7 deadly marketing material sins you don’t want to make

Your marketing materials should reflect your brand but sometimes, we don’t realize we are killing business softly by overlooking some important details. In our rush to just “get the information out there” we can sometimes do more harm than good to the sales process.

Today’s guest post is from my brilliant colleague Nancy Owyang. As the owner of Eye 2 Eye Graphics, LLC, Nancy is an award-winning designer with strong branding experience. She has aided a variety of clients in rebranding their businesses and I personally adore her design sensibilities and her ability to first understand an owner’s mission and brand, and then translate that complex identity into a graphic representation.  Today she offers up Seven Deadly Sins you’ll want to avoid in your marketing materials.

When it comes to marketing your business it is important to make a good first, second, and lasting impression. (Tweet!)Your marketing materials represent you, your business, what you do, and how well you do it. The list of “DON’Ts” for how to create and use your marketing materials is extensive, but to narrow the focus I have gathered 7 deadly sins of marketing materials that you need to avoid like the plague.

  1. Out-dated materials… or no materials. If you don’t have any other marketing collateral you absolutely need to have a business card, and a website—both create an easy entry into your business for new clients. Your business card and website need to have your correct contact information—phone number, e-mail, and mailing address. Make it easy for people to get ahold of you!
  2. Looking cheap. Tattered edges, stains, crossed out information, bad visuals, no visuals, fuzzy pictures, the same business card and brochure template as someone else in the room—and I could go on—are big “No-No’s.” There is a huge difference between creating something that is cost effective and something that looks cheap. Committing this deadly sin will automatically drop the level of professionalism in your marketing piece by a few notches.
  3. Poorly written copy. Having correct spelling and grammar in your materials should be a given, but unfortunately this often gets overlooked. I encourage everyone to find a good proofreader to review all of your materials. The voice, or tone, of your marketing materials is also very important and needs to reflect the mission, vision, and personality of your business. Working with a professional writer to help you find “your voice” is a valuable component to your brand.
  4. Failure to differentiate you and your business from the competition. I want you to imagine your business as a Hollywood star nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. You step out of the limo, onto the Red Carpet and the unthinkable has happened… you are wearing the same dress as your competition! Just like on the Red Carpet, in business you need to avoid this ultimate faux pas! An important part of marketing your business is to know who your competition is, know how you are different, and express that in your marketing materials.
  5. Not focusing on the benefits. Always keep in mind your target. Look through their eyes and ask the question “well, what’s in it for me?” Go through your entire document concentrating on the benefits of your message, not the features. Another alarming, but all-too-common, trend that I’m seeing is too much “real estate” being given to outlining your education and business history.  Although this is an important part of your business, how well does it answer the burning question in your client’s mind, “what can this company do for me?”
  6. Failing to grab the attention and pain of your ideal clients. Give your audience just enough so that they want more. People don’t want to be overloaded with information. Especially if the marketing piece is a brochure or welcome kit, only provide enough information so that your audience gets the basics of what you offer and how you can solve their pain or problem. If you create some intrigue, your prospect will have other questions, giving you an opportunity to continue the conversation and answer their specific questions.
  7. Inconsistency. Your business should have a clearly defined identity with a style that appears on your business cards, stationery, brochures, website—indeed, all your marketing materials. Consistency sends the message that your business is stable and dependable. Your marketing materials need to visibly represent a business that is professional, successful, and at the top of its field.

Having well -designed and strategically planned marketing materials will help you present a professional image and make a great memorable impression. Failing to present the professional image that your ideal client expects can kill the deal and could stop your business dead in its tracks.

PS, to view a sampling of Nancy’s work please visit her online portfolio.

Do you have advice or lessons learned about your marketing materials? What one action will you take on your materials based on what you learned in this post? Would LOVE to hear it in the Comments below.

