I’m sorry I’m not sorry

We’re doing company branding work at the office so evaluating how companies represent themselves to customers has been on the brain lately.

It can be interesting to debate the merits of a position in a marketplace. Should we be the low-cost, efficiency leader? Or should we offer the best customer service possible or go after a luxury segment? While one approach may be more appropriate for a given company vs another, I think the important thing is to be consistent. My personal experience tells me that when a company’s behavior lines up with who they claim to be, it usually works out fine. When it doesn’t, it’s ugly.

I recently found a bogus charge on my credit card. Luckily, I saw the transaction while it was still pending and payment hadn’t been sent. So I called the bank that issued my card and told them the whole story. Their response was to tell me that they couldn’t stop the payment from going out and that I needed to call another department to place a fraud claim. Fine, whatever. When I repeated my story to the fraud department (45 minute hold time) they told me that they’d investigate and get back to me. That was over 2 months ago and still no word on the verdict, despite several phone calls from me. Now to their credit, they did issue a provisional credit to cover the amount in question while the investigation was going on. But I’m not comfortable spending that money since I don’t know whether I’ll be able to keep it or not.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if the credit card company had painted a more realistic picture of how this would happen from the get go. I still have their sales brochure, which says things like “You won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized purchases.” My claim form says “your claim is top priority with us.” Riiiight.

On the other hand, I checked out the local Snap Fitness earlier this week. They are a stripped down health club with about a tenth of the equipment, resources and service that Lifetime or Ballys would offer. But they don’t apologize for it. My conversation with the sales person was sugar coat free.
“Do you have showers?”
“No, most people just get in and out.”
“Okay, how about lockers for my stuff?”
“We have cubbies.”
“Alright. Where’s the drinking fountain?”
“We don’t have one.”

Not the most impressive set of features for a health club but there is no misunderstanding about what they offer. And it’s only $30 a month, less than half of the dues at Lifetime or the YMCA. I think that Snap Fitness may grab a smaller slice of the total market with this approach, but the customers that they do have will be satisfied and likely to stay.

Eye on the prize


Working at a company that serves consumers, I’m all too familiar with how competitive a space it is. Individuals are presented with an incredible amount of choice when shopping online and have real power to promote or sink a company’s good name.
We marketers have a wealth of information available to us too, including what our competitors are up to. Using persistent search tools and RSS you can listen to what any web-focused company is doing, almost in real time. That can provide valuable info and insights. (I use these monitoring tools every day.) But they also present a danger of shifting a company’s focus.
Our stated objective is to serve our customers in the best way possible, which will lead to organic growth. However, each time we see a company in our market place launch a new product or offer an interesting tool on their website, it sets off a minor panic. Why don’t WE offer that product? What is the fastest way that we can develop that feature for OUR website? Soon we’re letting our competitors dictate which products and designs we offer and how. The obvious problem with that scenario is that we will always be following the leader, not catching or surprassing them.
No one in our marketing department would come out and advocate moving to a flawed strategy like this but the mentality tends to creep into our decision making nonetheless. Watching competitors is great if we can remain focused on our customers. If not, it’s time to turn off the firehose of information that is distracting us.

Learning more by learning RSS

When considering options for continuing development, the resources available are plentiful. I’ve taken classes, attended conferences, read books and considered grad school. But the best value that I’ve seen for staying sharp is RSS.
Using Google Reader, I can stay on top of the latest trends in the markets that I’m working in, monitor the reputation of my company, get inspired by some of the most outstanding voices in Marketing and find out about the latest tools and resources.
RSS isn’t hard to use at all and yet I find myself being one of the only ones at my company using it. That’s a shame. A lot of time and money is spent on learning through conventional channels despite the ease and cost savings available on the web.
This isn’t one of those niche technologies that will benefit a small group of technophiles for a short time. RSS is really valuable and not using it is a major detriment to any company with a marketing function. Google has made it about as easy to use as I can imagine it to be. What more will it take for RSS to go mainstream?
It may be that it is simply priced too low. If it’s free, the feeling goes, it must not be that valuable or powerful. If that line of thinking is right, this is an exception to the rule.

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