ASK THE MAN WHO OWNS ONE – Putting your service reputation on the line

That was the year the first Packards rolled off the assembly lines. Those top of the range vehicles were an instant hit in their day. It is interesting that in our days so many people would not associate the name Packard with vehicles, let alone a luxury brand. It would surprise many people to know that at a point in history, European royalty and the wealthiest Americans only drove Packards. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was just one of the many prominent people who owned Packards.

The Packards ruled for a while, establishing themselves a force to reckon with in the automobile industry. However, it was in 1900 that the Packard Motor Company made a statement that became iconic in the annals of advertising and marketing—a statement that went far beyond the shores of the United States.

It is rumoured that what became known as one of the greatest taglines of all time actually started out as a casual conversation. It is said that a visitor to a New York Auto Show walked up to J.W. Packard, the co-founder of Packard Motor Company and asked him if his cars were any good. Packard turned and responded with the line that became so iconic that it birthed a whole campaign that has even outlived the product itself.

“Ask the man who owns one!” Packard said.

The last Packard car was built in 1956 but we are still talking about that famous line. One time advertising manager of Ford Motors, E. Leroy Pelletier called the campaign “one of the most subtle, one of the deepest campaigns for the attraction of man.” The campaign was so iconic that a book on the history of advertising of the Packard cars was actually titled “Ask the Man Who Owns One”. This line encapsulates what the book is all about: “The Packard slogan ‘Ask the Man Who Owns One’ was as persistent a presence as the distinctive shape of the grille. It is among the most memorable advertising lines ever written, and one of the smartest.”

But beyond being a great campaign, “asking the man who owns one” can be a whole business philosophy. As far as business philosophies go, this can be a total revolutionary way of doing business. It is about the business being so confident in the quality of its performance that it is ready to put its reputation on the line. It is about a business deciding that any product or service it puts out there should be so good that the business would not mind asking potential customers to contact actual customers for their recommendations. It is about believing that existing customers are so satisfied that they would only speak good things about the experience.

I must however add that, in this day and age of gender equality, I believe the tagline should be “Ask the One Who Owns One”. I want to believe that Packard said what he said because of the times he was living in. I believe not many women owned vehicles at the time so Mr. Packard can be forgiven.

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To “Ask the One Who Owns One” is also about turning the company’s customers into an important marketing team.  As a matter of fact, some writers have described the customer base as an organisation’s ‘unofficial marketing department’. Business people know that word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most powerful means of getting one’s marketing message out there.

Word-of-mouth advertising really works because people trust the recommendations of friends rather than what the brand says about itself. According to the results of a 2015 Nielsen online study, 84 percent of global respondents across 58 countries said that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family was the most trustworthy.

In this day and age of social media power, word-of-mouth advertising can catch on like wild fire. In our Facebook-saturated, Twitter-inspired and YouTube-crazy world, it is not unusual that what “the one who owns one” has to say on social media is so powerful. Nielsen’s 2015 Global Trust in Advertising Survey polled 30,000 online respondents in 60 countries to gauge consumer sentiment about 19 paid, earned and owned advertising mediums. The results were interesting, to say the least.

83% of correspondents, that is more than 8 out of 10 potential customers, say they “completely or somewhat trust” the recommendations of friends and family. That is quite a high percentage. What “the one who owns one” says about the product or service is so important that people still trust what the one says even if the potential customer does not have any relationship with the one. According to the Nielsen Report, 66% of respondents said that they trust consumer opinions posted online. In other words, people would trust what a total stranger would say rather than what the organisation says about its products or services.

Customer recommendations are very effective because they come from those who do not seem to have a vested interest in the business’ success or otherwise. If whatever recommendations being given about the product or service comes from the organisation itself, one is free to take that recommendation with a pinch of salt.

It is akin to what plays out daily on our streets, marketplaces and lorry parks all across this nation. Hawkers would never tell you that whatever they have on their heads is of anything but the best quality.  Ask them when those doughnuts or loaves were baked and they would readily inform you that it was that very morning. However, if another passenger or passer-by says that he or she can attest to how tasty those loaves are, that becomes a totally different matter altogether. That is the power of “Asking the one who owns one.”

It is important to note that one advantage of “asking the man who owns one” business philosophy is that it actually puts pressure on the organisation. The organisation must now perform as, or even above, what is expected. When you put your service reputation in the hands of your customers, you better make sure that you do what they say you can do. An organisation who sends potential customers to ask actual customers how good the product or service is risks a lot. If the organisation does not meet expectations, not only does it stand the chance of losing the potential customer but it might even lose the existing customer. In other words, personal recommendations from a customer also places that customer’s reputation on the line.

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It has even been proven that newer customers who made a purchase based on the recommendations of another customer tend to behave like the existing customers. These newer customers tend to be as loyal as those who recommended the product or service to them. In other words, the business acquires a committed customer, spending next to nothing of its budget.

But how does a business go about adopting the “Ask the One Who Owns One” as a customer service strategy? For starters, the organisation must deliberately adopt it as strategy that runs through the organisation’s vision, mission and core values. The word “deliberately” is used deliberately. Too many times, I have seen organisations state their intentions to push for customer intimacy as a corporate vision without backing the words with the right deeds. However, intentions alone are not enough. Deliberate actions must be taken to back up the good intentions.

Beyond making it a deliberate strategy, the next point is really simple. The organisation must give customers a reason to go out of their ways to speak well of its offering. When customers are truly emotionally satisfied, they would go out of their way to speak well of the experience. They would not even wait to be asked, they would do the talking without being asked.

A third point is for the business to simply ask. Yes, ask! Satisfied customers would naturally go out of their way to start telling others about the experience. However, it also helps if the customer is given a little nudge. During, or right after, a great experience, the organisation can call on or even send a message to the customer, thanking the customer for his or her business. The best time to ask a customer for a recommendation is when the experience is fresh on the mind of the customer. Little gifts and paraphernalia can be used to incentivise the customer.

From the ongoing, it is clear that recommendations and referrals are going to play a continuously important role in the world of business. No matter how much of the budget is spent on all kinds of fanciful advertising messages and promotional campaigns, what “the one who owns one” says will continue to pull the strings on a customer’s purse. It is therefore important that the customer’s experience is always central to the organisations philosophy and day-to-day operations.

I will even daresay say that spending money to ensure that customer experience is top notch is a far better use of the budget than spending on expensive advertising campaign. Because with the former, you can turn to an interested potential customer and tell the one to “ask the one who owns one.”

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