Promises — what do promises mean to your customers … your employees? In this season of political campaign promises, what do promises mean to constituents? And, what happens when you don’t deliver what you promised?
To most of us, a promise is like a guarantee — almost like a contract. Unfortunately, we’re all used to campaign promises that seem to mean nothing. We’ve been lied to by politicians so many times, we don’t even really expect them to keep their promises anymore. Maybe that’s why President Obama’s approval ratings have dropped so low — people thought he would be different and keep his promises.
But, this isn’t a political blog, it’s a marketing blog. So, let’s shift our attention to the marketplace and what happens when you don’t do what you promised?
Promises to customers
While we might be willing to accept broken promises from politicians, we don’t seem willing to make the same concessions to companies we do business with. And we have several options when we don’t think a company has kept its promises. We can:
- File a lawsuit claiming the company didn’t keep its promises
- Complain to management, the media, or other consumers
- Return products we feel don’t live up to their promises
- Boycott the offending firm
- Stop buying products or services from firms who fail to keep their promises
- Retaliate against offending firms
The important thing is to recognize that taking any of these actions damages the brand and can have a serious impact on firm profitability. And, the negative feeling that results from broken promises may continue long into the future, even when the company changes strategy to ensure it keeps its promises. Thus, promises and keeping your promises are important.
In marketing, consumers infer a promise even when the company doesn’t pinky swear to do something or refrain from doing something. Here are some examples:
Puffery – refers to an exaggeration or statement that no reasonable person would take as factual. It often occurs in the context of advertsing and promotional testimonials, according to USLegal.
While legal, puffery has a high piss-off quotient (the percentage of people seriously dissatisfied with your brand). I feel a high piss-off quotient is more serious in marketing strategy than is a firm’s satisfaction index. This is because dissatisfied customers leave, while satisfied customers may also leave to find newer or different experiences. Dissatisfied customers also share their dissatisfaction, which spreads 5 times faster than satisfaction. Plus, satisfied customers may keep their feelings to themselves, thus depriving a firm of positive emotions to counteract the negative ones spread by dissatisfied customers.
Companies may not intend to break their promises. They just over-promise — either explicitly in their advertising or implicitly by the images they use or comparisons they make in their ads. For instance, beauty brands often show images of women that don’t represent reality. I once worked at a New York advertising agency where the art department spent days retouching a photo to correct the model’s skin color, weight, and hair to make her perfect. By using this image in advertising, the implicit promise is that consumers will look like the model, even when the model doesn’t look like the image. You can’t help but fail to deliver what you promised when the advertising image doesn’t reflect something attainable.
Sometimes you fully intend to do what you promised but you’re internal processes make that impossible. For instance, maybe you over-sold and don’t have products or services available to meet demand. Or maybe you trusted a supply chain partner who didn’t follow through and either delivered defective products or products that didn’t perform as promised.
While it’s easy to argue that these problems weren’t your fault, consumers likely won’t see your point of view.
One of the easiest ways to keep promises is to only promise what you are sure you can deliver consistently. When you keep your promises, customers will likely be satisfied.
An alternative is to under-promise. When a company under-promises, customers are thrilled with their experience with the brand and are not only satisfied with the product, they may be delighted.
According to Roy Posner, customer delight comes from:
understanding customers specific personal interests, anticipating their needs, exceeding their expectations, and making every moment and aspect of the relationship a pleasant — or better yet, an exhilarating — experience.
The stakes for customers trying to establish sustainable competitive advantage get higher every year as the competitive landscape gets more crowded and the means for firms to differentiate themselves get smaller. Sustainable competitive advantage is not only the ability to differentiate a firm from its competitors but the ability to sustain that advantage over the long run either because it’s difficult for other firms to copy the marketing strategy or because the resources other firms need to copy the marketing strategy are difficult to obtain.
Competitive advantage accrues when:
the firm is able to deliver the same benefits as competitors but at a lower cost (cost advantage), or deliver benefits that exceed those of competing products (differentiation advantage). Thus, a competitive advantage enables the firm to create superior value for its customers and superior profits for itself.
You can read more about competitive advantage here.
Customer delight as a sustainable advantage
Customer delight represents a tool that can generate a sustainable competitive advantage, thus supporting your marketing strategy. And, while customer satisfaction may be simply the ante necessary to get into the game, customer delight can create customer loyalty that translates into long-term profitability. Customer delight also encourages customers to share their brand opinions, fan the organization, and encourage friends to experience the product.
How to create customer delight
- Know your customer. Without a clear understanding of how customers create meaning with your brand, their attitudes toward your brand, how your brand solves their problems, and how customers related to your brand relative to other brands, you can’t create customer delight. So, the first step in creating delight is to do detailed market research to understand your customers.
- Know your competitors. Matching competitors does not create a sustainable competitive advantage and it doesn’t create delight among your customers. Meeting expectations may lead to customer satisfaction, but you have to go beyond this to create customer delight. As long as your only giving customers the same thing your competitors are, you’re only going to meet expectations.
- Know your organization. What can you do? What resources do you have? What skills do your employees bring to the table? Without knowing your limits, you risk trying to develop delight, but falling short.
- Once you’re addressed these strategic questions, its time to implement your strategy. This requires:
- Focus – generate buy-in among employees and focus on creating superior customer experiences.
- Maintaining customer delight requires you to keep up with changes in the environment. Conduct periodic market research to ensure your marketing strategy conforms with elements in your environment.
The marketing strategy of keeping promises
- Carefully review your advertising from a customer perspective to make sure you’re not over-promising
- Review your manufacturing processes to make sure they conform to zero-defect standards
- Develop service standards that ensure services are delivered with consistently high quality
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