Are you sure it’s what they want?

…Give your customer choices they actually care about

One of the buzzwords that continues to bounce around the marketing world is “value add.”  I have no issue with providing more value to your customers.  In fact, I think it’s a dandy idea.  But I think you can also stub your toe when you do it in a vacuum.

As you know, I fly a lot (visiting clients, speaking at conferences, etc) and I always fly United.  Like most of you who travel a fair amount, I have traded choice of airline for airline perks.

For the most part, I love United and the benefits I get as one of their frequent fliers.  But it also gives me an opportunity to see many a marketing attempt go awry.

What your customers want, in terms of value add, is real value, not value for show.  Let me show you a few examples (at United’s expense):

Real value: The Red Carpet Clubs — very cool spaces with plenty of free wifi, soda, snacks, really comfy chairs and best of all,  customer service reps who  will take as much time as you need to help sort out a messed up ticket or change in plans.  (Value added — comfort and great service)

Value just for show: Unlimited upgrades for their upper tier customers.  Except…. in many cases, they don’t upgrade your companion if you’re flying with someone else.  So really — it’s just mean teasing.  “Oh, we wanted to upgrade you but your kid/spouse/buddy will have to fly coach.”  Who wants to be that jerk?  Which means I only get to use the upgrades I’m offered if I am flying alone. (You’re pretending to give me a value and then taking it away)

Real value: Letting frequent fliers board the plane first, meaning there’s always overhead storage space available.  (Value added — convenience and comfort)

Value just for show: The ridiculous red carpet line (complete with a scrap of red carpet that you have to cross) that only makes the casual traveler feel like they don’t matter and the frequent flier feel conspicuous.  (You’re using me to advertise your perks)

Notice how the real value happens when a company selflessly worries about what matters to their customers.  But the value just for show is when the company decides, without asking their customers or walking a mile in their shoes.  Then the “value add” looks self serving and may actually diminish the experience for your best customers.

So as you contemplate how you can appreciate your customers and reward them for their business — be sure the value add is genuine AND actually valued.



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7 comments on “Are you sure it’s what they want?

  1. Drew, this is so true! So often, albeit with the best of intentions, businesses add products or services that THEY think the customer SHOULD want, vs. those that would actually please the customer.

    August 4th was National Pampering Day, and by definition you have to know what someone needs and wants in order to give it to them. According to
    pam-per-ing (verb, means to)
    indulge with every attention, comfort, and kindness; spoil; the act of indulging or gratifying a desire; gratifying tastes, appetites, or desires.

    I wrote a blog post on the topic that includes 10 ways to find out what customers really want, it’s featured at

    I enjoy your blog and read every post. I share many of them on my Facebook and Twitter pages and in some of my weekly newsletters — keep up the good work!

    Elizabeth Kraus, Author of 365 Days of Marketing

    1. Hey Elizabeth,

      Pampering is a good word for it — it’s about treating your customers like they are something special… because of course they are. But no one feels special if you get it wrong. Then, it’s easy to see behind the curtain and realize it’s a marketing ploy rather than genuine appreciation.

      Thanks for being such an active reader!


  2. Joy Levin says:

    One of the most efficient ways of separating out true value add from value for show is to ask your customers what is really important to them. It is amazing how many organizations overlook such a simple step. The returns on any investment made in asking customers what they value can be truly significant.

    1. Joy,

      Amen to that! For some reason many companies seem to shy away from this. What’s your take on why they’re hesitant to ask?


  3. Hi Drew,

    What really struck me reading this is that we use the term “value add” in this context. Really, isn’t our job to add value for our clients, customers, etc?

    This term needs to be used in context, because the real added value is in how what you do for your stakeholders differentiates you from your competition.

    1. Daria,

      You make a good point. If you were going to coin a new term for the idea of really pampering and spoiling your best customers with extras that made them feel like you really valued their business and wanted to attend to their true needs — what would you call it?


  4. Steve Curtin says:

    Value is a funny thing in that it’s subjective and viewed differently by different customers. I too have flown United a lot over the years (two years as a 1K member of its frequent flyer program) and recognized that value-added services I’d earned through frequent travel were coveted perks for non-frequent flyers (e.g., complimentary checked baggage, expedited TSA screening, early boarding, upgrades, Red Carpet Room access, etc.). Today, with United’s menu of options, any passenger – regardless of airline status – can choose to purchase any of the above services at check-in. From my perspective, this dilutes the value of these perks for loyal airline customers who have earned them through actual airline travel. That said, I’ve read that ancillary airline revenues for this a la carte approach is significant and, if passengers are willing to pay for them, it’s smart business to offer them. The challenge for United and other airlines is to recognize and address the delicate balance between using these earned, value-added perks to recognize their loyal frequent flyers versus selling them at check-in to any passenger willing to pay.

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