The Neapolitan Factor (aka Offer Fatigue)
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
A while ago I ran a day's cross-functional team workshop with a client, with the aim of working out what was going on with their offer. Service, customer satisfaction, happiness and mystery shopping scores were all on the wane and down versus the competitive set. We needed to identify the issues, prioritise them, look at solutions and work through how to bring it all back to life.
As an ice-breaker to the day, the group had been asked to bring in a couple of pictures, or objects that summed up the current state of the offer from a customer perspective and showed how they wanted it to feel in the future. To start with, everyone had done their homework. This is always helpful and shows the team were committed to the challenge of the day and that they had given the topic some proper thought. Now I've seen quite a few of these exercises over the years and they never cease to throw up interesting and enlightening views, examples and intriguing analogies. But, in this particular exercise, a real gem came to the fore. I loved how it painted a picture and told a story so much, I now use this example to highlight the issue of offer fatigue with other clients.
The first picture, representing the current customer experience was a block of Neapolitan ice-cream. The explanation of the tale behind the image didn't just leap to the lazy comment of, "our offer is old-fashioned." In fact, the accompanying story, told enthusiastically by the delegate started with how excited she was as a child, when presented with Neapolitan ice-cream for a pudding. Compared to regular vanilla this was a treat. The 3 primary flavours of ice cream - Vanilla, Strawberry and Chocolate all together in one, frosty slice. The bright tricolour of colours made it standout from the other ice-creams. There was something different and unique about it. It felt special. Whilst it wasn't for everyone, it was the go-to-ice-cream for parties and other children who saw it for the first time couldn't wait to get their Mums and Dads to go out and buy it for their next event. Pretty soon Neapolitan ice-cream was the rock star of ice-cream. Different, special, exciting with a distinct fan following.
But, over the years things changed. Different flavour combinations emerged and came and went. Neapolitan still stayed with its linear lines and separated flavours. Cut to the second photo, a tub of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, which signified how they felt the offer needed to feel in the future. A tub of something more than just regular ice-cream. It's made of the very best ingredients, deliciously rich chocolate ice-cream, stuffed full of gooey marshmellow, caramel swirls and fish-shaped fudge pieces. The flavour is somehow enhanced by the story of the ethical brand behind it and all the company stands for. It's still a tub of chocolate ice-cream, but every freezingly, smooth swallow brings a slightly different mouthful. It's chocolate ice-cream turned up to 11! And boy! It's worth the price premium over a block of Neapolitan.
Comparing the block of Neapolitan ice-cream to a tub of Phish Food, whilst not covering everything associated with the challenges the client faced, did beautifully signify what had happened to the client's offer over time, without indiscriminately just slagging it off. That's the bit I liked. After all, no one intentionally allows a brand and offer lose its shine. This client especially. Good people will have spent ages trying to make good things happen, but it doesn't always work. The point being that whilst their offer had once been the darling of the set and much-loved, it had now lost significant ground to newer offers. Offers that were better, more consistent, more relevant, even more exciting. They were constantly listening to their customers and innovating around product and service, whilst keeping true to their brand. In light of the heightened competition, the client's offer had severe fatigue in the eyes of customers and wasn't delivering value for money as a result. But it wasn't for the lack of trying.
Whilst trying to catch up, they had done a hell of a lot of very good work, in many areas. In fact, perhaps too many different areas, which ultimately had confused the front-line teams in terms of priorities and led to more processes to contend with and less than consistent delivery of the intended vision. It had fogged the view of what had made them great in the beginning and what was most important to customers. They needed to get back to that and make it feel more relevant once again for today's consumer. In trying to do too much, they hadn't been able to move the few, most important things on enough and win back the customers, in the numbers they needed to.
They are not alone. It's a problem I often see with clients, the combination of the Neapolitan Factor as I now call it, or offer fatigue and the attack plan of trying to put it all right, all at once. It's all too much for most organisations. Recognising the fatigue is the first step, but then having the strength, courage and determination to focus on the very few things that will have the greatest impact on the customer and that you have the ability to deliver consistently, first, is so important. You need to build success, for the customer and for yourself and some momentum. In the face of much needed change it is often the trap of trying to do everything now that gets triggered and leads to failure.
Focus on moving the small number of critical pieces a mile first. Then move on to the next group, with those wins under your belt. All the way along you must explain it all to your people. Tell them where you've been, what you've seen and how it made you feel. Tell them where you're going. Tell them what you're going to do to get there. Most importantly, at every stage, explain "why". That's the way you'll improve team engagement and have a workforce who'll help you restore past glories, create new success, will stick close to their customers and stop you serving up Neapolitan ice-cream when the world has moved on.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer - a consultancy that believes your people are the often-forgotten internal fuel that can power businesses and brands to greater success. He helps businesses build stronger brands through engaged and aligned people and consults on customer experience, vision & values, cultural and transformational change, brand proposition development and employer branding.