Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are people drawing their shades on your brand?

ok, this is a long set up but hang in with me...

as willy & hoover would tell you (if they could speak English), i'm in close contention for the dubious honor of world's worst cook. despite this, they continue to beg for food at the table, with varying degrees of success related, more often than not, to the level of puppy-eyes that they manage to deliver.

today, their efforts paid off with a hunk of something called "amish friendship bread."

the recipe for this bread apparently has been around for decades. it essentially involves a yeast-based starter, to which you add flour, milk, and sugar, and then you divide the mix into 4 portions. you keep one of the portions for yourself, and give the remaining 3 to your friends (hence the "friendship" in the name).

i got a starter portion from my neighbor, and, not wanting to disappoint her or develop any bad amish karma, followed the directions that left me searching for friends who i thought might actually do this as opposed to laughing hysterically and throwing the stuff away (which is what i would have done, had i received it from one of them).

a note from one came back with a comment that i thought was particularly compelling. it said, among other funny things, the following:

We have had this starter twice before, and I am always smitten with it. I vow every time that I won't let it die . . . ever. But then you end up with a freezer full of bread, 10 new lbs. and a bunch of friends who draw the shades when they see you coming with the dough.

yes, a long set up indeed, but hence the title of this post.

are your customers' friends drawing the shades when they see that dough -- your brand -- coming their way? i've mentioned before my point of view that turning customers into advocates is really the only true, sustainable way of building the virtuous cycle that delivers a strong brand. but what happens when your advocates run into challenges that keep that word-of-mouth, pass-the-bread-starter mojo from taking hold? minimally, a few things:

1) your advocates start to qualify their advocacy (as if "qualified advocacy" weren't already an oxymoron, of sorts.) if so many of their friends could have a bad experience with your brand, it must be that their positive one was a fluke. so as they go around, they'll say things like, "you know, i got a great product/service from brand x, but i heard others didn't."

2) your advocates start to lapse into neutrality. nobody wants to deliver positive word-of-mouth on a (potentially) bad brand, so often they won't say anything at all about it. if pushed, they'll go with something like, "yeah, i looked around at a bunch of different options, and this is what i ended up with. it's ok."

3) your advocates start to reverse polarity. it's hard to believe this can happen, but it does. when confronted with lots of bad examples from their community on whatever the brand in question is, the former advocate will begin looking for things that aren't yet wrong with the product/service ... but maybe all of a sudden it's not quite as good as he/she thought it would be. and when asked (and sometimes, even when not prompted), the person will say something like, "you know, i got this thing and i really regret my decision."

these conversations between friends matter more than any other element of the marketing mix. don't believe me? read andy sernovitz. read chris brogan and julien smith's "trust agents." think about times (and be honest) when your mind about something got changed, not because of something that actually happened to you but because of something somebody else said about what happened to them.

net net: don't set your advocates up to fail by delivering great experiences to a select few while you treat the rest of your target poorly. otherwise, when the advocates come calling, they'll find the shades drawn, and nobody home.

photo credit: wikipedia

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