Tag Archives: Brand Authenticity

How breaking a promise can break your brand

25 Sep

While not a true crisis, a Texas lightning storm last week provided a striking example of how far off track a big company can go and how smart a start-up can be. It should be the other way around but too many big companies seem unable to get the customer experience right. At the same time, I’m amazed at how many small startups are super customer savvy.

The storm that swept across Texas was a big one. It dropped 6 inches of rain in a couple of hours and brought strong lightning, wind and thunder. Apparently, the lightning was close enough to bring down our power, Internet, and cable TV. While the power company restored power in less than a day, it’s been more than a week since we’ve had Internet or TV.

When our Internet went down, it took with it a variety of Internet-connected devices including light switches, thermostats, and music players. They all worked but they could no longer communicate back to the companies that service them. The day after the outage, I received a personal note from support at a company called Rachio which makes an Internet connected sprinkler system that I use. They are a small company and they could see that our device went offline. They proactively checked in to make sure that everything was working well with their device and whether I needed any assistance. This is truly amazing customer service considering the fact that they don’t have anything else to sell me and since they don’t earn any ongoing revenue from their device.

On the other end of the spectrum was AT&T — who I pay thousands of dollars per year — who should have the resources to turn this small crisis into an opportunity to strengthen our relationship. During a crisis, the best companies are proactive, share information, work hard to over-deliver on commitments, treat customers with respect, and are generous to make things good when unexpected events create new problems. Like Rachio, AT&T has the data they need to be proactive with support. They certainly have the financial resources to create a great customer service experience if they choose.

When we called AT&T after the storm they set up a appointment 3 days later on Monday at 8am to fix our Internet and TV. To our surprise, nobody came to make the repair and nobody called us to provide an update. We called again and were told that their window was extended to 7pm. Again, nobody came and nobody called.  At 7pm we called them and were told that they weren’t going to come and that, in fact, nobody had even been assigned to our ticket. They could not estimate when anybody would come. They would not schedule another appointment. They blamed dispatch and said they had no access to information.

As infuriating as this experience was, it was just the beginning. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were exactly the same: each day an AT&T representative would commit to send someone and nobody would ever come or call. They systematically made and broke promises. They lied to us. We spoke to managers and supervisors but there was no path of escalation and no accountability.  More than a dozen AT&T employees made promises to call us back or to take an action and then failed to honor their commitments. They made it our job to spend hours on the phone.

In these interactions, AT&T committed the two most fatal brand mistakes: they created a bad customer experience and they broke their own promises. While it is inevitable that customer service mistakes happen, it’s clear that AT&T’s problems are structural. They are a choice. AT&T has decided they are going to save costs by providing limited customer service. Further proof of this can be seen in their crediting policies. Surprisingly, they didn’t proactively offer to credit us for the service they weren’t providing. When we asked for a credit, they still wanted us to pay for part of each of the days that they were unable to provide service. We now must call back every day to get additional daily credits for the outage.

On Tuesday they sent us a customer satisfaction survey which allowed us to write, at length, about the promises they made and broke. The survey was smart: it clearly asked if our issue had not been resolved. When we said it hadn’t, the survey asked us to provide a phone number so that someone could immediately reach out to address our issue. This was a great opportunity for AT&T to escalate our issues and get the relationship back on track. We provided the number and requested follow-up but nobody called.

As a marketer, I know the work that it takes to build a great brand. AT&T’s CMO certainly understands that their brand is only as good as the promises they keep and the experiences that they create. AT&T’s broader executive team, no doubt, speaks personally about the importance of honesty, integrity, and keeping promises. They have all the data they need to spot problems and proactively help customers. They have the data they need to spot customers who they have let down. Why is it that they are unable to treat customers with honesty and integrity? Why don’t they invest to save customer relationships that are worth thousands of dollars when they know they are at risk? How much financial damage does this cost them in any given year?

The difference between AT&T and Rachio runs very very deep. Rachio is clearly being built from the start as a company that values an exceptional customer experience. Like Apple, Tesla, AirBNB, Zappos and other strong companies, they are using the customer experience as a tool to build their brand. AT&T has never been this type of company and it’s probably impossible to change the culture enough to positively impact the brand.

For Chief Marketing Officers, it’s important to remember that building a great brand almost never starts with great marketing. It starts with building a great product and a great customer experience. Your brand is the promises you make. When you break those promises, there is no amount of advertising spend that can get your reputation back.

How Tropicana Misled You: The Story of a Bad Brand

4 Aug

I hope I’m not the first person to tell you that Tropicana orange juice would be flavorless without the help of a New Jersey perfume company. It probably all made sense 40 or 50 years ago when food and brands were manufactured in similar ways. But over the last 50 years, the core philosophy of corporate branding has shifted from “the story that you tell” to “the promise that you keep.” Tropicana never evolved.

Tropicana Orange Juice: Fresh and Pure?

