The Biggest Myth in Marketing – Chapter 1


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[Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing excerpts as we work towards completing the manuscript for ‘What’s Your Purple Goldfish?’. Yesterday was the introduction and today is a peek at Chapter 1]

Tall Tales from NYC

A few summers ago I was in New York City with a colleague. Brad and I were at a trendy rooftop bar. One of those places where a bottle of beer is twelve dollars. We were waiting to meet a few people before heading over to a networking event.

nyc rooftop barI noticed a guy sitting on his own for over 15 minutes. It was obvious that he was waiting for someone. I decided to strike up a conversation about waiting by offering my standard line:

Do you know that we spend 10% of our life waiting?

We started talking about waiting and I stressed the importance of being on time. Right then this guy shook his head and said something that I’ll never forget:

There is no such thing as being on time. Being on time is a fallacy. You either are early . . . or you are late. No one is ever on time. On time is a myth.

This was a completely paradigm shifting moment for me. I immediately starting thinking about how this applies to marketing and meeting expectations. I’ve always thought the idea of meeting expectations was a surefire recipe for losing business. It almost guarantees you will fall short. It’s similar to playing prevent defense in football. Prevent defense only prevents you from doing one thing . . . winning.

This new paradigm has only made it clearer for me. Meeting expectations is the biggest myth in marketing. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Meeting Expectations. Kids cover your eyes and ears . . . they are all myths.

In business you either fall below expectations or you exceed them. There is no middle ground. It bears repeating:

‘There is no such thing as meeting expectations’

In a world where 60-80%* of customers describe their customer satisfaction as satisfied or very satisfied before going on to defect to other brands, ‘meeting expectations’ is no longer an option.

Choose Your Path Wisely

There are two paths that diverge in the corporate woods. Many companies take the wide first path and are happy with just meeting expectations. Others consciously take the narrower and tougher road deciding to go ‘above and beyond’ to do more than reasonably expected.

two paths corporate woodsSeth Godin wrote about this in a post entitled ‘Once in a Lifetime’. He touches on these two paths:

This is perhaps the greatest marketing strategy struggle of our time: Should your product or service be very good, meet spec and be beyond reproach or… should it be a remarkable, memorable, over the top, a tell-your-friends event?

The answer isn’t obvious, and many organizations are really conflicted about this.

Delta Airlines isn’t trying to make your day. They’re trying to get you from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, close to on time, less expensive the other guy and hopefully without hassle. That’s a win for them.

On the other hand, when I was growing up, we used to stop in a diner in Deposit, New York to break up the long drive from Buffalo to New York City. This diner had a really engaged staff and always one practical joke or another subtly present. (I still remember the little notice on the bulletin board once, “Henway for sale, $45. Ask cashier.”) It was enough reason to drive three miles out of our way, a few times a year. My guess is that a busy traveler wouldn’t be happy with the extra six minutes it took to eat there.

Most of the consumer businesses (restaurants, services, etc.) and virtually all of the business to business ventures I encounter shoot for the first (meeting spec). They define spec and they work to achieve it. A few, from event organizers to investment advisors, work every single day to create over-the-top remarkable experiences. It’s a lot of work, and it requires passion.

You can’t be all things to all people. Your strategy defines which path you will take. Don’t get caught in the mushy middle. It boils down to the simple question about meeting expectations. If all you want to do is meet expectations, then you are setting yourself up to become a commodity. If you are not willing to differentiate yourself by creating valuable experiences or little touches that go ‘above and beyond’ for your customer . . . you will languish in the sea of sameness. Choose your path wisely.

To underdeliver or overdeliver, that is the question

In today’s climate you need to stand out or perish. You need to answer two important questions:

  1. What makes you different?
  2. Is that differentiator a signature element?

Creating that small unexpected extra can go a long way to increasing retention, promoting loyalty and generating positive word of mouth. Investing your marketing budget in current customers is the lowest hanging fruit in marketing. Focusing solely on prospects in the purchase funnel and neglecting the customer experience is a recipe for disaster.

Shareholders vs. Customers. Who comes first?

My friend Jarvis Cromwell of Reputation Garage posed an interesting question, “Why are corporations in business?” There are two sides of the argument:

friedman vs levitt

1. Milton Friedman – the sole purpose of a corporation is to drive shareholder value.

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business,” Friedman wrote back in 1970, and that is to “engage in activities designed to increase profits.”

2. Theodore ‘Ted’ Levitt – companies are solely in the business of getting and keeping customers.

“Not so long ago companies assumed the purpose of a business is to make money. But that has proved as vacuous as saying the purpose of life is to eat” Levitt further adds, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.”

So – what comes first? The customer or the bottom line?

The last 100 years have seen corporations solely focused on the bottom line. The approach has been ‘win at all cost’ with little or no regard on external effects, collateral damage or customer experience. The problem is that only pursuing the bottom line can neglect the customer. This was outlined in an article from HBS by James Allen, Frederick Reicheld and Barney Hamilton:

“Call it the dominance trap: The larger a company’s market share, the greater the risk it will take its customers for granted. As the money flows in, management begins confusing customer profitability with customer loyalty, never realizing that the most lucrative buyers may also be the angriest and most alienated. Worse, traditional market research may lead the firm to view customers as statistics. Managers can become so focused on the data that they stop hearing the real voices of their customers.”

The entire premise of ‘What’s Your Purple Goldfish?’ is that the customer must come first. Customer experience should be priority #1. Stop focusing on ‘the two in the bush’ (prospects) and take care of ‘the one in your hand’ (your customer).

[Next Up Chapter 2 – This isn’t Your Dad’s Marketing . . . Value is becoming the New Black]

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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