Change is constant, and something we deal with daily in a rapidly changing world of business developments, technology breakthroughs and, of course, mobile apps that change how we do just about everything. In most cases, we embrace change. We like having a faster, smarter, better way to do routine business tasks, to connect with people, to manage our resources, play games, find information and much more. We like change that impacts our every day, like gas stations that offer 24/7 diners instead of just stale, often expired sandwiches mummified in plastic cartons.
Yet, when brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.
For example, just this week we learn that T-Mobile and Sprint, both of whom had less than half the number of customers as industry-leader Verizon at the end of Q4 2017, are merging. And even though their combined size is still smaller than Verizon and AT&T, they will be a stronger third-place competitor with less than 30 million fewer customers than No. 1, Verizon vs. the nearly 100 million Sprint has as a standalone brand.
While this is good news for shareholders of each company, is it really change for the better for consumers? As quickly as the merger plan was announced, speculation consumed news and social media headlines worldwide as to what this merger really means for consumers: higher prices, the end of unlimited data, more control for the carriers and less competitive offers and perks for the consumers who rely on wireless plans 24/7 for every aspect of daily survival — not just phone calls home to Mom.
As reported in MarketWatch yesterday, the morning after, “It would be devastating for consumers in the long run,” said Chris Mills, news editor at BGR, a news website focused on mobile technology and consumer electronics.
True or not, Mills’ reaction is how many consumers react to change when brands they’ve known for years, and have established a comfortable and trusting relationship with, change. Even so slightly. Mergers, acquisitions, discontinuation or sell-offs of products lines or services, can be unsettling for consumers if not managed properly by brands.
The following are some tips for how to manage consumers’ reactions before they can change your bottom line.
- Put a Stake in the Ground That Matters: Define what this change means for your customers’ well-being, not just yours, and what market position this new change will allow you to own, develop and build upon. Does this prepare you for greater sustainability, future breakthroughs and developments through merged R&D efforts by leading minds? Does this improve shopping and service convenience for customers with more access to resources? What is the No. 1 promise and deliverable associated with this change?
- Speak Fast: Don’t wait to tell you story. If you are slow to explain how even a small change benefits customers and not just your bottom line, you open the door for competitors and analysts to explain why this could be a bad thing. As the first story heard is often the story that sticks, time is of the essence. Prepare a statement about the “why” and “what” it means, and get it out quickly.
- Speak Loudly: With today’s digital channels, loud is not about volume, but about relevance and reach. Send your story to analysts, news writers, influencers, consumers, shareholders, existing customers and more before they can read it elsewhere. Include statements from outsiders explaining why this change is good, and send your story across all channels. Train all your employees how to tell this story credibly at every customer touchpoint.
No matter how big or small your brand is, or the impact of the changes you make, managing change is critical, as our consumer minds will run amuck with all sorts of reasons to lose faith in trusted partners and even jump ship if left to speculate as to how change changes everything they know and trust. Yet change can be a beautiful thing for all involved when done right.