Is your brand a “bad boy?” 3 signs you might be breaking hearts

You know the type. They knock you off your feet and you’re hooked. They come on all strong with promises of love. And yet, the reality of dating these bad boys (or gals, for that matter) falls so short of your dreams. They are always late. They never call when they say they will. And they continue to betray your trust and hurt you – but when they do, they always apologize in some grand style that you can’t help but falling for their charms once again. Stuck in this cycle, you begin to wonder if maybe it’s just easier to accept this unhealthy relationship because you’re tired, it’s comfortable and you just don’t want to be alone.

But did your mama ever warn you about those bad boy brands?

Oh, they exist. You know they do. And based on the last few years of bad experiences with United Airlines, an airline I used to adore, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to wake up one day and realize you’re in bed with a bad brand….and you know you’re going to come back again.

Here are 3 signs you are in a relationship with a bad brand. Or worse, that your business, organization or project is doing this to your poor customers:


  • You’re a smooth talker and sharp dresser – but you break your promises: United makes some pretty great ads and videos touting their renewed commitment to serving their customers. Each flight, you are forced to watch smiling, happy real-life employees talk about their job as more of a calling in caring for you like a mother hen. The CEO, with his silver-fox haircut and dazzling smiles reinforces how much United has improved in customer service over the years. Yes, they talk a good game, but after that screen goes dark, you are back to surly gate agents, chaotic ticket counters and a complete lack of respect of information. Good-hearted brands walk their talk. Recently, I witnessed a ticket counter worker refuse to help a poor non-English speaking passenger during a chaotic cancellation fiasco at SFO. She waved him away and barked quick and incoherent orders at him that even I, a native English speaker, couldn’t understand. It bordered on racism. And the other night, we had a horrendous experience with delayed flights at Orange County airport, where they kept making us go back and forth between gates, confused 2 SF-bound flights,  and had no clear information – and then the gate agents had the nerve to get snitty when people who had gone beyond the bounds of patience got anxious and frustrated. Like a bad boy, they made us feel like it was our fault. As if we had no right to be upset.
  • You make the grand gestures – but you keep breaking hearts: After my delayed flight fiasco last week, the crew and in-flight team finally apologized over and over again (“Baby, I’m so sorry. I swear I’ll never do it again!”). We received follow up emails routing us to a special website for our feedback and also offering some sort of compensation. Yes, I took them up on their offer for 3,000 bonus miles. But if this kind of behavior were not par for the course with them, I might be more willing to talk about how delightful was this gesture. Instead, I know they are just slapping a Band-Aid on the problems and that they tried to buy my loyalty and silence rather than earn it. Make-up gestures only work when they are rarely needed, not when they are the rule. Nice try, but too little too late.
  • You pretend you’re listening – but you’re not: Tweet @united if you ever get a chance. I’m not sure how they run their social media, but the first time I ever did this, I got a reply that was so obviously automated, it was laughable. It didn’t even address my original Tweet topic. Fast forward to sharing my fiasco last week and…..radio silence. Not even the automated garbage this time. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Do the same thing with airlines like Jet Blue or Virgin America and real people with real personalities are there to serve, responding right away to see what they can do. And they actually DO SOMETHING. Don’t bother playing the social media game if you have bots replying to people’s issues. It takes more than opening a Twitter account to say you’re engaged effectively in social media. How do big brands with the kind of resources that United has still not get this?

I always had a special place in my heart for United, as they were my first airline loyalty program. When I was a consultant for a Big 6 firm right out of college, I traveled with them every single week and got to enjoy the status perks that came along with that. Plus, I live in San Francisco, which is one of their hubs. But that brand love has been eroded by their bad behavior over the last ten years to the point that I don’t believe a word their CEO says. Sure, heroic acts of kindness from individual workers over the years has helped keep me “on the hook” and that is why I just can’t seem to say goodbye – plus being in a hub city, I’m often forced to fly with them.

But is that really the brand you want? One in which your customers are just “hanging on” and settling for the abuse until a better option comes along?

Now it’s your turn! What “bad boy” brands have you experienced? What do you do to ensure your brand doesn’t turn into a bad boy itself? Please share in the Comments!

