This is the last post in a seven-part series on differentiation:
The first post in this series introduced the F.L.A.W.S.O.M. matrix and the cornerstone concept of Flaunting. The second post tackled Lopsiding. The third post examined Antagonizing. The fourth post covered the strategy of Withholding. The fifth post was about Swerving. The sixth featured Opposing. Today, we’ll reveal the M. The “M” in F.L.A.W.S.O.M. stands for Micro-weirding.
“Big Doors Swing on Little Hinges” – W. Clement Stone
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a huge difference. Micro-weirding is using minuscule actions to differentiate your brand. The lesson is that you can set your brand apart without some cohesive master plan; you can be just a tiny bit weird.
And just because something is micro-weird, doesn’t mean it has a micro-impact. The examples in this post will show how little itty-bitty actions can having a massive impact on your brand.
Micro-weirding occupies the heart of the flaunting matrix.
Micro-weirding is doing very small things to stand out. This is the easiest and least risky way to differentiate. If you wanted to organize the types in phases, they would look like this.
A Conscious Choice
Micro-weirding is differentiation by experience design . Here are five examples:
1. Not your ordinary Joe — Joseph Coulombe conceived an idea for a supermarket while vacationing in the Caribbean. He opened his first store in Pasadena in 1967. Coulombe noticed that as Americans began to travel more, the ability to purchase those foreign foods and wines they enjoyed while traveling was a challenge when they returned home. His name and a South Seas motif became the inspiration for Trader Joe’s. Today, the company has nearly 500 stores in 43 states and Washington, D.C.
Beyond the staff wearing Caribbean shirts, when it comes to embracing weirdness and providing a good customer service experience, Trader Joe’s understands the importance of taking care of the customer. While the customer base itself is not made up of children, it is made up of many people who have children. Trader Joe’s has not ignored that—in fact, they’ve embraced it since their founding. In addition to offering a variety of free samples, they also have a stuffed whale and miniature shopping carts. As for the stuffed whale, if you find it, your child gets a treat out of a treasure box and then you get to hide the whale yourself for others to find.
Sometimes micro-weirding is a miniature shopping cart.
2. Popsicles by the pool — When was the last time you had a popsicle? Not recently. When was the last time you had a popsicle at a hotel? You probably haven’t. When was the last time you had a popsicle delivered to you at a hotel? Probably never. Have you ever complained because popsicles weren’t on the room service menu? Probably not.
So why would a hotel create a popsicle hotline and why would anyone care? In their book, The Power of Moments, the Heath brothers categorize the popsicle hotline as a “peak” moment. They argue that people value and remember small unusual moments [micro-weird] more than larger, seemingly more important, services.
This seems to be true for the Magic Castle Hotel. They are the highest-rated hotel in the Los Angeles area according to TripAdvisor. “Out of over 3,000 reviews on TripAdvisor, 94% of guests rate the hotel as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good.’”
But why are the ratings so high? Wouldn’t people rather stay at a consistently luxurious property like the Four Seasons? The Magic Castle Hotel doesn’t have an amazing pool or beautiful furniture or lovely rooms. It doesn’t have most of the things that you’d expect from a great hotel.
What it does have is a Popsicle Hotline.
Here’s how it works. There’s a red phone on a wall by the pool. When you lift the handset, a popsicle specialist answers and takes your order. You don’t have to wait long until an employee wearing white gloves brings your popsicles on a silver tray at no charge.
As the Heath brothers explain,
What the Magic Castle has figured out is that, to delight customers, you need not obsess over every detail. Customers will forgive small swimming pools and underwhelming room décor, as long as you deliver some magical peak moments. The surprise about great service experiences is that they are mostly forgettable.
In other words, being micro-weird can be a very valuable differentiation strategy, especially when everyone else is trying to be good at everything.
Sometimes micro-weirding is a red popsicle phone.
3. Assurance loves old pop songs — According to Steven Handmaker, CMO at Assurance, culture is the secret sauce at this insurance brokerage. Each year they rally around a theme and an accompanying song. The songs are typically from the 80’s with a fun/irreverent feel. In 2017 it was the “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis. The previous year was Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and the theme was wellness. Their Shared Success bonus program is based on four components (two financial and two that tie in with the cultural theme). For example, during the wellness year, everyone in the company would achieve success if 84% of the company completed a 5K race at some point during the year. Over 95% end up doing it. In 2017 the metric was handwritten notes. Twenty were meant for customers and 17 for friends/family. Over the last few years, Assurance has become a fixture on Fortune’s Best Place to Work (for Small to Medium businesses) and had won, “Best Place to Work in Chicago” by the Chicago Tribune. Not bad for a boring insurance brokerage.
Sometimes micro-weirding is basing your annual strategy on a song from the 1980s.
4. Liberty Tax and its wavers — Accountants are professionals. Taxes are serious business. No one wants to mess with the IRS. That’s why it’s surprising that Liberty Tax hires wavers to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and sing and dance and wave at the people driving by.
It started accidentally. A Liberty Tax franchise was recording a commercial. During the filming, a costumed actor waved to people and the people waved back. The story made it back to the corporate headquarters, and the marketing department decided to try wavers on a larger scale.
You might think that being a waver is a simple entry-level job and anyone could do it. That is not the case. Potential wavers have to try out for the job. After demonstrating their moves outside, only the best ones are hired.
Wavers dressed up like Lady Liberty are weird, but do they actually impact the business? Liberty’s Chief Marketing Officer, Martha O’Gorman, has statistics to show that wavers work. She cites increased brand recognition for Liberty—they’re competitive with H&R Block—as a sign that taxpayers pay attention to the wavers.
Sometimes micro-weirding is a green statue with a crown.
5. Rebecca Minkoff, Vincent, and the MAC — Rebecca Minkoff has been designing coveted apparel, handbags, shoes, and accessories since she moved to New York City at the age of 18. Her MAC (morning after clutch) bags embrace a little micro-weirdness. They all have an extra business card in them. The card has a picture of an attractive man on the front. On the back there is a handwritten note that says “call me,” signed by “Vincent” with a phone number. According to Vanessa Khedouri who shared the example, “When you call [give it a try at +1 (646) 420-1475], there is a recording of a message from “Vincent”—a guy with a sexy French accent. I love that touch and it feels personal!”
According to Rebecca Minkoff, “I find cute pics and have them printed on cards and people actually do call! When customers call, they hear a guy’s voice and he is French. Some people call and think they met the guy the night before. It’s kind of funny to hear some of the messages!”
Here’s Rebecca getting weird by covering the song, “Call Me Maybe.” The Vincent card makes a cameo:
Sometimes micro-weirding is fictitious French guy named Vincent.
Get Your Weird On
Micro-weirding are little-unexpected surprises for customers. They are small things designed to drive differentiation and promote word of mouth. How are you micro-weirding to stand out in a sea of sameness?