A Good Example of Customer Un-thinking


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A major airline whose initials are AA sent me their e-newsletter today. Among other things, the newsletter, personalized with my name, told me that “we’ve put this issue together just for you, so whether you’re a novice flyer or a seasoned ‘road warrior,’ you’ll find plenty to pique your interest.”

Aww, you really put this one together just for me? Then why do you address me as if you don’t know whether I’m a novice flyer or a road warrior? I’ve only flown AA three times this year (way down from last year’s travel). My colleague, who has logged nearly two million miles and is a lifetime Platinum AAdvantage member, received the same newsletter with the same language. I guess they put it together just for him, too.

The fact is, thanks to their frequent flyer program, AA knows EXACTLY what kind of flyer I am – at least on their airline. They know when, where and how much I fly. (The only thing they don’t know, contrary to their bizarre and slightly Big Brother-ish ad campaign, is why I fly.)

Now there isn’t necessarily any need to use that knowledge in this newsletter. But why in heck can’t someone use common sense in writing copy for this thing? I may be more sensitive to this than most people, since I spent a good deal of my glamorous career writing copy for frequent customer newsletters, but this strikes me as simple common sense. Nobody forced them to write copy that, in a single sentence, manages to contradict itself while insulting my intelligence and making the airline look stupid.

No matter how much good thinking goes into planning loyalty programs and other customer-centric tactics, it can all be ruined – and often is – by failing to use good judgment, good blocking and tackling, and remembering the basic direct marketing lessons most of us learned years ago.

Anyone looking for a good newsletter copywriter?


  1. Howard – On a similar topic, how do you feel about companies like DishTV and Liberty Lawn Services (McLean VA) that charge less to new customers than to their long-term customers?

    Special promotions and rates are great to attract new customers but when an existing customer wants to upgrade service and get the pricing advertised for that new service, how effective is it to tell them “no, you are not a new customer so your price is not X, it is X+Y”? If they don’t know about the special and don’t ask for it, that is one thing, but when they do know….?

    Should the marketing/sales teams who dream up these promotions to get new customers be responsible for funding a portion of the deals that existing customer might ask to be given as well? And are they calculating the damage to the relationships that are being done by essentially turning backs on long-term customers (at least it feels that way to customers)?

  2. Howard Schneider

    Hi Jodie,

    Great point. As a consumer, I have a huge problem with offers that reward new customers and consequently treat longtime customers as second class citizens. Great examples abound; just look at the wireless telecom industry, or as you mention, the satellite/cable industry. ISPs too.

    As a marketer, I think the companies that make those kind of offers find themselves in a vicious cycle that they often ask firms like mine to help with: customer churn. They concentrate efforts on acquiring new customers in the front door, while old ones, perceiving they are mistreated, run out the back. Then they wonder why churn and retention are such a challenge! I think much more effort should go into retaining good customers, and to developing creative offers for new customers that don’t penalize existing customers.

  3. Howard is so right.

    Companies in highly competitive, short lifecycle, commodity markets spend a lot of time and energy on acquiring customers, only to loose them through neglect a short time later.

    Some analysis I did recently on a UK mobile telco highlights the point. According to the mobile telco’s 2004 accounts, it spent over GBP 100 million in 2004 to replace customers that had defected to another provider (or even back to the same one). That was approx. 70% of their entire marketing budget for the year. What a waste!

    Smart companies look at the long-term flows of customers into the company, across the product groups within the company and out of the company. They then balance their spending on acquisition, growth & development and retention to achieve the best return on their customer management investments.

    This may produce outcomes that on reflection seem unfair to customers. Better deals for new customers than for existing ones, for example. But if the numbers suggest that this is the best use for limited customer management resources, then who is to argue that the company is wrong.

    Graham Hill


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