As advertising and marketing budgets are being slashed (don’t mention the “R word”), it’s probably worth looking at the way brands engage and relate to their customers. I’m inspired to put this into relationship terms after seeing the film, “He’s Just Not That Into You” (HJNTIY) . One of the male characters, Alex, is brutally frank in telling Gigi, how she is deluding herself on male romantic behaviour when a series of guys don’t call her or ask her out again – all when they say they are going to.
In much the same way Alex did, I am going to tell it like it is, with regards to the way brands (and the agencies acting on their behalf), toy with customers’ feelings, and keep them at arms length, or promise to contact without any actual delivery.
Here are my interpretations of the classic, dysfunctional customer relationships where customers are treated badly by brands:
The wham, bam, thank you ‘mam (or sir)
A one night stand is fine if its a two way street and the customer has no expectation that the brand is every going to contact them again. This behaviour belongs to brands who do endless promotions campaigns who are always looking for new, new, new customers. These brands have commitment phobia, not wanting to generate any long term relationships via ongoing communications, mostly because it will involve “databases” (shudder!) and print or email followups. Guilty parties/brands usually run promotions microsites that collect customer data (which will then sit on hard drives and be ignored), competitions (where only the winner will get a prize and everyone else will be ignored), and generic microsites (which aren’t geared to collecting customer details at all). This is the equivalent of guy/girl losing your phone number after making a big effort to ask you for it – all after they had sex with you.
The Honeymoon Period
Wow, don’t you feel special as a customer when new brands woo you to come on board. All the gorgeous, big budget advertising on TV which earnestly says how much they care, its all chocolates and flowers, pomp and circumstance via gaudy welcome packs, and over-the-top personalised direct marketing (“Dear Tip, you may have already won…”). Like any honeymoon, this relationship sinks to “normal” levels of low communications, usually after the initial burst of weeks/months, because the brand has thought out a short term tactical campaign, and not a long term strategic relationship campaign. Unless the customer is locked into a contract, as a customer, you will continue to seek out other brands willing to give you that “honeymoon feeling” all over again. And so the cycle continues…
The Adulterous partner/Serial dater
These are brands looking for new customer relationships while not servicing current ones. Literally, new customers are treated better than current customers via incentives, bonus offers etc. Guilty parties tend to be service industries (such as gyms) that do bonusing when you are a new customer signing up for x months, or cheaper joining fees for certain periods. What happens to all the loyal, existing customers? How about giving them a token of appreciation (even if it is token), rather than making them feel dumped and/or neglected for the latest newcomers?
When dating is competitive, bring in the wingperson of the opposite sex to act as the foil and the wingperson surreptitiously “feeds” the object of your desire snippets how wonderful you are via everyday conversation. In brand speak, these are the PR people getting the brand editorial, the bloggers who review or speak favourably of the brand, the genuine word-of-mouth from other customers, the Twittersphere, (for those on Twitter -how many times have you seen people ask for brand recommendations and then get them – via Twitter? Exactly.) and other third party recommendations (strategic partners et al). When brand says they are fantastic and so worth having relationship with, you could think “Mmm, do I really believe this big headed behaviour?” But when someone else says, “They are so fantastic, and worth having a relationship with”, you think “Ok they must be good”. This behaviour is not so bad if its backed up by some authentic relationship delivery, but if it’s all promise, then as a recipient of empty words – you feel cheated and duped.
Long term relationship ennui
This one is not really covered in HJNTIY, but relevant for those customers who have been in a really long term relationship with their brand and are bored with the same old, same old. The international brand monoliths are the most guilty of this type of behaviour, because it means Australian (or “insert your country here”) marketing managers can point a finger and say “It’s Global’s fault that we can’t run a separate database/marketing campaign/localize our relationships”. There is no excuse for this type of bad relationship behaviour, especially in this market with great brands vying for your attention and love. Oh and long term relationship or not, these are the brands that so need you to divorce them – now.
Gigi in HJNTIY finds true love at the end of the movie, only after the commitment phobic Alex is served for being a cynical know-it-all. So where’s the lesson for brands? What elements do you need to build relationship nirvana with customers?
- Build your database. Seems bleeding obvious, but some brands place no value in databases of willing customers (! incredible I know) and they believe segments belong to oranges.
- Set up expectations that your customers will get something by signing up. Deliver or exceed on those expectations. Create smoking hot offers only available to those who subscribe. Yes – you can run competitions, but mix it up with things that everyone can buy/get – and some cool free shit.
- Make sure your database lives longer than any promotion, sale, special offer, microsite, event or single communication. Make it portable and ubiquitous. Make it cross channel. If you have SMS component to your comms, make sure you can talk to your customers online or offline. Again, its bleeding obvious. But 9 out of 10 promotions T&Cs do not have cross channel communications in as basics. It’s death of relationships courtesy of lawyers (so just like real relationships then?)
- Ask customers their preferred method of being communicated with. Don’t irritate them by talking to them on other channels or you will lose them.
- Frequency is important too. Don’t be a stalker, but don’t be a stranger either. Neglect kills relationships more than stifling love, so err on the side of more rather than less. Ask customers how often they want to hear from you or use a customer pull model, via RSS, or podcast.
- Listen. Create a space, a forum where your customers can give you feedback, as often as they like. Make it easy for them to get in touch with you. Listen to what they say – you will learn more than paid market research, and it will be free.
- Make it easy for your customers to tell others about you, and the great relationship you have. Email to a friend, create compelling, sharable content- all the basic ways of getting your brand out to more people easily is what you should be pursuing.
- Be in it for the long haul. If you are going to commit to building a brand community or embark on an engagement strategy for social media channels, you are going to make your customers feel the most love. But know that it’s going to be a long term commitment, and it’s going to take work and lots of two way dialogue. And you’re going to hear stuff you don’t like. And you might need to grow and change. Just like a real relationship.