Lance Armstrong: Death of a brand…or fall of an idol?

I was hesitant to weigh on on the Lance Armstrong debacle for a variety of reasons. My husband, an avid cyclist, can’t even bear to watch the taped Oprah interview that sits on our DVR – and I’ll admit, I haven’t watched it all the way through myself. I’ve sat by and read the tweets, the comments, the passionate defenses, the harsh rebukes. And I waited….

But Lance Armstrong is a brand, and so I feel compelled to say…well, something. People have been asking me.

I’m no expert on the events that lead us here. I don’t follow cycling the way my husband does.  In my house, I didn’t comment a few weeks ago when I glanced into the trash to see some Armstrong socks tossed among the food scraps. Instead, I teared up. And as Armstrong’s yellow jersey was torn open to reveal the ugly guts of a drastically different man – and brand – we all thought we knew, I can merely make some observations for you to think about when it comes to personal brands.

Here’s the deal: Lance Armstrong cheated and lied. Period. For all his defenders, it’s no excuse to say “Everyone does it” or “But look at all the good he’s done.” He lied and cheated, yes, but it also doesn’t take away from all the good that the amazing LIVESTRONG charity does for cancer patients…and which I hope it continues to do. It doesn’t detract from how Armstrong inspired and motivated millions of people over the years. No one is saying that.

All it says is that this man, held up to showcase what hard work, determination and the human spirit can accomplish…this man, it turns out, is a liar. But what impacts the brand for me is not just that. People make mistakes, they lie when they are backed into a corner. But Armstrong went beyond. He not just lied, he slandered. He bullied people into getting into the muck with him, and those who wanted to do the right thing or tell the truth. He branded people liars and frauds. He sued people who were telling the truth and won. He ruined careers, lives. All in an effort to save his own skin and keep the lie going. Keep the brand and the myth alive.

Apologies are common in our media world today. And many are willing to forgive. Hugh Grant bounced back from his hooker escapade. Eliot Spitzer got a new media career after his public scandal. Michael Vick continues a successful football career after running dog fighting rings. People have even forgotten about Ray Lewis, linebacker for the Super Bowl contending Baltimore Ravens, and his homicide plea deal so long ago. Forgiveness, a comeback, a new lease on life. As long as someone pays their debt and apologizes, we as humans love a good redemption story.

But my problem lies with the trail of hurt, lies, bullying, and selfishness that Armstrong leaves behind. Some say the bullying and intimidation leaves deeper scars than the lies. And he destroyed not just anyone, but people he once called friends. Given what is now revealed about him (note: many who follow cycling closely always kind of suspected he might not be the nicest of men), I can only assume this mea culpa comes not from wanting to do the right thing, but wanting to single-mindedly compete again and perhaps regain some lost endorsements. Time will tell.

Former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu has this to say on ESPN Radio: “Anybody that crossed his path or didn’t go along with his plan, he set out to take them down. And he was very powerful and influential and did take them down,”

Gotta love that trademark determination, no?

Before you lynch me, I am well aware everyone has their motives. I don’t believe everyone whistleblows out of the goodness of their hearts, nor do I believe this is the first or last we’ll hear of illegal performance enhancement in cycling – or any sport. But those issues do not justify the choices Armstrong has made, the brazen lies he told, how he’s hurt and destroyed people or most importantly, how he has let us down. Especially those who publicly defended him.

Mostly, we as a society are tired of seeing idols and heroes fall. I know I am. The whole thing just makes me very, very sad. Not angry, not judgemental. Just sad. I experienced the same thing when OSU coach Jim Tressel fell from grace. And even over the debates about Joe Paterno’s actions at Penn State. Sadness.

This is the inherent danger with building a personal brand or tying a brand so closely to a human being. The operative word being human.  You have to accept the person foibles, misjudgments, vanity and all. While sponsors dropped Armstrong like hotcakes, it’s sort of too little, too late. The damage is done, the name tarnished for all time.

