ideas and kills great ones.

Soft evidence. Subtle chit-chat on a place about food in the USA tells us that American's love quantity, forget about being good - just make it lots. Even the college educated eat the highest calorie foods. Gym memberships sky-rocket in January, but are back to normal by February.

Hard evidence. Focus groups and survey's where people say they love (and would love to buy) low-fat, low-calorie, skinless KFC chicken. Hard evidence is dangerous because it appears scientific. People know what the right answer should be (i.e. "Yes, I will buy healthy"), and when studies ask this people like to delivery that right answer. Unfortunately, when we are not being studies we need not always do what is right.

The reason that research produces so much information of so little value is because do you really know who you are? Do you always act consistently? Do you do things that surprise you, disappoint you? Of course not. You are not always the person you wish to be and market research assumes you are.

We do not know ourselves. We do not act as we think we might. We are not the person we pretend to want to be. And so we do not always behave as how research says we will.

When doing research, 500 people reach the same conclusion that 15 do. And, using average people only produces average information - as they are only average. Key opinion leaders are the ones that offer the most in sight.

Key insight from conversations takes at least 20 minutes of small talk. That first 20 minutes of a conversation people have their guard and inhibitions up. Any conversations in which the subjects feel comfortable they lose sight of the fact that this might be reserved, and more readily provide using information.

Do not research; listen.

The emperors new clothes

Businesses is run as a succession of follies interrupted by moments of brilliance. Professional outsiders offer one great asset - their ignorance. They know not what works in your business and what does not. Do not just take wise looks at your business, but naive ones as well. You need someone who sees what your business truly is - and can tell you what your emperor is wearing.

Best practices, shmest practices

Every service industry can be dramatically reformed. And, following best practices is an invitation for ordinariness. You cannot expect to follow and game a competitive advantage - you must instead lead. Best practices quickly become common ones and can become a trap.

Ignore best practices. Then create them!

Ignore Nordstrom

Do not copy. Your business is more complex than that. Nordstrom is a very successful department store chain. It works because various parts of their business model work in concert, so if you simply copy one or two of those traits you will not see the same success. Nordstrom succeeds because it has created an entire system in which commissions work - not because of the commissions.

Most decisions are nto made, they are quickly reached, then justified. We seek out evidence in support of our view and dismiss, disregard or explain away any contrary views. Before you try to influence a propect's decision, find out what she has already decided, and why. If you can show that the prospect's facts are mis-guided then you may be able change her mind - otherwise it may be easier to simply walk away.

Imagination is not new, just redone

Totally new creations are not totally new after all. It is usually the combination of existing elements in ways no one else had combined them before. The more we see, the more we can combine and the more imaginative we can be.

Few want to be managed

Leadership is a fallacy. Most talented people dispise the idea of being managed. You, instead, create a business they care so much about that tey do not require management, goals so compelling that they will manage themselves.

What makes a great company? No prominent book has cited excellent managing as a significant influence. The purpose leads the employees, and manages them - instructing them what to do.

There are no ordinary jobs. There are people who insist on performing them in ordinary ways.

Lack of familiarity breeds contempt. We are always treating the unfamiliar with suspicion. Before you try to sell yourself, make yourself familiar.

Ansering an RFP

Because of the extraordinary demands for our service and the importance we attach to providing truly exceptional service to our loyal clients, we have a policy not to pursue (accounts / projects / assignments) that require extensive proposals. Our qualifications to perform the work you outline in your request can be found in the words of these loyal clients. We have included their names and phone numbers and have alerted them that you may be calling. These men and women would be happy to answer your questions and tell you why they chose us - and why they are elated they did.

We are eager to meet with you whereever and whenever you choose, to provide a detailed, concise, and clear description of how we would proceed with this work, and the costs, timetables, and other guarantees. We are confident that like our clients, you and everyone at ABC Inc. would be delighted with our work on this important task.

Before answering an RFP, make sure that you should - otherwise simply answer We'll do it.

Every service industry can be dramatically reformed. And, following best practices is an invitation for ordinariness. You cannot expect to follow and game a competitive advantage - you must instead lead. Best practices quickly become common ones and can become a trap.

Ignore best practices. Then create them!

