Are your customers frozen? Let it go!

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

The competition is fierce out there.

The battle for the consumer continues to intensify. Brands used to battle with their competitors for the direct relationship, but something new is happening. While I discuss it in much more detail in my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, I believe (with everything that I have) that the new battle for this direct relationship trumps the one you’re fighting with your competitor.

Now, brands are doing battle with every other brand in the food chain that is being offered to a consumer. We have all types of businesses at attention. Think about it this way: if you buy one of my books, the author, the publisher, the publisher’s specific imprint, the book retailer, and more are all fighting for you to connect to them. All of these brands want you to follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and more.

Each and every one of these brands wants you to “add them” in a myriad of digital channels. They want the exclusive opportunity to tell you all about the author… even in a world where the author can build this direct relationship on their own with fans. It makes the world of branding, marketing, advertising, and communications that much more challenging.

Know when to hold ’em.

Take a look at the example of the online discourse around the customer who tried to cancel their cable service that made the headlines (again). Some attacked the cable company, some blamed the customer service rep, and some even scolded the unhappy customers. Afterwards, that same company reported that profits had improved 15% compared to last quarter.

This happens a lot. People moan, complain, tweet, blog, and more about the inequities of a specific brand and yet, year on year, these companies grow their user base and increase profits much to the chagrin of the digital lynch mobs and to the adulation of Wall Street. We live in complex times. If you have your pitchfork out, it’s easy to think that companies like this (airlines and other businesses, too) can maintain this level of profit and growth because they hold their customers hostage. After all, how hard is it to cancel a service?

Ultimately, what you learn in this crazy world of business is that the more complex you make it for a customer to leave (think small print, clauses, and made-up policies) the less likely they will be leave. Right? Create enough friction through time and money and it’s simply not worth it. Consumers will grin and bear it.

What have we become?

When I visited Silicon Valley, a good chunk of my time was spent on the Google campus with Avinash Kaushik (Google’s Digital Marketing Evangelist, bestselling author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0). We were brainstorming, thinking, prodding, and provoking one another.

In that conversation, Avinash revealed that one of the brands he admired the most once remarked to him that the company does not consider anybody a customer until they have bought from them twice. It was as if the clouds had parted, the sun began to shine, and hope for a new world was born. Why? Because we know digital marketing.

We know all about these customer (or fan) acquisition strategies that revolve around things like offering a contest to acquire an email address, and then considering these individuals hot leads/customers just because they were lured by a potential prize. We know all about consumers who have bought from a brand once, and then never again, but are bombarded with marketing spam to move a needle, because they are considered a customer (hey! they bought from us!). We are all too familiar with consumers who sign up for a service, become unhappy with it, but are forced into being customers for life (ok, that’s an over-exaggeration, but you get the point).

If I hear that Frozen song one more time…

BUT… let it go… let it go…can’t hold it back any more! (took some artistic interpretation there). If someone is unhappy, they are not a customer. A customer is not a customer. A happy customer is a customer. A customer is not a customer unless they bought from you twice (or more).

A customer doesn’t care much about a brand, until they tell someone else how much they care (and why that other person should buy from them). Brands create rules, policies, laws, and even incentives for their team members that are often misaligned with what a true customer is.

A customer is more than an email that a brand captures and much more than someone who purchased something once.


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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  1. LRW

    LOVE the Frozen reference, however, sometimes it’s hard for marketers to let it go! Yes, competition is fierce, getting engagement is hard, holding onto the consumers is even harder. But gaining loyalty happens more easily when we appeal to consumers’ rationale. Proper messaging depends on whether or not their brand perceptions formed rationally or nonconsciously. Greater identity, greater loyalty. Greater loyalty, greater retention. Do you agree? More:

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