My name is Jess McCarty, and I recently spoke at 2018 TypeCon Xx, on a bright Sunday morning. Type Church!
I'll tell you what I told the audience at TypeCon -- I am no preacher. But I do feel very strongly about the ethos of Nicer Type -- loving your customers -- and would be delighted if this "gospel" spread far & wide. Because love isn't just important in our daily life, it's crucial to running a successful business. And our customers are revealing that love is in very short supply within the type industry.
The good news is that we can change that. You already know the "secret" to getting ahead in your bones -- I’m just here to wiggle it up into your consciousness.
So, without further ado, let's get to that good news!
Each foundry targets a different display market segment, and my licensing can be purchased all over the place including at everybody’s favorite boogeyman, Creative Market.
Over the course of my career, I've been able to work with some incredible clients. If we had more time, I’d tell you all about them and their amazing projects… But since we’ve only got a few minutes together, I’m going to introduce you to a really cool salesman instead.
He’s not my client… I guess you could say I’m actually his.
This is Sam Taylor, aka The Waving Man.
Sam lives in East St. Louis. East St. Louis, if you know anything about it, has a lot of problems; violent crime, drugs, gangs, poverty, corruption. It also has a 4-lane highway. Missouri Avenue is filled with thousands of cars during rush hour, commuting to or from the city.
Twice a day, every day, for the last 20 years, Sam here has come out of his house on Missouri Avenue and spent hours waving at every single one. He makes eye contact with each driver, points and waves specifically at them, and smiles. Somehow, he can tell when they’ve had a hard day and will go out of his way to share a little something "extra" -- a blown kiss or a double shake. Maybe he’ll bellow out, “Hang in there, you got this!” It sounds cheesy, but people always smile.
How do I know all this? I was one of his commuters.
For 6 years, I drove by on my way to and from a job that I hated. But Sam was like the postal service: rain, sleet, snow, didn't matter. I could count on him to be there, waiting & waving.
At first I wondered, who the heck is this guy? One day I got brave enough to stop and ask. It turns out Sam had developed congestive heart failure and could no longer work. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, he saw opportunity and started what he calls his holy ministry of kindness.
Sam isn't selling a product. You could argue that he IS selling East St. Louis, but that's not his ultimate goal. In the end, more than anything, he wants to build human relationships.
He knows that the majority of people driving by would rather be anywhere else, and that they don’t have the faintest clue about his story or his passion. He shows up for them anyway. He wants them to know that they matter.
I can tell you this -- Sam may not be a businessman but I think about East St. Louis differently because of him. And if I heard he was opening up a factory that sold empty cardboard boxes for $1000 each, you can bet I'd be first in line to support him. There would be thousands of people behind me.
Because what Sam does each day is authentically connect with people. And that, my friends, is something in short supply in our industry right now.
Look, people are getting tired of buying “stuff”.
Maybe you’ve sensed this yourself -- not just as somebody who makes, but as someone who buys. Do you shop for tangible things as much as you did 10 years ago? Or are you starting to long for something a little deeper amidst all the clutter?
If so, you’re not crazy and you’re certainly not alone.
According to a recent Harris poll, 78% of adults aged 18-34 would rather spend money on an experience than a product. 78%!
People are no longer shopping for entertainment’s sake.
They want to see, make and do things. They want to build relationships with the people behind the brands they admire. They want companies to wave at them, and they want to wave back at us. They are driving a new economic reality: transactions centered around connection. The actual merchandise? It’s a part of the buying experience, not the product.
Executives in big business agree:
Wow, right? This is heady stuff. Huge global brands are noting this shift in consumer behavior. And we should be too. How we relate to our customers is going to have a direct bearing on our success in the coming decades, both as individuals and an industry.
But Jess, you say, my customers are art directors and professional designers. They have to buy type for their projects. I don’t need to be thinking about this stuff. Au contraire, my friends.
First of all, if you’re only serving design pros, you’re passing up 3 billion potential customers. That’s the number of people on this planet right now who can read, who own a computer, and who didn’t go to a fancy design school. Second, pro type users do care about this stuff. They’re people. And people always remember how we made them feel. Lastly -- I’m going to break this to you gently -- all of us here probably think we’re connecting with our customers effectively. We’re not.
80% of businesses believe they are delivering superior customer service. Only 8% of their customers agree.
Sobering, right? But you know what I see in this statistic? Market opportunity. It’s a great time to be a type designer who can relate to people; apparently there’s not a lot of competition.
Don’t believe it? I didn’t want to either. But a few months ago, I tweeted about the way much of our industry does business. And actual shoppers responded with their two cents:
Not a single response spoke of our industry positively.
Let’s extrapolate this vibe out into other industries. Would you buy groceries from a store where the cashier criticized your buying choices? Would you continue to see a doctor who told you that you were a total idiot for not knowing all about the latest studies? Would you buy a car from a dealership who told you the lemon they sold was your responsibility now? Do you think they’d be in business for very long?
Something has to give.
How can we start re-connecting with our customers in a way that resonates with them? And that ensures long-term survival for us?
We start by thinking like Sam, not like type designers.
We aren’t just selling type. We’re selling an experience. Right now, that experience is driving customers away. But we have the power to hang on to them. To get them excited about shopping with us. I suggest we do this by committing to 6 fundamental shifts in the way we do business.
Think about your favorite brands. How do they make you feel? Why do you keep going back? Now think about your customers.
What is it that they’re really seeking? It’s never just about the product -- look deeper. Are they aiming for professional recognition? More money from their clients? Maybe they’re designing their own wedding invitations and simply reveling in joy.