I hope LIVESTRONG can survive…and I think it will. If anything, people are more determined to ensure it does. No one can take away all the good Armstrong’s celebrity, backing,  influence and committment made to cancer research and survivors everywhere. I’m glad some good came out of his relentless quest for success.  And I admire the guy for surviving and thriving after cancer. I really do.

The Armstrong brand may well survive. But the man has fallen in our eyes and I don’t know if he can ever come back. Another hero lost to reality. Another inspiration who has let us down like children who’ve been told there is no Santa Claus.

And yet. And yet…..I don’t want to stop believing in future heroes that will surely come our way. No matter how many times I get hurt. Do you?

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. According to this CNN article, “In place of a record seven wins by Lance Armstrong, the chronicles of the Tour de France bear seven record vacancies.” The records now show, in essence, that no one won.

How fitting.

What is your take on the Armstrong legacy and brand? Do you think the charity will survive? Do you think he’ll make a real comeback? Please share in the Comments below, I’d love to know what you think!

The Seattle Freeze: How customer service differs by city

There are lists for the best cities to start a business and  the best place to be a pet.

But when I tried to find a list of “Best cities for good customer service” you know what I found? Zip. Nada. Survey geeks, get on this. Would be useful to know.

Why, you ask? Because I recently moved from Seattle back to the San Francisco Bay Area and I’ve had a massive epiphany about how customer service differs from region to region.

We’ve always inherently known this by which cities have the friendliest people. Having grown up in both Queens, New York and Columbus, Ohio, I saw first-hand how people carry certain stereotypes based on city. Most people tend to think Midwesterners are kind, honest, friendly and that New Yorkers are brash, loud and rude. There are some kernels of truths in this, but I’ve also seen the exact opposite. I guess when you’re classifying “good” versus “bad” customer service it also depends on the vibe with which you personally are most comfortable.  Personally, I like directness when it’s helpful to my decisions. I hate passive aggressiveness or saccharin sweetness because I view it as fake.

Lately, I’ve seen in sharp contrast the differences between customer service in Seattle versus San Francisco. And I’ve had this discussion with numerous people so I know it’s not just all in my own head!

I really liked living in Seattle. Truly. But one thing that always bothered me was the customer service quality in restaurants, shops, and supermarkets. To me, the service mantra seems to be one of tense tolerance rather than true customer appreciation.

This attitude can make a customer feel like you’re “bothering” them. When asking a waiter for Splenda instead of sugar, I could sense the “Really? Are you going to be that kind of customer?” Or walking into a boutique and asking for recommendations and being told, in a “well, duh” tone of voice, “It kind of just depends on what you like.”

I swear these are not one-offs. I had this experience over and over again, no matter how kind, patient or little trouble I tried to be. It actually seemed to get worse the nicer I tried to be – maybe that was irritating!

Some folks attribute this to a phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze. Won’t explain it here, but check the link. When I learned of this about two years into my residence there, it was like something clicked. “Yes! That’s it! That’s what the strange under-the-surface tension is!” People in Seattle are indeed fun and kind – and I have a ton of great friends back there that I miss terribly and to whom I mean no offense. But customer service in Seattle often made me feel like I was in the movie Mean Girls or something: rolls of eyes, looks of slight annoyance or standoffishness and always wrapped with an exterior of passive-aggression and faux helpfulness  – so I suspect that when the tape was played back, I wouldn’t be able to really prove any specific wrongdoing. “What? I did what she asked and even smiled!” would be the defense, I’m sure. One of the best descriptions I’ve seen: The attitude is “have a nice day, somewhere else”.

Am I paranoid? Ridiculous? Maybe. But again, I’ve spoken to many folks who admitted the exact same feeling. Customer service reps seem to do as little as possible for you. There is no engagement, no connection. Just spend your money so I can get back to the more important thing I was doing before you arrived, seems to be the message.

