Customer Control Creates New Phase of Apologetic Marketing

In a customer-centric marketing ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. Brands must accept that customers control their reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

In a customer-is-in-control ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. They need to open up honest, meaningful conversations with their customers — and understand that we no longer push advertisements to customers through media, but rather engage and communicate with them. Brands must accept that the customer controls a brand’s reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

For years now, customers have controlled the way brands are perceived in the marketplace. Today, that leverage is only growing. Companies can no longer hide behind big brand campaigns, just as marketing can no longer put a good spin on a problematic or dated company. If they try, consumers will either ignore it altogether (because they recognize the idealized corporate-speak) or, worse, they’ll attack in social media. Then, what started as a small problem can get out of control quickly.

Marketing executives need to work with the entire c-suite to make sure brand promises and customer experiences are consistent throughout the entire journey. They need to ensure the brand pillars are not only communicated, but also embraced across every component of the organization. And they have to make sure every team in the company can live up to the vision presented in the marketing.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the disconnect play out on a grand scale for companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, Facebook and unfortunately many more. By not aligning the brand platform with their internal values and customer experience, these companies have had to publicly recognize their faults and apologize for missteps. They each faced distrust among their customer base and, even though that trust was lost in a second, it often takes years to gain back.

So How Can Companies Learn From These Brands?

In today’s marketplace, companies need to do three key things:

  • Be transparent. Customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. But today, customers aren’t just immune to, but are also appalled by corporate-speak and over-hyped, insincere brand promises. Customers want brands to be real, to mean something and to associate with their beliefs and values. Companies today need to be humanized so customers can connect with them.
  • Align departments across the organization. Customers perceive companies as one entity and they expect that, whether they’re in a store, on the site or calling customer service, they’ll have the same experience across the board. Companies, however, are made up of different departments, with different bosses (who have different beliefs), and are often measured against different (sometimes opposing) KPIs. Today, corporate structure needs to embrace customer expectations. Politics and personalities have to take the back seat to the unified brand vision.
  • Companies need to embrace their customers. They can no longer lay out their corporate vision and marketing plans without fully understanding what the marketplace needs — both today and tomorrow. They need to understand what customers are looking for and shape their products and their company accordingly. Most companies hate hearing this, but they also need to narrow their audience and focus their company. Very few brands can and should appeal to all consumers. Too many brands try to satisfy everyone, remaining conservative so they don’t alienate any prospective customers. In doing so, however, they don’t resonate with anyone. Brands that take a stand, know who their audience is and what they want, and mold their company around that always win. Even if they outrage a part of their base, they inspire and resonate with their core, turning them into passionate advocates who reinforce the brand and allow more organic growth.

What Can You Do When It’s Too Late and You’ve Lost Consumer Trust?

While it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, companies need to be honest, fall on their sword and open up to the gaps they have. Just like Facebook’s WSJ ad and Wells Fargo’s TV campaign, they need to promise to do better. But again, it needs to be more than a marketing promotion; it needs to be a genuine re-set, one that all departments and the entire c-suite embrace. If it’s not, it’s only a matter of time until you’re back in the hot seat.

Be Like Uber and Shake Things Up

There are still some who grumble over Uber, but it seems like the transportation network company simply “don’t got time for that!” Why? Well, when puppies and kittens aren’t being ubered around, venture capitalist investors are taking rides and listening to startup pitches. You know, Uber being Uber.

There are still some who grumble over Uber, but it seems like the transportation network company simply “don’t got time for that!” Why? Well, when puppies and kittens aren’t being ubered around, venture capitalist investors are taking rides and listening to startup pitches. You know, Uber being Uber.

On April 28, I received the following email with the subject line: “Tomorrow, your big idea could win $10,000.”
Uber Pitch Email for Philly Tech Week
Uber Pitch Email for Philly Tech Week
I don’t have any ideas packed away for a startup, but I found the partnership of Uber with Philly Tech Week to be fascinating. I clicked through on the “I’ve Got An Idea” call-to-action button, which took me to the Uber Newsroom, and provided the following details for how #uberpitch was going to work on Friday in Philadelphia:

Uber Pitch How-To for Philly Tech Week
Better yet, the VC folks riding around for #uberpitch were all active on Twitter, sharing photos and snippets of what was being pitched.

I’m curious to see who delivered the winning pitch, but moreso, I love seeing such a creative take on pitching a startup. Sure, we have Shark Tank, but for anyone who knows Philly, we’re a city with a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

I’ve watched friends raise up companies from their apartments, gradually growing them into rented offices and creative careers (I’m looking at you Cipher Prime). I’ve also watched friends put every ounce of effort into a dream, to only then see it fade when it didn’t or couldn’t take off. And we’re a city who loves to love Uber.

So for Uber to select Philly as one of the #uberpitch cities was not only a great partnership idea, but another way to show that the car company differentiates itself from your typical car service.

Much like people who found a startup, Uber doesn’t want to be categorized as just one thing. It’s a company that differentiates itself from the competition, sometimes goes out on a limb to be fun and funky, and is 100 percent the kind of company every marketer can learn something from, and should pay attention to. (And, yeah, I dig its email creative, too!)

