Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why Don't Brands Live Up To Their Promises?

(This is my response cross-posted from my group Brand Masters on LinkedIn)

Don't they get that the hypocrisy p***es people off to the point where they patronize other businesses?

But if you drill deeper you probably know that there are holes in this expectation.

1. Generally, leaders rise to the top because they are calculating. If they calculate that morality helps them, fine. If not...well, fine too. So they lack a filter that tells them to "do the right thing" and this leads to shortcuts that also shortcut the brand/business (to me these are interchangeable).

Example.
Yesterday I was on the phone with a customer service representative who literally hung up the phone when I got testy and asked for a supervisor. I called back, got the supervisor, and the supervisor apologized in the most textbook terms - I could tell he was reading out of the training manual. Customer service organizations "train" supervisors to "act with care" but there is no real humanity behind it. (Because how are the workers treated and paid, really? This supervisor intimated that the person who hung up on me would be punished ('dealt with')...I noticed his vaguely threatening tone of voice and wondered what it was like for frontline customer service folks to deal with both angry customers and nasty sadistic supervisors like him.)

2. Customers value things when they patronize a business, but that's not the same thing as having values.There are all sorts of brands that cater to customers who value things that are totally unhealthy, immoral, unethical, off-limits, etc.

Example.
One of my favorite memories of my mom (I was raised Orthodox Jewish so this was a no-no) was her grabbing me at the tender age of 5, jumping in the car, and zooming off to McDonald's to get a fish filet sandwich. Her exact words: "It's an emergency!" Meaning, a McDonald's emergency - had to have that delicious and unhealthy food. (I cannot tell you how many Jewish people freaked out when we found out that the french fries there, which workers constantly assured us were boiled in vegetable oil, were in fact fried in lard. "So that's why!" we all said, then made excuses to keep going back ("They must have fixed this.")

3. Customers disagree about what they want from the business and more broadly what they want from the government in terms of regulation. If there were more consistency among customers as to what constitutes a baseline, then businesses would follow suit.

Example.
The requirement to show calorie counts (at least in Maryland). I love it and will forever be grateful to Michelle Obama for it. Others hate the intrusion of the "food police" into our lives and choices.

4. Customers manage competing values when they decide whether to patronize a business.

Example.
Forever 21. We have heard that they mistreat the workers by making them stay late. We also know (because we see in the display) that you can get cheap jewelry there and look pretty good. So there are two things going on - economics and morality. It depends which one is paramount at the moment.

5. Brand people historically have been advertising people - the Mad Men (and Women). Ad folks, by and large, do not command respect as people who fundamentally understand the imperatives of business. There are a few reasons for this - but they don't really matter for the purpose of this conversation.

It goes back to rebranding branding as a BUSINESS function, a point I make over and over again at every opportunity. I regret that I did not get an MBA, it would have helped in this respect. Sadly, C types love when you throw quant-sounding stuff around even if it's total garbage that any undergraduate taking a summer class at the community college could see through.

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