Contrast this to where I am now. It’s been like releasing a huge breath I’ve been holding in for so long. Look, I’m not a Chatty Cathy and I like expediency when checking out or ordering food more than the next guy. But engage, smile, ask me something about my dog or my scarf. I feel like I’m surrounded by a hundred new friends every time I explore a new café or check out a new boutique. Maybe it’s the sunshine and abundance of Vitamin D or something, but people seem genuinely happy to help and it shows when they serve customers. Even if they may hate their job – or you – you might never know it.

Am I generalizing? Heck, yes, but really not by much. I’ve had more baristas, clerks, waiters and even office receptionists offer me a delightful experience in the month I’ve been back than in my 4+ years in Seattle. Up there, it was not hard to have your business stand out with friendly, engaging customer service – the bar was set pretty low. Here? There are so many positive vibes that if I have a bad customer service experience, it stands out as the exception, not the rule.

So what’s the point of this rant for you? No, it’s not to bash my former home which I still adore fondly. It’s to prove that you need to be aware of your competition across every vector and find ways to stand out. What is the customer experience for your target audience like among your competition? Ask people, do research, conduct a survey. If you live in a city known for dreadful customer service, this could be the easiest way to stand out from the pack.

By over delivering in an area of low expectations, you can really set your brand apart. Tweet this!

Photo Credit: themyndset.com

What do you think of customer service in your city (or Seattle!) How do you use customer service as a key differentiator? Please share in the Comments.

A brand wolf in sheep’s clothing

Amen, sister! I  am loving this controversial open letter that Sharp Skirts recently posted about ForbesWoman.  SharpSkirts courageously indicts this media outlet, even after ForbesWoman named them one of the top ten entrepreneurial sites for women.

Putting aside the important point Sharp Skirts makes about this purported “business publication” talking down to business women and assuming all they care about is beauty, fashion and gossip…..which is a very important one….I just love the brand lesson this teaches:

You will piss off your target customers if you promise one thing and deliver another.

You can’t go out into the world with a brand promise of ““a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business” if you are going to bait and switch and provide sensational content just to garner eyeballs. Some of the headlines cited in the Sharp Skirts post:

Beauty and the Brood‘ – Oct. 30th piece on how women with more attractive facial features want to bear more children

Halloween Costume Dilemma‘ – Oct. 27th piece advising us not to dress slutty on Halloween

Not Everyone’s Cheering J.Crew Boss Jenna Lyons Lesbian Rumor‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how Lyons’ husband is feeling about her sexuality

7 Signs Your Shopping May Be Problematic‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how to tell if you’re handling your money irresponsibly

Are Women Turned On By Financial Risk?Oct. 26th piece on how money plays into women’s selection of a mate

And two more: “Should Kim Kardashian Return Her Engagement Ring?’ and ‘Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO.” 

I can’t say this anymore eloquently than what the Sharp Skirts blog post stated, so here you go:

“The ForbesWoman Twitter profile descriptor is, “a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business.” So why are they writing about naughty Halloween costumes? Or our breeding and shopping habits? I increasingly feel like I’m reading a copy of Look magazine, circa 1957.

A chorus of boos from our Facebook group has greeted these articles, but Sharp Skirt Dana Van Nest said it best: “I thought Forbes was a trusted business magazine. Seems my opinion is out of date. That article is pure tabloid.” The article to which she was referring – well, pick your poison.”

Feel free to weigh in below about both this brand deception or the quality of content available to smart career women.



Netflix’s human touch and rebrand – the good, bad and ugly

Netflix recently sent their customer base into a tizzy by charging more (and separately) for DVD mailings and streaming movies. As a customer, my husband received this email below from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings that was both good (apologies, human voice) and bad (what’s up with the confusing brand spinoff?). Below, I share my thoughts on the good bad, and ugly of what will surely become a case study for the ages:

First, the email: (annotated: full letter appears on the Netflix blog)

I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

Then it gets to their decision to create a separate brand for the DVD service and the streaming service:

It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. 


Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

So what works?