Then ask, what can I do to authentically connect with them around that need? How can I help them achieve their goals and enhance their happiness? How can I ensure that every point of contact from emails to EULAs, makes them feel cherished?
Assume nothing. Just because someone is a pro doesn’t mean they know it all. And just because someone has never purchased a font before doesn’t mean they lack intelligence. Approach all your customers with an open mind and a friendly heart. I guarantee you, you’ll be surprised.
Start waving at your customers. Be somebody’s Sam! Surprise & delight them, exceed their expectations. Get creative -- we’re good at that, right? Offer memorable, exciting ways for them to engage with your brand.
• You could create valuable extras they can use and share. Things like free companion fonts, printable artwork, heck, even beautiful blank invoice templates. I know when I was starting out I would have killed for a resource like that. Don’t advertise these freebies -- just deliver them.
• You could note their moments of success and send your congratulations. Bonus points if you send a real live card on the one-year anniversaries of the biggies.
• You could create a special bank account and use it to wow your special customers with random acts of generosity. Donate to charities in their name. Buy them a gift subscription to a design annual. Mail them a deadline-survival care package.
And those special customers, by the way? Define them however you want. Maybe they’re your repeat buyers. Maybe they’ve purchased a license extension. Maybe their personality or their story resonates with you.
Maybe you’re absolutely, wonderfully bonkers and you want to do something for every single one of your customers. I know for a fact there are a handful of people in this industry who actually do this right now. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to reveal your identities, you magical people.)
Physical shops have the luxury of face-to-face contact with their customers. On the internet, no one can see us smile -- we have to use our words. How exactly do we do that?
• Answer every message within 24 hours. We get a pass on weekends, but please don’t ignore an email or a DM. Ever. When customers reach out it’s because they need an answer at that moment, not next Tuesday. If you can’t answer right away, set up an auto-reply that lets them know when you will.
• In every message, make sure to use the word “you” twice as many times as you say I. Business is about your customers, not you.
• But is a downer. And is opportunity. Please don’t say, “Some apps are buggy but we can get around that.” Try, “Some apps are buggy and here’s how we can get around that.” Hear the difference?
• When your customer asks a question, show them you’re on their side. This will go a long way towards reducing friction. You can say, “Absolutely, I’d be delighted to help you.” “Looking forward to working together!”
• Anytime a customer asks a question, build up their confidence. These are phrases like: “That’s a great question!” “You can do this, here’s how.” “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Don’t you guys love it when people make you feel good? I sure do!
• Let the sun shine in... This is a big one, guys, and sometimes it’s really hard. But try anyway. Always respond to public criticism publicly, promptly, and with humility. Pretend your grandma is watching:
• First, fix the problem.
• Then fess up, apologize, and thank them for their feedback.
• Give them a gift card and invite them to use it.
• Ask them to tell you how the new shopping experience feels.
Even if the customer did you wrong, and sometimes they will, explain:
• What happened in neutral language
• How you tried to help anyway
• How you’re going to make it right with a tangible act of generosity, like a discount. (Yes, even if you were right all along.)
Everyone who reads this exchange will know exactly what went down, and who’s the bigger person.
Your customers see you as an expert, so seize on the opportunity to share and deeply connect with them.
Ask them to sign up for your mailing list so you can give them exclusive content. And then be egalitarian about it! Don’t just aim your marketing at fancy pants designers.
New customers are blank slates - they don’t have any bad habits. You have an incredible opportunity to introduce them to the magical world of paid type on behalf of all of us. Be gentle. Share basic design resources so they can develop literacy. Help them believe in their own ability. Show them who they are becoming.
Our customers pay us with money they work pretty hard to earn because we write the alphabet nicely. Look, what we do is wonderful and important. But friends, we aren’t splitting atoms. Stop acting like it. And especially stock acting like it in front of your customers.
Instead, listen to and learn from them. Their feedback, especially the critical comments, will help you develop your next product.
Shower your them with thank you’s! Their support means that you get to spend your days in a climate-controlled office and an ergonomic chair, not digging ditches in the blazing sun.
Gratitude is cheaper than advertising and I’d argue that being humble and kind is far more effective marketing anyway.
Here’s the takeaway today:
When you start implementing these steps into your business, you will deepen your connections with customers. And when you are connecting with your customers, you are creating meaningful experiences for them. Meaningful customer experiences cultivate loyal brand evangelists.
Instead of walking away from a degrading interaction that reinforced a negative perception of designers or worse, their own capabilities, your customer now feels empowered and excited about design, typography, and you. They feel like a part of our industry. They are invested.
You've not paid them anything, in fact, they paid you! But by genuinely connecting, you will have gained a walking, talking billboard for the life of your foundry. Every time they have an opportunity to recommend you, they will. They’ll send you screenshots of their work. They’ll even notify you of piracy.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years y’all. I am not exaggerating -- if anything, I’m underselling their loyalty. A few simple changes, multiplied across all of your future customers, will change your world. It can change the world.
Someday, with enough really awesome customer experiences, we will have elevated the entire typographic discourse. Maybe we'll have even solved a bunch of market problems along the way. Just by taking the opportunity to choose connection.
If any of this rings true for you and you want to learn more, I've created a [this] microsite with links, resources, email templates and frankly everything else I couldn’t cram into today’s 20 minutes. It’s curated especially for y’all. You can find it here, at this site.
As you head home this afternoon, I want to leave you with this simple message: remember to look after your commuters. Be someone’s waver and be your best self. Connect. We’re in this together.