Just like in relationships with family and friends, a brand must consider a customer’s feelings in order to be well-liked. Megan Rokosh, who heads up communications at Havas North America, offers five rules of engagement for brands, not unlike those fundamentals we follow with the most important people in our lives.
An old client of mine asked me years ago how we could make people like our company. I thought for a moment and responded, “be likeable.” This client was the CEO of a 25 billion dollar organization and looked perplexed. He responded, “I’ve never thought of it quite that simply.”
My response sounded simple but is actually fairly complex. The essence of it is to prioritize the customer experience and consider how that experience would make people feel. This particular company, prior to the fabulous CEO, had burned numbers of bridges with their client base. False promises, overselling, under delivering, weak customer service, terrible customer relations and awful billing plagued their past. As our conversation continued, we agreed that as customers, we wouldn’t like his company either.
Brands are often detached from how their customers experience them. They make decisions distantly and often don’t shop in their own stores or call their own customer service lines. Where they can tend to fall short is when they make decisions that fail to consider the basic fundamentals of relationships. Just like with friends, family or acquaintances, it’s been proven time and time again that people have real relationships with brands. So real, in fact, that the common relationship rules need to apply or, quite simply, they get stung. Sting them enough and you’ve lost a customer and as research shows, you often lose them for life.
Consider the following rules of engagement for brands (which are probably the same as you would use with your friends):
1. Don’t make them wait. There is no more classic way to piss someone off than to be late – late for dinner, late delivery, long lines, long waits for customer service agents, etc.
2. Don’t lie to them. They will never forget.
3. Don’t devalue them and take them for granted. Quite simply, customers have options and will go elsewhere.
4. Don’t be one-sided. No one likes to feel as if they’re the only people who care about a relationship. Offer them value and keep the exchange as equal as possible. Listen to them when they speak.
5. Be authentic. Do what you say and say what you do. In the age of transparency, you will likely get found out if you don’t.
This list could go on and on, but you start to get the idea. Particularly in this time of massive competition, the rules of engagement with customers are more and more important every day. Some customers today even buy based on ideology, ensuring the brands they support have the same fundamental values as they do, disengaging with brands that do things that they simply don’t agree with.
The bottom line? Don’t take your customers for granted. If you want to create a brand that’s liked, get real about how you’re treating your customers. Jump in their shoes and ask yourself how you would feel if you were them. Make them feel loved and you will be loved in return.
Elaine Drebot-Hutchins, Principal at THINK, reminds us that saying "yes" to everything isn't only unrealistic, but downright inefficient. Instead, she shares five different phrases to confidently keep in your arsenal.
Are you a ‘yes’ publicist? I’ll admit, I’ve had my moments where I just nodded and “yes’d” clients over and over. “You want me to put this press release that no one will read over the wire? Yes!” “We should have a media event for this non-initiative that actually makes no sense? Sure!” “We don’t have a budget. Ok! We will get creative!” In my younger years, it was due to lack of confidence and at times it was just because I knew there was no point in arguing, but I’ve learned my lessons the hard way. I am no longer a “yes” publicist and neither should you be. In fact, always doing what our clients ask hurts our entire profession and makes it harder on all of us.
So, here are five things I am no longer afraid to say, and why we need to say them.
1. “We Need The Actual Budget”
No. I cannot magically guess how much money a client has or can spend. I cannot try to get all the food and wine donated. I cannot spend five hours putting together a spreadsheet only for someone to come back and say, “I have no idea if we can afford that.” Please just tell me what we can spend. If we have an actual budget, it is actually EASIER for us to come in under it, believe it or not.
2. “That’s Not PR-able”
This one can sometimes be a real let down. Sometimes a client is so passionate about an idea and while it may be a GREAT one, one that even drives revenue, it may not be something press CARE ABOUT. I know what journalists want to write about. So, if I kindly, respectfully say, “This is great, but we really won’t get anyone to cover this,” please listen. I promise to always try to follow that sentence up with, “but here is what it would take to make your idea press-worthy.”
3. “Stop Obsessing Over Your Competition”
I once had a client who would spend 20-30 minutes of every call talking only about what her competitors were doing. Finally, after months of this, I asked her if she thought maybe she should focus more on her own business. She got pretty offended but called me a day later to thank me. Of course, we need to look at what competitors are doing (we even have Google alerts to keep dibs on the competition!) but if you spend all your waking energy obsessing over what others are doing, you will never grow.
4. “You Also Need a [Sales/Marketing/Ad/Digital] Strategy”
Yes, a publicist does many things and wears many hats. We can help grow and maintain brands in such amazing ways but, alas, we are not magicians. An amazing press hit does not guarantee sales – you need a sales team to do that. A feature in the Timesdoes not mean you will get more Instagram followers – you need a digital strategy (which our PR company likely offers, and you should take them up on their offer to complement PR with Digital)! PR can do many things, but there needs to be a 360-degree strategy.
This one is the simplest to say and the hardest to do. But sometimes we have to decline the conference call, tell them we don’t recommend an event or just plain disagree. It has taken years for me to learn to confidently say “no.” As a result, my clients say “yes” more often.