Get Outta My Tweets (Don’t Get Into My Car, Though)

Is it annoying for a brand account to search/respond to indirect Tweets? Or is it in the name of good customer service, even a PR necessity?

Twitter ChatFor all intents and purposes, I’m pretty sure what I’m about to talk about is just the newest model of the age-old aggressive salesperson debate. You know the drill: You walk into a shop at the mall, or a handmade/organic soap store which shall remain nameless but is notorious for its overly enthusiastic salespeople. Maybe you know what you’re looking for, maybe you’re just browsing.

A greeter at the front of the store asks, “Can I help you find anything today?” “No thanks,” you answer, “Just looking.” Cut to 10 minutes later, you’re trying to decide which scent of bath bomb you like best, when another rep wanders over, “Have you tried this one before? Let me show you how it works! Also, have you thought about using it with this product over here?” Etc. Rinse, repeat.

If you’re anything like me, it’s more uncomfortable than it is helpful, and knowing it will happen makes me hesitant to go into a store. After all, if I wanted help, I’d ask for it. “Well, that’s your own socially awkward problem,” some might say. “They’re there to sell products, they’re doing their job.” And clearly, as this practice continues to thrive and stores continue to employ it, they have a point.

All of which brings me to the topic at hand: brands’ interaction with consumers on Twitter. First, a tiny bit of clarification: When a person tweets at a specific Twitter account with the intention of the tweet appearing in that account’s notifications, it’s known as a “direct” Tweet. (“Hey, @Starbucks, love the new flavor!”)

On the other hand, when someone tweets just the name of a person/service/company without directing it at the account via an @, the kids these days call it an “indirect” [tweet]. (“omg went to Starbucks this morning and the line was so long help.”) Indirects don’t show up in a person’s notifications, one would have to do a keyword search on Starbucks to find these. So, my question: Is it annoying, even intrusive, for a brand account to search for and respond to indirects? Or is it in the name of good customer service, even a PR necessity?

In my humble (Millennial) opinion, it’s totally the former. I know how Twitter works, I know how to get an account’s attention if I need to. If I make a passing comment, yes even a complaint, about a product, I didn’t deem it important enough to take further action and, in my mind, there’s no customer service necessary. And if it’s not a negative comment that seems necessary to address for reputation purposes, what’s the aim?

I once tweeted something like “Oh hey, there’s a School of Rock musical now, who knew?” And the School of Rock account responded minutes later: “Hey, glad to see you’re enjoying it, which song are you rocking out to??” Like … chill. You wouldn’t butt into a stranger’s conversation like that IRL.

Uber is somewhat notorious for this, usually on the basis of correcting some wrongdoing or keeping an eye on their drivers. Actually, this whole post was somewhat inspired by this guy who wouldn’t snitch. Now, again, I get it. Like the guy said, he knows Uber has a business to run and rules for their drivers to follow. But in this case, it totally backfired. And why wouldn’t it? The customer wasn’t even upset, he said right there, he was laughing so hard he had to apologize.

So now you have two things happening: The customer didn’t @ you, so clearly they didn’t feel the need to get your attention, AND the customer was perfectly content, even amused, with the situation. So … what was the point of playing customer service cop again?

Cats, Cars, and Cuddles: How to Reduce Inventory and Raise Revenue

For this promotion, making a modest financial gift to the Humane Society while Uber delivers kitten’s right to my office seemed like a no-brainer.

When I first opened the email I thought it was a joke.

Uber Kitten Email

Nina, the local manager for Uber in my area, was letting me know that they were partnering with the Humane Society to deliver furry, lovable kittens for cuddle sessions … for a small $30 snuggle fee. Wow … Really? (I thought excitedly.)

The fact is, I love cats (don’t tell my dog)… but my husband is not a big cat fan — especially after our last 12-year-cat-from-hell stint with the Tasmanian devil that I took pity on and rescued from a shelter. That little bundle of evilness barely let me scratch its head before he raked his incredibly long and sharp claws across my hand and arm. But that’s a story for another day.

For this promotion, making a modest financial gift to the Humane Society while Uber delivers kittens right to my office seemed like a no-brainer.

It turns out that other cities across the US were doing the same thing — as well as in Canada and Australia. The Humane Society/ASPCA/Local Shelter, partnered with Uber drivers to try and help raise money and increase adoptions.

West Michigan reported that their shelter raised nearly $1,000 during their four-hour event — and 83 percent of their participating kittens were adopted. In fact the demand was so high they couldn’t even make it to all the businesses!

In 2013, the first year of this cross-promotion, three cities raised $15,000 and found homes for 100 percent of the traveling kitties. So that makes it a definite win-win.

Uber, who has had some challenges in Australia when they were accused of charging $100 for ride fares during a hostage crisis in Sydney, seems to have created some positive press for a change.

Personally, I love cross-promotions like this. The Humane Society wins (with both gift revenue and an increase in adoptions), businesses win (employees who aren’t allergic to cats get some much-needed kitty cuddle time), and Uber wins with increased awareness and a chance to generate some goodwill.

Now, if only I could sneak one of these sweet little kitties past my dog (and my husband), and they’d have a win-win-win-win-win!