Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rude Brand Value: When Customers Want To Be Mistreated

While it is often true that treating people well is key to
establishing a strong brand, this is not always the case. As Woody
Allen once famously said, "I wouldn't want to join any club that would
have me as a member."

Consider these examples:

• The "Soup Nazi," made famous on Seinfeld because if you said one
thing wrong he wouldn't let you in
• Big-city nightclubs where the draw is precisely that the bouncer
will probably exclude you
• Fraternity hazing rituals, traditionally humiliating, often
dangerous, and sometimes illegal, that typically involve an assault on
the initiate
• Gang initiation rituals (see above – and yes, gangs are a form of brand)
• Exclusive co-ops, country clubs, etc. that don't admit "just anyone"
• The Devil Wears Prada (entire fashion industry) with its cruel
idolization of the anorexic waif
• New York, period.

In Miami there's a pizza place that serves salad, Pizza Rustica.
Unfailingly they get the order wrong – every time. They make me wait
forever. They play the music so loud I can't hear anything. The tables
are dirty, and the Parmesan cheese is usually missing.

I won't eat anywhere else.

Why do we patronize rude brands?

From a rational perspective, we think these brands must have better
quality and can afford to be rude.

From a psychological perspective, being drawn to a rude brand is the
same as insisting on an impossibly high level of customer service. It
goes back to an unconscious issue that the person has, stemming from
needs that were not met (or that were abused) early in life.

It's sort of like why people are drawn to high school cliques that are
bad for them.

If you are building a brand, you can calculate rudeness into the
picture in order to draw a certain kind of customer.

On the flipside, you can become the Four Seasons of your industry,
being excessively solicitous of your particular customer.

Either way, remember that when you're playing to an unconscious need,
that issue can come back to bite you, if you're not careful and hit
the customer's trigger the wrong way.

Generally, the trick with rude brands is to distance the customer, but
then bring them in just a bit so that they have the idea that they may
eventually gain a form of "acceptance." But never truly accept them –
always keep them back just a bit.

With super-customer-oriented brands, you need to pay attention to the
finest details. Let nothing escape you. Anticipate their needs before
they even articulate them – that is the way to stay ahead.

On the customer side, if you are confronted by a super-rude or
super-solicitous brand, you may want to ask yourself what you're
really buying. If it's the positive treatment you're getting, is the
price premium really worth it? I just bought a coffee for $1.49 that
didn't have half the solicitousness of a Starbucks, but it was twice
as good.

On the other hand, sometimes an attitude is worth it, even a bad one.
That salad is worth the hassle; I would buy quality soup even from a
rude store owner. And there are times when gaining access to certain
social circles requires you to stomach a certain amount of
mistreatment. But if you're a masochist who just likes getting hit,
maybe you should visit a therapist instead of the "Soup Nazi."