Why Consistent Online & Offline Brand Management is Important

25 Jun

Today’s post is about bad customer service. As you know, a brand is communicated through the customer experience.

Case in point: You visit a spa. The walls are painted neutral tones. There are nature paintings on the walls. The smell of wood, musk, and apricot linger in the air. Your masseur greets you with a cup of raspberry nectar tea and some slippers. You’re here to relax.

Get pampered by the roaring fire.

That’s an example of a direct experience. You can also experience a brand indirectly through ad campaigns and social media. Word of mouth works too. Let’s say the spa tweets daily nutrition, relaxation, and beauty tips. Your experience at the spa (healthy, clean, and relaxing environment) is consistent with their online brand, and vice versa.

This consistency is extremely valuable. The customer experience can vary. The company seems great online. Yes, people will review your company online. But who actually puts the time in to write a review? Customers who had a fantastic experience. Oh, and those who had a horrible experience. Be consistent. Reduce the potential for bad reviews and your online brand will attract clients. They will have expectations for a fantastic experience. Be sure to give it to them.

Manulife Financial Canada is a huge insurance company in Canada. It’s also a great example of poor customer service and shoddy brand management. Managing a large company is difficult. Being consistent is a challenge when you have so many sectors and employees. There is no excuse for poor customer service. There is no excuse for poor internal communication.

The CSRs (customer service representatives) are the forefront of the customer experience. They communicate the company’s brand. So why is Manulife so bad? Their employees don’t know how to assist the customer. Or at least, find someone who can. Instead of providing conscious customer service, they parrot scripted answers at the customer. In a flat, apathetic tone of voice. You can hear them reading to you. If you ask another question, they’ll repeat (or reword) what they’ve just read to you. They’ll keep doing this until you pretend that your question was answered. Or get annoyed and hang up. What an insulting waste of time.

Parrot Employee: Hello, you’ve reached Manulife.

They don’t answer letters. They don’t use e-mail. Their website is disorganized and unappealing. It reminds me of what websites looked like in 2002. It takes you longer to find things. Another insulting waste of time. They don’t even have a Twitter handle!  This all speaks to Manulife’s outdated customer service and sales techniques. Someone needs to tell them that it’s 2012. Answer your letters. Get on board with e-mail. Get Twitter. And fix your website, it’s an eyesore.

This is all extremely harmful to the company’s image. I have never heard anyone say anything good about Manulife Financial. In fact, Google “Manulife sucks” and you’ll find a sea of articles and forums, filled with angry customers and employees. Most complaints are about the poor customer service.

What can be done? PR extraordinaire Gordon McIvor has a fantastic solution.

Employees need to understand and believe in what they’re selling.

It’s that simple. Jot it down. Have it on your whiteboard at the next company meeting. Don’t follow in Manulife’s footsteps. These employees need to be properly trained. They need to understand what their role is. What are they providing?

Do they understand what they’re selling? Can they answer questions without reading off a sheet of paper? In Manulife’s case, the answer is no. The high turnover rate of young employees attests to that. Their apathy and reliance on a script attests to that. Unfortunately, this also sends a bad message about young employees. But, it’s not always their fault. These kids are thrown into the deep end. A shoddy employee training program and poor internal communication are to blame.

Large companies like Procter and Gamble are the epitome of great brand management. So, maybe there’s hope for Manulife, too.

Have you ever experienced poor customer service? What kind of message did it send about the company?

No, you can’t have a moment of my time

22 Jun

Today’s BADvertising rant is about brand ambassadors/promoters-assaulting-me-with-fliers.

You know who I’m referring to. They lurk on busy street corners and beg, plead ask for a moment of your time. Or, maybe they don’t even ask. Maybe they jump out in front of you and start rambling. Maybe they get into your personal space and prevent you from escaping, FORCING you to feign interest and accept a flier.

What do you do when you walk away? Do you discard the flier right away? Do you shove it into your bag and discard it later? Do you give them fake information and make a run for it?

Let me show you how interested I am.

Street campaigns are ineffective because people don’t like being hassled in the street. They’re skeptical of anyone asking for personal information (that’s you, charities!). Nobody wants to be pressured into signing up for a credit card. Hard selling puts people off. They walk away with a bad taste in their mouth.

It was 34 ºC (93.2 ºF) in Toronto today. I was wearing work clothes and walking on a busy street at 4:30 PM. Now picture this. I’m walking. Quickly. With two heavy bags on my shoulder. It’s rip-off-your-clothes-like-the-hulk HOT. I’m sweating. I look angry. I’m probably in a hurry to catch my train home (like everyone else). I’m also wearing sunglasses AND I have earbuds in my ears. I’m the poster child for “anti-social”. I was approached by someone who can’t read body language. If you don’t have a portable freezer or a hose in that backpack, I’m not stopping. I ignored her.