  1. Human frailty: The CEO speaks plain English and acknowledges his customers’ anger and painand that they may not have handled the price increase announcement well at all
  2. We’re part of the team: By explaining why the company did what it did, he makes you as a customer feel like you are part of the team, the tribe. The tone makes you feel like it’s not something being “done” to you (even though it is) but something we’re in together.
  3. What’s in it for me: The email talks about these changes and how the offerings and services will improve for customers as a result.
  4. Human voice: This reads like a personal letter in a conversational tone, not a formal, stuffy automated business letter. He also talks about his own experiences and feelings. Yes, it may have been written and carefully edited by the marketing and corp comm teams, and yes, it was blasted out to thousands. But the tone is on-brand with Netflix’s very friendly and approachable image.
  5. Part of a larger effort: The email went out, but so did Netflix’s PR blitz, and stories appeared in several media outlets in conjunction with this news

What doesn’t work?

  1. Confusing branding: Really? A whole separate brand  called Qwikster for a company delivering the same product in two separate formats? That’s like a retail store creating a whole separate brand for eCommerce.  Seems to dilute the power of a single brand dedicated to getting you the content you want. And it’s not even remotely linked to Netflix by association. Seems “Qwikflix” is already in use bya  DVD firm already.
  2. Customer inconvenience: Again, really? I now have to have two line items on my credit card statement from two different companies depending on if I ordered a film DVD by mail or streamed it over the internet? That just seems silly. Not like it really inconveniences me per se, but anything clunky like that just makes me feel like it’s a hassle. And it’s how a customer feels that matters, not the reality.
  3. Baring your flaws to the world: As this MSNBC article states, this effort just showed to the world that Netflix has a less than stellar offering when it comes to streaming content. At least before, they were able to hide behind the total content umbrella of Netflix. When I advise clients on messaging, I often advise them to downplay or at least address and reframe their weaknesses  so there is more value for the customer.
  4. Customers are even more unhappy: Read some of the comments at the blog. I’m sure they did not imagine they could piss off customers any more than they have but for the three reasons cited above, they did.

What is your thought about how to handle a price increase and their decision to create a new brand? Do you agree with the decision to break things apart? Anything you learned from the “apology note?” Please share in the Comments.

How to ruin customer loyalty

It’s amazing how just two little words, said sincerely, can make or break your customer’s brand impressions.

Recently, my husband and I went through a horrific experience with a financial planner. This person has always been so good to us over the years and we trusted him implicity. In the last two years, however, he made a ton of moves from one place to another. The explanations were sound so with each move, while we were unsure about moving our retirement money around so much, we stuck with him. He’d built up so much good brand equity with us that we had a lot of  trust in him.

The last move he made was to Valic Financial.  He carefully explained to us all the reasons why this move was going to be beneficial and he even acknowledged all the turmoil we’d been through but wanted us to know “how much our loyalty meant to him” and that he’d love it if we followed him there.  Worried, we asked, “With this new role, we might be very small fish in a big pond. Are you sure we’ll be worth your time and will get the attention we need?”

“Of course,” he said.

Based on his word, we filled out the paperwork and made the moves.

Then we found out two things: one, his Washington state license (he was based out of state) had expired so he was in the process of renewing it. Two, in the meantime, our accounts would be in his district manager’s name but he would be watching them.

That was when phone calls and emails stopped getting returned. 

We chalked this up to transition and to his move to more “institutional” accounts. It didn’t get really bad until we needed some info and to move some money around for our tax returns. And we just couldn’t get anyone on the phone. First we couldn’t get info on where to send the check and then we sent a check for my IRA and kept calling to get confirmation it was received, and all we got were messages that he’d “let us know when it came in.” He kept saying, “I’ll talk to the manager tomorrow to confirm” or “You’ll get an email from me…” Not once did we ever hear back when he’d promised we would.  Panic set in. I finally called the district manager’s office myself and found out from the Assistant that they never received the check. So I had to stop payment and issue a new one.  All of this without two little words from our planner or the district manager:

“I’m sorry.”

