January 02, 2012

Experience is Everything Every so often you have an encounter with a brand that reminds you how little marketers think about customer touch points and how difficult it is to control and shape the customer experience. In an era where each and every customer touch can poison a relationship and where any customer can instantly become a viral critic, its surprising how badly brands are prepared to deal with everyday issues. Consider two recent examples. I go to the Citi ATM and the machine dispenses forty dollars less than I asked for. I validate the underage with the branch manager, who can’t or won’t do anything about it. She puts me on the phone, after an extended wait ( evidently there are no internal priority queues) with CSRs in Guatemala and India both of whom offer no resolution and piss me off. When the issue doesn’t self correct in 24 hours as they promised, the online form won’t take and symbols, like a dollar sign or the ampersand for my email address, and the 800 number is continually busy. No wonder we all hate banks! Similarly I get an e-mail announcing that I canceled by New York Times subscription, even though I didn’t. The special number goes unanswered because of high volume, the main 800 subscription number doesn’t get answered, the subscription website takes 12 minutes to load and render and a reply to the email sender bounces. Do you think they’re telling me something about our relationship by this dramatic inattention? Is it a wonder that newspapers are dying? These negative experiences are random. Neither brand seems to have any understanding of my purchase history, my status, my long term brand loyalty, my potential as a brand advocate or detractor or my relative profitability or lifetime value sufficient to save me from their systems. All the platinum cards, special clubs and other marketing blather turn to dust, when you want something simple done and your brand partner can’t or won’t deliver. Very few brands think through and map the range of customers’ interactions with the brand or anticipate the result of these interactions on brand awareness, preference, purchase or loyalty. Branding experts talk about the essence and the expression of the brand but very little of their philosophizing gets built into the plumbing of service delivery. All the high falutin’ brand babble doesn’t matter when real customers want real engagement or real services. Brands need to execute on the brand promise not only in ads but downstream – where transactions take place and where the battle for brand purchase and loyalty is joined. It starts with an attitude. Either you are a brand that understands me, helps me, meets me where I need things or you are not. This can’t be faked or masked by fun Facebook promotions or shortened URLs on Twitter. Marketers need to assert quality control over all touch points and anticipate the likely service needs and emotional results of day-to-day business. Infusing the delivery system and the customer service system with a genuine brand ethos will pay off much faster and much better than accumulating thousands of online friends or measuring gross viral impressions
Facebook's Advertising Squeeze Play Facebook spouting the rhetoric of community, friendship and changing the world, has systematically built its platform to extrude cash from advertisers. And though we haven’t yet seen an overt expression of naked greed from Zuckerberg & Company, we are beginning to feel the effects of the advertising squeeze play they’ve constructed. Understand the back-story. Facebook offers fan pages for brands. Facebook encourages brands to accumulate fans and to spend money on apps, promotions, games and other forms of engagement. Just as brands begin to master this new medium, they change the definitions, swap out fans for likes and generally mess with our heads. Like new addicts, brands adjust on the fly, redirect their efforts, redouble the labor assigned to post, monitor and measure Facebook activity and again begin to master the new Facebook universe. Spouting the engagement mantra, brands expand their offerings; begin spending to advertise on Facebook to existing or prospective fans and experiment with Facebook’s ways to optimize access to fan Newsfeeds. To incent added advertising spending, Facebook institutes a filter on wall posts, called the EdgeRank Algorithm that, by design or default, significantly reduces the number of brand massages reaching brand fans. At first they encouraged a reach and frequency/engagement play. Then they unilaterally manipulated the platform to reduce free reach thereby creating demand for more new paid ads. Sponsored Stories ads essentially sell brands the access they thought they were getting organically by creating compelling brand posts. It must be great to own the end-to-end system so that you can diabolically adjust the variables and run the rats through the maze. Facebook got us hooked on free reach, scolded us into paid engagement and now is subtlety but regularly tightening the apeture on brand access to fans’ walls and by extension to the huge reach multiplier represented by friends of fans in order to force us to buy more ads to get what we were getting in an early iteration of the platform. It’s a classic squeeze play; one that Twitter and others will soon try to emulate. Google has already drawn fire for its attempts to unfairly weight its own travel properties in the search algorithm. Savvy brands will resist the tightening of the screws by developing metrics to measure the business impact and monetary value of fan interactions. These calculations should guide the level of future investment. Remember that there is a widespread hunch that Facebook fans are deal-seekers and light rather than heavy customers. Facebook clearly is a game worth playing, but it’s not the only game in town nor is it yet a critical “must have” success factor for brands. Don’t be surprised to see prominent brands diversify their social media spending, reduce the intensity of Facebook activity or even dump Facebook campaigns in the New Year.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

The Typepad Team

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