Feb 25

You aren’t what you say you are (unless the customer agrees)

Shout out to Emily Yellin for suggesting this idea.

image from farm4.static.flickr.com It’s interesting to think about brands that have touted their strengths or points of differentiation in taglines only to have the customer experience turn out to be the polar opposite. Consider just a few examples:

  • BP’s ‘Beyond petroleum.’ There’s no need to recount how many journalists, pundits and comedians lambasted the initials and tagline in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill.
  • Merrill Lynch’s ‘thundering herd’ of financial advisors were a breed apart. They sure were, especially after the firm experienced a massive meltdown as the real estate bubble burst and the markets collapsed. Today, what’s left of the thundering herd is corralled inside parent company, BOA. 
  • Toyota’s ‘Moving forward’ which, after a series of highly-publicized accidents caused by acceleration pedal problems, became a nasty, daily reminder of the automaker’s crisis.
  • And then there’s the perpetual bad boy of branding: Comcast. Thanks to its horrific customer service, Comcast’s ‘Comcastic’  boast may be the gold standard for never living up to a brand promise.  

There’s an amazingly simple way to avoid these disconnects: put yourself in customer’s shoes before ever attempting to frame marketing messages. 

Ian Wylie, a Forrester analyst, tracks customer service and blogged about a rare, best practice in Fast Company. In the text, Wylie profiled David McQuillen of Credit Suisse, who continually places himself and his C-suite bosses in the shoes of the customer (note: McQuillen has moved on since the 2007 blog was written and is now with OCBC Bank in Singapore). For example, he’s made the top brass visit local branch banks, stand in line, exchange foreign currency and ask customers questions. He’ll then take them back to the office, have them surf the company’s web site and attempt to check interest rates and fill out application forms. He brought a meeting of the bank’s 200 top managers to a complete standstill when he pulled out a speaker phone and dialed the customer service line. McQuillen said he saw ‘…fear in their faces, because they didn’t know what the experience was going to be.’ McQuillen said the bank has five million customer interactions a month and questioned how many, if any, managers had any clue about the quality of those interactions. 

McQuillen is one of the few visionaries in an emerging field that recognizes inside-out marketing no longer works. Time Magazine may have declared you and me (the consumer) as ‘person of the year’ a while back, but the vast majority of marketers don’t get it (we recently surveyed 75 CMOs and found that 75 percent had never experienced their brand as a customer). For the most part, marketers still craft campaigns that tout their best-in-class product or service without ever experiencing said product or service from the customer’s point of view.  

We’re digging deep into this yawning gap and are slipping into the shoes of CFOs, moms and other ‘consumers’ to experience a brand online, on the phone and in person. We’re also determining exactly where a purchase consideration is being made. 

We’re not nearly as street smart as McQuillen who, in an attempt to make his bank do more to help customers with disabilities use its branches, offices, web site and call centers, made each member of his team spend a day in wheelchair. They also wore weighted suits to re-create what it’s like to be 70-years-old and had them eat lunch in the dark, courtesy of local Zurich restaurant called the Blind Cow (where all the waiting staff are visually impaired). What a superb way to understand the customer before making the necessary tweaks to better connect with them! McQuillen’s even gone on the speaking circuit to explain what it was like to be wheelchair-bound for a day. 

I’m no McQuillen, but it’s pretty easy to see what he’s seen: You aren’t what you say you are unless the customer agrees. So, paraphrasing the Hippocratic Oath, ‘marketer, heal thyself.’”

May 20

Looks like CEOs would pick Clayton Christianson over Arthur W. Page any day of the week


Innovators
A
just released survey of 1,500 CEOs by the IBM Institute for Business Value
shows an overwhelming percentage want one thing from their direct reports:
creativity. Chief executives want innovative thinkers such as Clayton
Christianson, who rocketed to business rock star status with his book, 'The Innovator's Dilemma.'

Written
in the dotcom heyday and intended to educate 'brick-and-mortar' CEOs how to
disrupt their business models before some upstart 'click-and-mortar' did it to
them, 'The Innovator's Dilemma' seems to embody exactly what today's CEO wants.

Why?
Because, according to the IBM survey, chief executives want to blow up the
status quo. They want fresh thinking and they want to end organizational
paralysis. It's obvious their desire coincides with a market upturn.

And,
yet I find the results discouraging. Why? Because, despite all the moral and
ethical lapses we've seen of late from the likes of BP, Toyota, Goldman Sachs
and others, honesty and transparency didn't even register on the CEO's agenda.

That's
a shame for public relations executives in general and the Arthur W. Page
Society in particular. We, as professionals, have been patting ourselves on the
back for earning a seat at the C-suite table convincing ourselves that more and
more enlightened CEOs have grasped the critical need for a great image and
reputation. And, The Page Society's raison d'etre is business ethics.

Well,
guess what? The CEOs in the IBM survey still think the same way their
predecessors did. For CEOs, it's all about top and bottom-line growth,
delivering shareholder value and pleasing the Street. Period.

The
problem with 'creativity at all costs' is that it encourages a business culture
where results count more than doing the right thing. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling
were all about creativity and innovation. So, too, was Bernie Madoff.

I
feel for the late Arthur W. Page and the Page Society itself (of which I'm a
proud member). This survey is a sobering reminder that the average chief
executive is still all about one thing and one thing only: results.

Happily, there are exceptions. I
guess they just decided to skip taking the IBM survey.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the
idea behind this post. 

Feb 23

Is Toyota this decade’s Enron?

The latest terror suspect Najibullah Zazi, as well as the makers of Avandia and hot dogs have to be breathing a little easier this morning (well, at least the Avandia and hot dog makers are).

February 23 All three were caught in the crosshairs of breaking crises, but avoided being the lead item on nightly news and talk shows thanks to good, old Toyota.

Good and old are apt descriptors for the automaker. I say that because Toyota's management is practicing what was once considered smart management and crisis communications in the good, old days. Denial, obfuscation and evasiveness worked well in the dark, distant past. But that was then and this is now.

Silence seems to be the watchword of Toyota's communications strategy today. This, despite mounting evidence that their entire line of cars is stricken with a fatal flaw: an accelerator that doesn't have a fail safe mechanism.

As a result, politicians, consumer watchdog groups and investigative journalists alike are salivating like Pavlov's dog at the prospect of bringing down a big, bad business caught being a big, bad business. It's a Hollywood movie plot that screams out for the likes of Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles.

And, it also goes to show that all the public relations and advertising in the world are meaningless if the product is rotten and the company's leaders are caught covering up the damage. All of which leads to my question of the day: Will Toyota be this decade's Enron?