Achnowledgement of inconvenience and mistakes can go a long way, if your heart is in the right place. While we still wouldn’t have been happy with everything we’ve been through, we at least would have felt like they were trying to fix things.

Long story short, we finally decided the stress wasn’t worth it and we went with a new firm. And the transfer process hiccups have just confirmed we don’t want anything to do with Valic ever again 0 ur new firm can’t believe how we’re being treated and all the snafus that have occured. We still love everything our old planner did for us, and we’re not sure why his usually impeccable follow-up and responsiveness disappeared when he joined Valic, but given the behavior of the district manager, I’d say he’s entering a culture of unresponsiveness.

Two lessons here: one, if a client is not going to be right for you, don’t tell them that they will be and then disappoint them. Better to cut the ties and let them find what they need elsewhere. That is why understanding your ideal customer is so important. Two, when a client is constantly complaining and upset, don’t make them feel like they are in the wrong, or worse, ignore them. We were fully justified in this case, but even if we were not, saying “I’m sorry” and trying to fix the situation is a better brand strategy in the long run than completely ignoring the problem.

When has your customer loyalty been betrayed? What did you do about it? How have you turned around a dissatisfied customer for your own business?

Photo credit: Flickr blue_quartz

Southwest shows us how to handle a PR crisis

Southwest Airlines turned a safety nightmare into a PR coup that proves the brand really does care about its customers.

We’ve all seen the amazingly campy Southwest Airlines ads that tell us they love our bags so much, they get to fly free. Southwest is trying to prove they are the airline that cares about true service, and it’s an incredibly powerful differentiator in an industry that feels like it will eventually charge us for cups of water. And instead of unrealistic visions of clouds and comfortable passengers with miles of legroom  that other airlines show in their ads, Southwest uses humor and personality to say, “Look, we know flying sucks these days. We’re going to try to make it as fun an experience for you as we can.”

This is carried through down to the employee level. I recently flew Southwest and the flight attendant, upon landing, joked, “How many of you checked bags today?” Many of us raised our hands. Then she asked, “And how much did you pay for those bags?” The answer was a resounding shout of “Nothing!” “That’s right!” she said, “Here at Southwest, we love you and we love your bags, too!”

Recently, Southwest was in the news for a large gash that expectantly tore through a 737 fuselage mid-flight. The plane made an emergency landing and everyone was unharmed. This could have caused a brand fiasco, a PR nightmare. But Southwest stepped up and showed why they are a power brand.

How?  According to this WSJ article, by doing the right thing: being proactive and transparent and putting their passengers before profits. The article reads like a 24 episode, a blow by blow of what happened as the PR crisis unfolded. Every action Southwest took makes you love this brand even more.

They transparently kept press and passengers in the loop on the situation. They also stepped out in front of it by  cancelling hundreds of flights and grounding their entire fleet of 737’s until the cause of the tear could be determined. They walked their talk and showed they really do care about their customers.

Turns out Boeing, the manufacturer, said their models were flawed in terms of wear and tear and are working through tests and investigations with the NTSB. The article states they may have created a  new standard for the industry by being so proactive. “The move allayed passenger concerns and helped the carrier adhere to its aggressive inspection timeline with more control over its own destiny..”

The NTSB praised them for taking action before the government forced them to. That is how you control your brand, even thought it ultimately lives in the minds of your customers. You control all the aspects within your power to ensure people will form the right brand impression.

That’s the thing about brand. It’s all well and good to say you stand for something. But its what you do when the going gets tough that either increases your brand loyalty or completely destroys it. This is one of the marks of a Power Brand: to be able to elegantly recover from a crisis, not just intact, but as a way to prove yourself even more.

What is your weakest brand link?

We’ve all heard the saying, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” And that is never more true when it comes to branding.

You know what I mean. You have a  bad experience with one clueless customer service rep and you talk trash about the company as a whole. You get bad service from one waiter at a restaurant and you never again go back. You get snubbed by one clerk at a local independent bookstore (as I recounted in my book) and you judge the whole business as  unfriendly and rude.