Avoid Bundling

The more services you offer, you more you think you will sell. But, this fails for several reasons. Humans behave habitually and have difficulty changing - so a banker is in the habit of selling mortgages, not annuities. Your prospects prefer to work with apparent experts, and no one can really master several trades. Your prospects do not buy what they do not comfortably understand... The more you add to the sale, the more risk of complicating the transaction, the more you confuse your prospect and more likely you will kill the sale.

Strategy does not equal execution

McDonald's is having difficulties lately. It's lighter menu's are flopping, the Arch Deluxe, those sandwiches are all not doing well. McDonald's was based on being clean, fast and consistent - something which it may not be living up to that well. Before you lok at marketing, look at your execution.

Optimize your point of contact

Identify every possible place where you make a point of contact with your customers such as: building exterior, parking lot, hours of operation, signage, entrance, greeting, checkout, amenities.

For example, a book store could call its most avid customers and ask to recommend 10 favourite books. Or, you might have your sports section shelving be made up of football bleechers.

Your Offering Competitiors Offering

Inventory your points-of-contact and make each one extra-ordinary. And, do more than watch details, control them. An indifferent check-out employee can leave a lasting poor impression on clients.

Beware early success

Initial buyers are made up of friends, family and a hand-full of innovators. Your true buyers are far down the bell-shaped curve.

The catalogue prophecy

An early 1900's prediction was that bricks and mortar stores were dates, old fashion dinosaurs soon to be replaced by the faster, better, cheaper shop-at-home catalogue. Marketers failed to realize that even the most introverts still need to socialize, if only to watch people and make human contact. Look at Eddie Bauer, Pottery Barn, etc. To remain profitable they all opened up real stores.

Now, retell that story substituting catalogue with Internet and you have a similarly failed prophecy.

Stop measuring client satisfaction

Start increasing it. Expectations of clients constantly increase so that you must get better to stay even - so client satisfaction is pretty much meaningless.

People of incapable of being satisfied except in brief moments, then we move on. This is good thing because we drives us to improve things that we are dissatisfied with. But, once you show what you can do (as a service provider), your clients will expect it (and no longer be satisfied by merely getting it). As a result, you must get better to avoid falling behind.

Perception is reality

Placebo effect. People exposed to fake poison ivy developped real rashes, the expectancy theory. You are not about delivering a service, you are about creating satisfaction. Does your client feel satisfied, does this feeling last?

Higher price the better

Price communicates quality that the purchaser expects. Price convinces us that thigns are better, and if we think it - it is so. In fact, higher prices improves the experience.

Most services have few objective and tangible characteristics to assess which means that these services are more vulnerable to price. Think of the $5 shake in Pulp Fiction, high prices not only talk, they tempt.

Wrong clients are never right

Discount customers shop for discounts, and they will find a new discount and lower price their what you offer. Discount customers do not offer referrals, are a poor judge of quality and little relationship is made with the service provider.

If they come for the price, they will leave for it also. Price is a lame excuse for losing and is rarely a valid reason. Look deeper. Do not charge less, sell better.

Apparent perceived value - price = value

Hourly fees punish the efficient. Charge by your worth, but by the hour.

Tiered pricing - not all customers want or need the same level of service. Some want 24/7, some want 48 hours turnover and some do not want any service beyond the initial sale. Look into building tiered pricing such as Platinum, Gold and Silver service packages.


Attract, bias and convince customers that missing qualities are present. Everyone has a brand. Acquire, build and align your brand with what you want it to be.

You have a brand. Seize, manage and nurture it. Live your brand in everything you do. Build a brand. Services are sold on faith; brands create faith. Brands convince clients they got just what the brand promissed - even when it did not.

No such thing as brand loyalty

Brand habbit is where you buy the same things without thinking - like toothpaste, razors, cookies, juice. You are not realy thinking about the brand.

Brand affinity is where you have a connection with the brand - you always stop at Burger King on road trips; Oreganian always buy Nike shoes (where the store originated).

Brand preference is where you prefer a product or service of a particular brand. I prefer PC Cranberry Juice.

Forget brand loyalty, but still build a brand

Brands have direction, breath and depth. Direction is about a brand that is either increasing its customers satisfaction or decreasing (remember we don't care about customer satisfaction, except for its direction). Breadth is your familiarity with the brand. Depth is the message being portrayed by the brand. Apple was able to revive its brand because its depth portrayed creative, fun, user-friendly and pretty cool.

When building a brand...