Don’t Confuse Recommendations With Advocacy


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Axiologists (value theorists) are adamant on the point that only an experience—not the object—can be appreciated as an end in itself. Hence, only a consumptive experience can confer intrinsic value. (Morris Holbrook, Consumer Value)
So What? The so what is as follows. Customer can find value in an experience in two forms. As a means-to-an-end or utility, as in a car is just transportation. Or, as an end-in-itself, as in BMW the ultimate driving machine. Sure, the latter is just a slogan or is it. Ask the passionate BMW driver.
The distinction is important to business strategy and not just marketing. When companies help customers focus on the experience they have consuming or using their offering, they increase the likelihood that the customer will have or form and emotional connection (intrinsic value).
Intrinsic or emotional value leads to increased desire and passionate advocacy. In contrast, utility can only lead to satisfaction as in the product live up to expectations. A satisfying experience can lead to recommendation in a rather clinical sense.
Imagine you are in a new city and ask someone to recommend a restaurant. If the person starts asking you what type of food you want or price range, they are taking a clinic or utility approach. Contrast this with someone who says, “I don’t know if you like seafood or not but Scoma’s on the Wharf is the best around. Their lobster bisque is to die for.”

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


  1. John

    I don’t think life, and thus customer decisions abour experiences, preferences or advocacy, are anywhere as near as compartmentalised as you suggest.

    As work by a wide variety of neuroscience theorists and marketing practitioners suggests, we make decisions based on a variety of factors, some consciously thought through, as in your utilitarion example, most non-consciously decided as in your emotional example, and many using the half-conscious/half non-conscious ‘gut feel’ that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his popular book ‘Blink’. In other words, decisioning is driven by a rich combination of should we say logical, experiential and emotional factors all mixed-up together.

    Much of customer experience strategy that I have seen is just plain rubbish. A strong statement indeed. By that I mean that many strategists think that by disassembling their perception of the customer experience into its supposed constituent parts and then reassembling them into a ‘branded experience’, that it really will be better for customers. But what customers often find is that the resulting experience is not joined-up in the coherent, systematic way that they logically/experientially/emotionally expect. Instead, their or areas of patchy delivery, gaps between parts of the experience that should be fully integrated and other anomalies. The experience underdelivers as a result.

    Rather than building customer experiences up from their individual parts like a Lego ‘branded experience’ kit, experiences should be designed as a coherent whole and then the individual logical/experiential/emotional components required to deliver them identified, put into place and integrated into a working experience. This is a difficult job. And don’t expect to get it right first time. Often this requires multiple iterations as our own strategic oversights come to light in practice and need fixing.

    Logical utility may not be enough to drive advocacy, but it shouldn’t be seperated out from the other components when designing winning customer experiences. Or when expecting customers to recommend/advocate them to others.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Graham,
    Certainly human behavior cannot be simplified into purely black or purely white. However, it is not quite as mixed-up as you suggest.
    First, contemporary neuroscience is quite clear that emotion precedes and pre-tunes logical decisions. And, rationalization is often used to justify decisions.
    I agree with you that when business people use their perceptions to assemble customer experiences one cannot expect the customer to necessarily have a great experience.
    To throw ones hands up and say customer behavior is to complex just won’t cut it with me. The psychological evidence is very clear. The emotional state a customer brings to a situation can dramatically impact their decision-making. Also, emotional states can be influenced by the situation and the behavior of others. To ignore these and other well established psychological principles is folly. This applies if one attempts to influence other and is ignorance of the principles, or, chose to ignore them.
    I am both a psychologist and a business strategy consultant and use psychological principles as the foundation of my methodology. The challenge is to know how to use these principles to construct actionable business practices. That is what I try to do in my practice and my books.
    Now back to the point of my blog. If logical utility doesn’t drive advocacy and a business wants advocacy—they should strive to find out what does drive it. Advocacy does exist. Focusing on the psychological factors that increase the likelihood of advocacy and translating them into business practices makes sense.

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  3. John

    Leaving discussion about the neurosciences and their applied relative, psychology, aside, the point of my comment was to stress that we should design experiences as a whole, and only then break them down into the constituent parts and their linkages that make the experience work as a whole. As a recent post on the Shmula blog points out, “people remember experiences. They don’t remember attributes, or benefits, or features”. We should not do what many commentators suggest, and design the experience by cobbling together the constituent parts (the attributes, benefits and features) and only half thinking through the linkages, and then wonder why the experience doesn’t hang together.

    Like you, I use various principles from applied psychology both in designing the whole experience and in designing the constituent parts and their linkages. But it is only one of many tools that the experience designer should have in their armoury.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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