Seth Godin just wrote a great post about the worst voice of the brand representing the entire brand. And it’s true. It may take years to build up brand value and loyalty and just moments for it all to be wiped away.

Granted, if you have a strong, consistent brand, people will be a little more forgiving of a faux pas. The mark of a power brand is that it has enough “brand capital” built up to withstand some PR gaffes and mistakes, as we’ve seen with JetBlue and Apple.

But too many businesses do not hire the right people who will embrace their brand. More accurately, they don’t “train” them on the brand at all. They assign them a desk, show them how to use the cash register, or review their benefits but do not offer a “Brand Education.” Mostly, this stems from many businesses not documenting their brand strategy and values somewhere. But it also stems from devaluing this important aspect of your business.

If you want to be a friendly, playful or approachable brand, you’d better hire people that embody that. If you charge premium prices and hide behind the name of a famous chef you’d better have the best waitstaff around, not clumsy and inconsistent customer service (this happened to me last weekend: The waiter didn’t come to out table for 10 minutes after seating,  I had to ask for a coffee 3 times and they also brought the wrong meals to our table). If you value making he customer happy at all costs, then you’d better ensure your store staff are empowered to make decisions on the spot and not have to get 9 approvals for a return.

What is your weakest link? How can you strengthen it? PS: You may want to attend one of my upcoming Brand Strategy Retreats in Seattle or San Francisco to get some guidance on clarifying and documenting your brand for your employees or partners.

Any Open Letter to restaurants: Stop tarnishing your brand at Valentine’s Day

Oh, how I wish there was a forum to send a message to every restaurant owner in the country and know it would get read.

Just like my open letter to business owners, this one goes out to any restaurant, bar, or eatery that serves us on Valentine’s Day. STOP. TARNISHING. YOUR. BRAND.

We all know Valentine’s Day is a money maker for you. And it’s so easy to say, “Let’s pack in as many people as we can and do a fixed menu so we can cycle them through faster!” I know margins suck in the restaurant business. I know it’s a tough industry in which to be successful. But do you understand what you’re sacrificing for the quick buck?

The last few Valentine’s Days, my husband and I were so annoyed at pre fixe menus. Like cattle, we were herded into what were supposed to be some of the finer dining establishments and crammed into obviously-added tables, elbow to elbow with the patrons next to us. We were given 3 entrée options that were mass produced and only allowed to select certain wines.  It sucked. Many of these restaurants were ones we were trying for the first time (hello? new potential loyal customers?!) and we were so disappointed with that experience, that even though we know it probably isn’t always like that, we have never gone back. The experience soured us on their brand.

My question is: Is ruining your brand for the long-term really worth it?

Just like I don’t understand why churches pack people into hot, sweaty, standing-room-only situations at Christmas and Easter rather than adding new masses – and in the process, making anyone coming for the first time in a while vow never to come back again – I don’t get how you can squander this opportunity to showcase your brand in it’s best light. This is a prime chance to turn first-timers into loyal customers.

We tried to avoid the chaos this year. Thinking we were smart, we went out on Saturday night instead to a place we were so excited about.  But they were crafty: they knew people would be going out over the weekend, and therefore had a pared-down Valentine’s menu (albeit with many more choices than a pre fixe) for the whole darn weekend. The food was good, but we felt we didn’t get to try some of the more traditional options we would have liked.

I know you want to make as much money as you can in one night. But at what cost? Do you really want my first impression of your place to be chaos and lack of choice? How likely am I to return? There is a great restaurant here in Seattle that we tried on Valentine’s Day last year. It gets great reviews. The regular menu looked amazing. But we won’t go back. We feel annoyed and gypped by that experience.

Is your long-term brand reputation and increase in your loyal customer base worth sacrificing for one good night of sales? I guess I would ask that questions of anyone who trades brand building for short-term gain.