Never Underestimate the Power of A-Ha!

by janetrobbins on March 2, 2010

There’s something special about “a-ha!” moments. You know, those times when you encounter something fresh or surprising that sparks immediate interest or delightful understanding and causes you to murmur, “Cool!” Those types of moments stay with you and easily spread virally as you share your experience with your friends.

So it makes sense that some of your best marketing ideas will be those that inspire a-ha! moments for your customers. Let’s take a look at a couple of companies that “get” the power of a-ha! and explore how you can put it to work for your business.

A Lesson from PG Tips

PG Tips is a brand of tea popular in the UK, and its makers (Brooke Bond) began producing pyramid-shaped (tetrahedron) tea bags in 1996. According to the company, the idea behind the pyramid-shaped bag is that it provides more room inside than a flat bag does and enables the tea to move around freely—as though in a miniature tea pot—providing better results.

PG Tips pyramid tea bagI happen to be a PG Tips fan, and one afternoon while fixing tea, I looked at the pyramid bag and wondered how it’s made. So as the water boiled, I “reverse-engineered” the bag (i.e., cut off the back base-edge of the pyramid in the photo and flattened out the bag) and—a-ha!—discovered that the pyramid is really just a regular flat tea bag that’s been “pinched” to make it 3D. Who knew it could be so simple? Very cool indeed—I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.

The marketing lesson we can take away from PG Tips is this: Sometimes all it takes is a compelling new twist on a conventional idea, product or service to ignite customer interest. PG Tips capitalized on taking the mundane and unremarkable—an ordinary flat tea bag—and turning it into something fresh, remarkable and memorable for its customers.

Visual Merchandizing à la Anthropologie

Another company that “gets” a-ha! is retailer Anthropologie. The company (launched in 1992 by Urban Outfitters, Inc.) sells women’s apparel, accessories, furniture and home furnishings to affluent professional women in the 30–45 age range throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad.

Walking past an Anthropologie window display provides a glimpse of what sets the company apart from a lot of other retailers—a dedication to visual merchandizing that invites discovery and an uncanny ability to capture attention and draw people into the store to see more. Anthro-display2 A closer look at most displays reveals what’s really there—a-ha!—and explains why people keep coming back to see what the company will create next.

For example, the company’s Spring 2010 theme is flowers, as you can see in these Flickr photos of a window display at one of the NYC stores. Spring 2010 window display detail at NYC Anthropologie storeLook more closely and you’ll discover that the flowers are actually plastic bottles that Anthropologie has repurposed with scissors, a little paint, some string and a big dose of wow to produce a stunning effect. (Other everyday items Anthropologie has put to similar use over the years include rulers, coffee filters, light bulbs, straws, balloons, phone books, honey bears—and yes, even tea bags!)

Furthermore, Anthropologie understands the power of community and in January encouraged their fan base to support local store efforts to create truly unique, relevant and memorable displays: “Want to help us create our spring windows?” read the company’s Facebook page. “Simply drop off used plastic water bottles of all shapes and sizes at any Anthropologie location. And don’t forget to return to your store to see your castoffs repurposed into larger-than-life sprays of flowers!” Nicely done, Anthropologie.

The lesson for marketers this time? Never stop surprising and delighting your customers. Provide engaging experiences to get them talking and keep them coming back to see what you’ll do next.

Tips for Creating A-Ha! Moments for Your Customers

How do you create a-ha! moments for your customers? It’s not as hard as you might think, but it requires effort to rethink your marketing ideas from an unconventional angle or perspective:

  • What stories, ingredients or procedures can you reveal to pique your customers’ natural curiosity about your products, services or company?
  • What can you offer that’s unexpected to spark interest and cause your customers to stop and take notice?
  • What nagging problems can you help them solve—with absolutely no strings attached?
  • What experiment can you conduct to provide insights your customers won’t find anywhere else?What new and interesting event or activity can you undertake that demonstrates your passion and innovation and sets you apart from your competitors?
  • How can you use humor or empathy to better connect with your customers in meaningful ways that entertain or enrich their life—professionally or personally?

The true power of a-ha! moments is their ability to cause someone to pause and consider your company or brand in a new and favorable light. It’s all part of building your reputation as an innovator with something interesting to share with the rest of the world. And don’t forget the long-term value of your efforts: A-ha! moments come with natural staying power, so your customers will recall and share those moments with others long after the moment has passed.

I’m sure you’ve experienced a-ha! moments throughout your life, and I invite you to share your experiences as well as those you’ve created for your customers.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

store windows on squidoo March 2, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Anthropologie’s plastic flower window displays got mentioned all over the internet. They did an amazing job!
I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Karen Marcus March 3, 2010 at 10:25 am

Great post, Janet! I love those a-ha moments from companies I do business with, and your ideas remind me to think about how I can provide them more frequently for my clients, and how I can guide those clients in doing the same for their customers.

Josh Hanagarne March 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Most of my a-ha moments come when I’m focusing on something else. My most creative breakthroughs usually come when I’ve taken a break from a problem that is bothering me. I think the subconscious is way more powerful than we know and it can be primed to treat us right:) Good post, friend.

janetrobbins April 8, 2010 at 9:06 am

The store windows on Squidoo are very interesting and creative!

Karen–And sometimes clients are just too close to their business to recognize what might be an a-ha moment for their customers. You’re right–that’s how an outside consultant can help.

Josh–You’re so right about how those a-ha moments come about. I know my subconscious is working overnight because sometimes there’s (delightfully so) a solution when I wake up.

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