Some Brands Can Suck

Some brands suck and seem to get away with it.

These days, almost every marketer (particularly agencies and consultants) is trying to come up with Social Media strategies for you name it brand out there. It’s sometimes a game of who can scream the loudest when a big brand fucks up about how social media could save it and it should turn to social media right away.

I think it can be a waste of time from an agency’s perspective to try to win that type of business.

Here’s the thing, most brands that suck and get away with it are Tier 1 brands (e.g. United, AT&T, American, Delta, Time Warner Cable, GM, etc.), the No. 1 – 2 in a sector. Their ability, and need from their perspective, to change is far less immediate regardless of what happens on the Social Web.

I think the real opportunity for agencies is with the Tier 2 brands, the No. 3 – 5 or 6 brands. These are the brands that can benefit the most from Engagement Marketing, the Social Web and all the necessary changes that it brings to their business operations to differentiate themselves in big way and win.

Tier One Brands Don’t Need To Care (For Now).

Take United Airlines’ Guitar-gate as an example. You might have heard about Dave Carroll’s misadventures on United Airlines, the music videos he posted on YouTube and the subsequent roar of the blogosphere.

Here are a couple of posts about the guitar incident that I found particularly interesting and helped me think this through:

1. My friend Alan Wolk, a creative strategist in New York City, wrote a blog post in the aftermath of United’s Guitar-gate where he makes the following point:

“The video does, however, play up one of the biggest fears most clients have about social media: what if someone says something bad about us? How can I make sure that doesn’t happen?

And the answer I always give them is: Don’t Suck.”

I couldn’t agree more. Here’s the thing, make sure you have a good product and do the right thing by your customers and you’ll have a lot less to worry about.

2. Another is Jake McKee’s response to a post on the Vanno blog. Vanno’s contention is that United’s higher ups probably gave very little thought to al this Social Media hoopla, for a number of reasons. But ultimately, it did little to impact United’s stock price. I encourage you to read Jake’s post because he makes some very interesting points.

The point for me is, the expectation of United’s customer service is so low, I don’t think all of this really made much of an impact to United’s business in the long run.

Sure, the media wrote a lot about it and we’re all outraged, but, seriously, did you expect any better? Were people shocked? United’s been losing baggage for years. We all know it. Most of us have experienced it. We’ve probably told a bunch of people about it.

Why should they care now? People still fly United (for the time being, anyway).

Call me a cynic, but as long as we keep buying, most large corporations could care less what their customers said about them, and for some stupid reason we keep buying.

Post a video on YouTube in today’s ADD world? Big deal. The noise level will rise like it did for a few weeks around Carroll’s video then it’ll die down and the Twits and others will move onto something else.

So, no, that pressure alone isn’t going to fuel change in the near term.

“I Made My Numbers.

United, Delta and American can offer low fares. Despite a shitty product, they are large enough (i.e. own the routes) that when they run into trouble, they simply cut prices and people will buy. People may hate every minute of the product they’ve bought but the airlines don’t really give a shit, they got you to buy and they make their quarter.

AT&T has the iPhone. We love the iPhone. We love it so much we’ll tolerate the most ridiculous level of service known to civilized people. They don’t care. They have you for at least 2 years or a termination fee. Either way: “made my numbers.”

Time Warner Cable, Comcast, RCN…you name it.

Sure, it’s not sustainable. They know it. But they also know that they’ve done a pretty good job so far of playing this game for awhile and it’s worked well. At best, something will change and maybe the sucky brand will find them some Jesus. At worst, the people making the decisions now won’t be around when they run out of juice at which point it’ll be someone else’s problem.

Again, no incentive to have a proper relationship with customers. Transparency and authenticity? Riiiiight.

The Real Opportunity.

Now, what about the Tier 2 brands? The ones without the monopolies or the ability to start price wars? The ones without massive ad budgets? The ones that actually need to treat their customers well to win them over?

The opportunity to differentiate these companies by not sucking and creating real and authentic relationships with customers is GREAT and very meaningful.

I’m talking about the Zappos’, Amazon.com, JetBlue’s and Virgin America’s of the world. By doing right by their customers, these companies have created brands that people are drawn to. A common characteristic amongst these brands is that they’ve won over customers and turned them into fans. In Spike Jones’ words, they’ve created Movements.

These brands do it without large marketing budgets–and they realize that it’s much more than just marketing. They know that in order to succeed, they have to be real, and they realize that being real is THE way that they can stand out and win.

The Social Web comes naturally to these companies because of their business culture. But this isn’t about Twitter or Facebook or some other new web service. It’s about what the Social Web means from a business perspective and that means you have to run your business accordingly–with transparency and authenticity.

It makes these businesses create a great product, because if it sucks, nothing else will matter.

It makes these businesses treat customers the right way, because if they don’t the Social Web will kill ’em, and nothing else will matter.

When done right though, you have the most loyal customers that will keep buying, tell everyone about you and stand by you when things go wrong.

In today’s world, there’s no more powerful opportunity for a Tier 2 brand than to embrace this and radically increases their chance of success vs. the big boys.

Obama Was The Tier 2 Brand.

I think this is a big reason why Obama got elected. The product was great–that’s not negotiable. But he embraced this “Don’t Suck” philosophy–it came naturally to him–and used the Social Web as a channel to help create and grow his relationships with his constituents.

Obama was the Tier 2 candidate.

While United might not be too concerned about David Carroll’s videos and a bunch of bloggers yapping away, I can guarantee you that the growing power of the Virgin America and JetBlue brands are keeping them up at night.