You don’t need to control the conversation to get people talking about you.

Breakfast cereal boxes are generally poor works of art and don’t really trouble the judges for annual literature prizes with their prose. However, I suspect that I’m just one of many people who sit at the breakfast table munching away, reading them over and over again. Last year Kellogg’s realised it could make its packets more entertaining, and guessed that people also had their phones to hand – anything beats talking to grumpy teenagers at 7am!

The cornflake maker put 2D codes, the squares of black and white patterns better known as QR (quick response) codes, on its Crunchy Nut Cornflakes boxes in America. When scanned with their smartphones, these took cereal-munchers to a video of dawn in some picturesque part of the world. The idea was to push cereal as an all-day snack: It’s morning somewhere.

QR codes have much to recommend them. They store far more information than plain black-and-white bar codes, for example, they can fit in web site addresses and logos. One reason for the increase in the use of QR codes is the rapid uptake of smartphones with high-quality cameras and the corresponding decline in data charges. It also took time for people like me to realise why adverts contained mutant crosswords.

By using QR codes and SMS on cereal boxes, Kellogg drove more than 40,000 QR scans and 6,000 texts during its Crunchy Nut cereal promotion. The aim of the campaign was to create more engagement with the brand via mobile. Utilizing the back of the cereal box is a highly engaging static media touch point that allows users an intimate setting to try mobile and turn the static media into a rich media experience said a clever marketing executive who obviously gets up earlier in the morning than I do to eat his cereal.

In the UK, Random House, a large book publisher, will begin testing a new mobile strategy on July 1 that will see them placing QR codes on children’s menus in 139 restaurant locations, including T.G.I. Friday’s. The four-page black-and-white menus contain various activities for children’s and include Random House content promoting the publisher’s award-winning picture book Wild About Books.

The back covers of the menus feature three different QR codes linking users to a mobile app for video, information about the author and illustrator of Wild About Books and to an interactive portion of the book. A whole new experience for family mealtime beckons for all amidst the flying ketchup.

For marketers, QR codes bridge the gap between offline and online worlds. Customers who use them are in effect ‘opting in’ and asking to be told more about the company, whilst he success of a campaign is easy to measure by the number of scans. Expect to see a lot more of those funny little black-and-white patches as we further embrace digital lives and companies seek to attract, retain and engage you in the battle for customer loyalty.

But let’s call a spade a spade. What most companies are seeking is not loyalty but repeat purchases from existing customers time after time. They may call it loyalty but it’s not really and today’s sophisticated customers see straight through loyalty marketing campaigns and customer experiences designed to get them to part with their hard earned cash.

Actually achieving customer loyalty is like trying to herd cats – impossible! Customer loyalty sounds great in marketing journals and business books, and it’s also big business – an entire industry of consultants and loyalty scheme companies convince their clients to spend millions each year to implement CRM systems and loyalty reward programmes. But don’t be fooled, these initiatives will no longer deliver loyalty.

Business strategist Dean van Leeuwen ( has researched customer loyalty based on the premise of ‘herding cats’ and identified the following insights:

  • Customers have changed, it’s not just the recession, there has been a values shift in attitudes towards business and consumerism, triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers on14 September 2008;
  • Top companies have a deeper understanding of values-focused marketing and how, by connecting with personal values, meaningful relationships with customers can be cultivated.
  • Social media is about creating relationships, not sales
  • Business needs to demonstrate a more human persona to their brand – businesses should be more personable, fallible and approachable
  • Understand that technology has given customers a sixth sense in their ability to find information, seeks user testimonies and comparison searches

Customers have a growing ability to determine seamlessly and in real time which company is offering the best benefits, price and experience. The combination of the Internet, social networks and mobile devices has dramatically shifted the balance of power in favour of customers. Companies are now more transparent than ever before. With a click, customers can compare your product offering and hear what other customers are saying about you and your competitors.

Leeuwen also identifies an interesting counter to all this ‘customer love’ -recognise that you don’t always have to delight your customers, in fact, sometimes you can even inconvenience them providing the real moment of truth delivers amazing value and creates a connection. He illustrates the point with reference to IKEA, the Swedish home products and lifestyle business that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture and home accessories.

Now consider the average IKEA shopping experience. You typically have to drive out of your way to a semi-industrialised retail park to go shopping. You enter an enormous, dusty warehouse and get corralled like sheep around a labyrinth of furniture. You have to contend with screaming kids, tired mothers and bored dads, and of course there is the quintessential stop at the hostel styled canteen for Swedish meatballs and chips.

You finally make your way out of the maze to find stacks of heavy boxes each with their own confusing codified system telling you where your items can or can not be located, only to frustratingly find out that at least one or two of the items you hunted down in the labyrinth have already been sold out.

Too tired to head back into the maze to find a replacement item, you collect what boxes of furniture you can find and, wait for it, you have to queue up for a minimum of 45 minutes to pay. You then have to squeeze the boxes into your car, which seems to have shrunk so that you can take the boxes home and build the furniture yourself.

What is satisfying about that experience? Very little, and yet IKEA is now the world’s largest furniture retailer. And it’s not because of price either, because there are cheaper ready-made alternatives to IKEA. The reason IKEA is successful is that they understand intimately the emotional connection they have with their customers and have ingeniously recognized that one crucial moment of truth – the one that matters more than all of the other moments of truth put together – when they do need to wow their customers.

They are looking at that point when you step back and call in the family and go See, I am the man (or woman) who built this. Time and time again, IKEA delivers consistently at this primary moment of truth – their furniture represents the precision of DIY engineering. Once you get the logic of the build, every piece fits together easily and it looks really good. IKEA have identified a business model that goes against all customer experience conventional wisdom and yet still delivers happy customers.

They are not alone in this either. Have you ever visited an Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister store? You have to queue outside, sometimes for hours, and be prevented from going inside by bouncers. Once inside you have to contend with dim lights, loud music and an overbearing smell of perfume and deodorant. Now of course this experience appeals more to a certain younger generation but their business model works well because they understand the moment of truth is in wearing the A&F brand: feeling the soft material against your skin and knowing that the trauma you went through to get the top was worth it.

Compare this, for example, to the travel industry offering lower priced seats to customers, but then penalises the customer if they need to make a change. What happens if the customer is ill or has a genuine need to change the date of travel? Under their rules it is tough luck, the only way to gain flexibility is to pay an exorbitantly high price. The airline and rail industries believe this is the only way they can be profitable but is this policy fair? Contrast this to Zappos, which offers a 365-day returns policy, previously unheard of. This has won them a lot of happy customers.

Finally, happy customers become advocates of brands that are quirky or have a personality – it’s nothing to do with QR Codes, twitter or Swedish meatballs. My favourite example of this currently is Prufrock Coffee (

Prufrock is a successful boutique coffee shop in London, run by ex-World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies. He has come up with the world’s first disloyalty card. The idea is simple: you get a stamp on a card for visiting eight different quality coffee shops. After visiting the eighth ‘friend’, which of course are actually his competitors, he will say thank you by making you a cup of his own coffee for free. There is no catch. Gwilym just wants people to try different quality coffees and become as passionate about the different flavours of coffee as he is. And of course, your next paid for coffee is at Prufrocks, and you tell all your friends about this experience.

A sale is not something you pursue, it is something that happens to you while you are immersed in serving your customer. In business, you get what you want by giving other people what they want. Ignore technology and social media, simply be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to shock the customer, in the nicest possible way. Sometimes marketing folks get too smart for their own good: you don’t need to control the conversation to get people talking about you.