This is the beginning of Toronto’s rush hour. A crowd of suits pours out of a highrise and onto the street. You get the picture. Everyone’s done work and they’re clamoring to go somewhere. Toronto is a big city. Toronto is also considered one of the world’s rudest cities. Us Torontonians don’t move at a leisurely pace. And we don’t like being stopped when we’re in a hurry. This unbearably hot weather + lovely Toronto smog isn’t making things better. We’re especially resentful of strangers trying to get our attention and try to a) sell us something we don’t want, b) convert us, or c) guilt us into subscribing to a charity. What do we do? We ignore them. We start walking faster. Or, we take their flier and toss it.

Just try to stop them.

Are street campaigns completely useless? Not if you’re handing out free samples of your product. Think about it. You’re handing out free gum to promote a new flavour. You’re letting people know that you have a new flavour. AND you’re giving them a chance to try it and decide whether they like it. If your packaging is bright and original, people are likely to recognize it at the store and buy it! Imagine that.

If you can’t hand out free samples, there’s hope for you too. Creative street campaigns are a great way to promote your product/cause. If your campaign is creative enough, people will actually come up to you and WANT what you’re promoting. Get their attention. Make it flashy. Keep it classy. You want genuine interest.

Here’s a case in point: I saw a group of girls dressed in Statue of Liberty costumes (complete with green face paint and crown) in front of a major Toronto courthouse. This is in a busy area. People were flocking to them because they wanted to know who they were and what they were doing. These girls were handing out scratch-and-save coupons for flights to NYC.

We’re annoyed by street campaigners. By telemarketers calling us at home. By junk mail sent to our home and our e-mails. By ads popping up when we’re on the internet. By ads on the television. How else can companies get through to us?

By managing their brand online. Here’s why:

You can reach a niche market. Whether you’re promoting a new product or a charity cause, the internet is a wonderful place to find your audience. Facebook groups. Twitter lists. Forums. You can find people who would be interested in your product/cause. These people are already your audience. You need to cater to this audience.

Quick example: I work for XYZ charity and want to raise money for animal rights. I’ll set up a Twitter account. I’ll talk to people. Expand my network. Gain followers and support for my campaign. Dedicated followers will help me push my campaign. I’ll also target humanitarians and animal lovers online. I’ll find local meetings. I’ll organize fundraising events over social media. Who will be listening to my campaign? My audience. Who will be promoting my campaign? My audience.

Not everyone will donate. But my chances are better if my efforts are relevant to your interests.

What do you think of street campaigns?

Dew AWESOME

18 Jun

The BF and I were watching TV the other day when a Mountain Dew commercial came on. Now, if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to spare 30 seconds of your life to watch it. Go on, I’ll wait.

Now, what did that commercial make you feel? Did you feel exhilarated and ready to take on summer? Did you feel like your exhilarating summer hobbies must be accommodated by a bottle of Mountain Dew? Did you want to bungee jump into a sac filled with the drink? If it did, then kudos to Mountain Dew’s marketing team.

So, some guy bungee jumps off a crane and into a giant ball filled with Mountain Dew. The ball explodes, and our hero is covered in Mountain Dew. Then, he gets high-fived by a squad of excited teenagers. But WAIT, it’s really hot outside, he’s sweating buckets, and he needs to cool down with a bottle of Mountain Dew! He thoughtfully shares the drink by spraying it on everyone else. Everyone’s having fun.

The BF put it candidly

“Who the hell would want to be covered in that sugary shit?”

Now here’s some food for thought: It’s summer. It’s 30° – 33° Celsius (86° – 91.4° Fahrenheit) in Toronto every day. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some clouds and maybe a bit of wind. I can only imagine how hot it is in the rest of North America. Where are they showing this commercial? How is any of this supposed to make me, a [potential] consumer feel refreshed?

The reality is that Mountain Dew’s marketing team wants you to feel excited about Mountain Dew. They’re trying to brand it as AWESOME, with their “Dew Awesome” campaign. AWESOME things will happen to you if you drink Mountain Dew, and you’ll be surrounded by an AWESOME supportive crew. This is smart impression management, because we all want to make our lives more exciting, and be surrounded by supportive (and fun!) people.

I’ve tried Mountain Dew and I didn’t like it. My 10-year old brother is the only person I know that drinks it. And only if he can’t get Sprite or 7-Up. I don’t drink pop anymore, but if I did, Mountain Dew would not be my first choice. I find myself tempted by a freshly poured Coca-Cola at the concession stand at the movies. Or, a savoury Nestea on the rocks on a scorching hot beach day. Mountain Dew doesn’t appeal to my senses or nostalgia for my childhood, so this commercial fell flat with me.

How can they improve? I checked out the Mountain Dew website, and they have a variety of different flavours. They even have a little description of what each flavour tastes like. This is helpful because without these descriptions, I would associate “White Out” with well, white-out.

They should be advertising their other flavours aggressively and expose them to the soda-loving market. Promotional giveaways at sporting events would be their best bet. Their website showcases their summer/winter “Dew Tour” where they support skateboarding and snowboarding. Their commercials don’t even hint at these events. They need to tell us about these efforts if they want to cultivate and maintain that brand of AWESOMENESS.

What did you think of this commercial?