Decades ago, big brands focused on manufacturing a brand image. Before the Internet and social media, brand building focused on telling a story about a product or service that made people want to experience it. Broadcast media was trusted by the public and Madison Avenue agencies were wizards at building brand stories that everyone believed. During this bygone era, truthfulness was a secondary consideration.

Tropicana: “Fresh from the Grove”

Some of these brands are still alive and strong today. My favorite example is Tropicana.  Many people my age have enjoyed Tropicana orange juice for years based on its unique taste and brand promise of premium orange juice “fresh from the grove.” Tropicana’s story was that the orange juice was fresh, never frozen, and never from concentrate. I judged the taste of other orange juice brands by the taste of Tropicana and wondered why other brands couldn’t match its fresh taste.

Tropicana was very good at creating slogans that highlighted the freshness of its product:

  • Tropicana. Straight from the fruit.
  • Orange juice direct from oranges, not from concentrate.
  • 100% pure squeezed sunshine.
  • Feel pure good. Everyday.
  • If it tasted any fresher it would still be on the tree.
  • Tropicana’s got the taste that shows on your face.
  • Specially made for healthy bodies, healthy lives, healthy kids.

It turns out that the reality of Tropicana’s product is very different from the story told by the company’s slogans. The secret to Tropicana’s success is an innovative manufacturing process that preserves orange juice by removing oxygen from the freshly squeezed juice. Removing oxygen allows Tropicana to store the juice for long periods of time without freezing or reducing to concentrate. Unfortunately, it also permanently removes all of the natural flavor of the juice. Here is a summary from Civileats.com:

“The technology of choice at the moment is aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen, a process known as ‘deaeration,’ so it doesn’t oxidize in the million gallon tanks in which it can be kept for upwards of a year. When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs fabricated for juice geared to these markets therefore highlight different chemicals, the decanals say, or terpene compounds such as valencine.”

In the food industry of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, new production techniques made it possible to create highly-processed mass-produced food products that could be produced consistently, shipped globally, and sold everywhere. Tropicana created something new: a manufactured juice product whose premium price was driven by marketing and technology. Tropicana combined a strong brand with a unique taste and claims that were legally protected. For a generation of consumers, Tropicana was the benchmark for fresh.

Tropicana: A Broken Brand Promise

By today’s standards, however, Tropicana is a bad brand. Why? Because Tropicana broke its most core brand promise of a product described as fresh and pure.  While Tropicana’s claims might be legally and technically true (the perfume flavor is made by isolating chemicals found in oranges and reassembling them into the flavor of Tropicana), the reality of the Tropicana manufacturing process leaves customers feeling betrayed.  Once a loyal Tropicana customer learns the truth, the product never tastes the same.

There is no good escape for brands built on false stories. Consumers take implicit brand promises seriously and are quick to shift brand loyalty when false or misleading claims are exposed. Good brands built on lies can become bad brands very fast. In the case of Tropicana, disappointed consumers have filed more than 20 lawsuits against the company.

Today’s most successful brand builders make promises that they can keep. They highlight unique, authentic elements of their business that are meaningful to consumers. They make sure that product development delivers on the commitments they make.

The best brands are built on trust. If your brand story is built on half-truths and misleading statements, it’s going to be a tough ride.

The Tough Work of Building an Authentic Brand

20 Jun

Let’s start with the bad news: if you have a crappy product or service, you’ll never be able to build a great brand.

In the modern era of personal recommendation, community, and engagement, the best brands are built from authenticity. They derive from purpose. They build customer passion by delivering on commitments that matter. They are an extension of meaningful customer relationships. They are built on trust and shared values.

Building an authentic brand isn’t easy, but there is a roadmap:

1. Start with purpose: The best brands take shape deep within the organization. Before you can talk about your external brand, you need to articulate your purpose. What are you trying to accomplish as a company? What customer problem are you trying to solve? What are you going to do that really matters? Building consensus around purpose can be an explosive, difficult process. But once you find agreement, your purpose will become your most important organizing principle.

2. Make customer commitments: While your purpose is an internal compass, it drives the promises that you will make to your customers. Whether you have articulated them or not, all of your customer relationships are built on implicit and explicit customer commitments. In the same way that Apple customers expect beautiful functional design and Southwest Airline customers expect cheap and efficient air transportation, your customers will evaluate your brand based on their perception of the commitments that you make. There are no exceptions: strong brands are built on strong, consistent customer commitments. If your purpose is your internal reason for being, your customer commitments should be the foundation of your external identity.

3. Invest first in your customer experience: Here is the thing about purpose and commitment: you can’t fake it. If you are just positioning, your brand will fail. So if you have work to do to deliver on your purpose and customer commitments, do that work before you spend time and money on building your brand. A smart marketer once wrote, “If the brand is a promise you make, then the customer experience is the fulfillment of that promise.”

4. Think of your brand as an extension of the customer relationship: A brand, in its simplest form, is what people collectively say, think, and feel about your company, product, or service. It is the relationship that you form through customer experience but also engagement and conversation and community.

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