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Marketing Guru's new book hits top 10 on The Wall Street Journal's National Bestseller list of business books
by Arthur Lightbourn - Rancho Santa Fe Review - February 10, 2005

What does such diverse companies as the Web search engine, Google, the doll manufacturer American Girl and the bank that doesn't want to be called a bank, Washington Mutual, have in common? Well, according to marketing guru, Rick Barrera, all three are among a growing number of highly successful companies that have found the best way to attract and keep customers in a tough, competitive economy is to "overpromise and overdeliver."

In facct, that's the name of his new book, Overpromise and Overdeliver, which, when it was published last month by Penguin Putnam, immediately it made it to #10 on The Wall Street Journal's national bestseller list of business books.

We interviewed the 47 year old Barrera in the lobby of the Rancho Santa Fe Inn where he was comfortably settled into an armchair near the fireplace with his computer on his lap making the most of his waiting time, which is just as it should be for a man who makes his living as a business lecturer, consultant and author.

He's also president and founder of Overpromise, Inc., a firm that designs and executes marketing strategies for companies that want to stand out from their competitors.

At first blush, "overpromising" might sound slightly unethical, we ventured to suggest. Not so, Barrera insisted, because what it really means, as he explains in his boo, is "outpromising your competitors and following up by giving your customers more than they ever expected in quality, value and service. Now admittedly, that doesn't sound too revolutionary.

But the way Barrera explains it, companies practicing overpromising and overdelivering now virtually own their respective markets, companies like Google, American Girl, WaMu, TiVo, Hummer, Samsung and Best Buy. And they did it by building their brands far more quickly and inexpensively than their competitors who rely heavily on traditional approaches, notably advertising.

Barrera said he stumbled on the secret of their success when he was asked by a client to find out how they did it.

What he discovered in his research was all of these "contrarian" companies crafted unique, attention-grabbing promises that radically differentiated them from their competitors.

Google vowed to lead its visitors to anything they wanted to know in 0.2 seconds, American Doll promised dolls that would enchant girls and teach them how to live a life of substance, and Washington Mutual promised "great value with friendly service for everyone" in retail settings that scrupulously avoided looking like traditional banking branches.

Why would a bank not want to look like a bank, you may ask.

Well, Barrera said, because research showed that people generally don't like banks.

Washington Mutual refers to itself as a "retailer of financial services" or better yet, a customer-friendly unbank whose branches are designed as retail banking stores.

Also, research indicated that customers don't like being herded into lines, they don't like being "nickel-and-dimed" with niggling fees for checking accounts, and don't like being told "no" when they apply for a loan or mortgage.

"So," Barrera writes, "they (WaMu) invented totally free checking - with no minimum balance, no monthly fee, no per-check charges, no direct deposit requirement, no charge to access WaMu's national ATM network, and no fee to talk to a teller."

And because they hold their own portfolio of mortgages rather than selling them off to other lenders, they are able to say "yes" more often when a customer requests a home mortgage, Barrera said. Throughout his book, Barrera refers to "TouchPoints" - either product, human or system - as primary factors in most buying decisions. TouchPoints are "contacts in which the customer actually experiences, handles, buys, uses and disposes of a product or service."

When these TouchPoints reinforce the brand promise, companies prosper, he says.

When they show a promise to be false or misleading, companies pay the price.

"In too many companies," he writes, "when a brand promise is created, it's created at the top of the organization, but fulfillment is left to frontline employees, who either don't quite get the promise, or lack the products, systems, skills, and tools to carry it out.

"When promise and delivery are disconnected, brand value is derailed before it ever leaves the roundhouse.

"But when the whole organization is pulling together to fulfill the brand promise, brand value becomes a reality."

Employing a team of three researchers to find and document companies using the methods he describes, Barrera said it took him three years to complete the book, now available in bookstores and through Amazon.com.

With case studies, Barrera skillfully argues his theories and offers lessons that can be used by senior managers and individuals to create, what he calls, "unshakable customer loyalty." The book also comes with a CD to help readers apply TouchPoint branding to their own situations.

Barrera is the co-author of two previous books, Collaborative Selling and Non-Manipulative Selling and author of the self-published book, Dollars & Sense of Exceptional Service Delivery.

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