my turn


Why Are So Many Brand Stories Bad Ones?

See if this rings a bell. You're at a dinner party, and someone shares a story of how her bank/dry cleaner/cell phone company royally screwed up. Another guest then jumps in and says, "That's nothing. Wait till you hear what my bank/dry cleaner/cell phone company just did!" Before you know it, the room is filled with folks chiming in with their own customer service horror stories.

In these days where word of mouth is by far the most influential form of marketing, why is it so many of the brand stories out there are so bad? Could it be the service really is that lousy? That the products don't work the way they're supposed to? That customer expectations are impossibly high? Or is it that we're just a bunch of whiners?

I suspect it has to do with the fact that many marketers lose sight of what the customer is trying to accomplish. They don't demonstrate to customers that they understand what they're looking for, or what the greater purpose of the encounter is about.

The customer is not buying paint, she's buying a room that makes her feel comfortable and reflects her good taste. He's not renting a projector, he's creating a totally kick-ass presentation. She's not buying a cell phone, she's buying 24/7 connectivity. Anything you do to help that customer achieve that greater goal will be rewarded. And anything you do to lay speed bumps in the way will lead to, you guessed it, less-than-stellar word of mouth.



What does it take to have folks tell good stories about you? Think back to the last time you heard someone praise an experience (or to one that you praised yourself). I'd bet that somewhere in that experience was the anticipation of needs and an element of positive surprise. Something the marketer provided to you that you didn't expect.

Don't confuse this idea of a "surprise" is with "exceeding expectations." If the repair shop has my car finished an hour early, that exceeds my expectations, but may not be fodder for a great story. However, if I find my car has been washed, vacuumed and detailed without my expecting it, that is something that I'm more likely to share in mixed company. The number one thing customers really want is to know they are heard, and that they matter. Satisfied customers aren't necessarily created by not screwing up, but by fixing things when you're perceived to have screwed up.

Surprise and delight. It not only demonstrates that you appreciate your customers. It has the strong potential for the makings of a great story being told - and retold -- about you.

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