30 October 2019
Author: Daniel Lally
As Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg headed to Capitol Hill for his two days of ritual public humiliation over the 737 Max, his company took out full-page ads in several major newspapers. We’ll leave it to others to dissect the executive’s performance and the reaction of his brand, but the situation is a useful reminder that at some point every organization will face an angry, frustrated or just disappointed audience. Obviously, we can’t run around like a bunch of cartoon characters offering a heartfelt apology for every unfortunate circumstance. But when our own action or inaction clearly lead to an unpleasant outcome, an effective apology can help you (a neighbor, a spouse, an anthropomorphized brand) regain trust. Customers in general are open to forgiving a brand that takes responsibility and expresses regret for its own actions or failures—and it certainly beats blaming somebody else on this score. However, it’s only effective when done properly. These are polite norms that we all kinda, sorta know intuitively, but behavioral scientists Steven Martin and Joseph Marks codified them for us in their book Messengers. They state that an effective apology: Must be delivered quickly; Must be expressed sincerely; and Must demonstrate a commitment to change. Most of the public apologies we encounter these days fall down on at least one of these criteria. So, where do these less timely, insincere or noncommittal apologies go wrong? Often, it’s a matter of completeness. For example, the apologies lack any tangible or expressed commitment to change or to prevent the offense from happening again. More often, the person apologizing allows his or her personal pride to get between the expression and the whole point of the exercise. They know they need to apologize, but they don’t want to actually take any blame for anything personally. The result is usually some sort of excuse or qualified apology, which is to say, not an apology at all. I am sorry if my words were misunderstood. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended. I didn’t know you were going in there when I left my shoes in the middle of the room. That sort of thing. Knowing when and how to offer an apology can be the difference between regaining the trust of your customers and the public, or turning disappointment into rage. Or sleeping on the couch, for that matter.
21 August 2019
Social media and other digital channels have given analytical marketers exactly what they’ve always wanted: more numbers to drop in a spreadsheet. I’m not dismissive. Data is very useful and important. It’s how we determine how to invest resources, where to double down, when to cut our losses, switch channels or change messages. But for a discipline that is relatively new, there already seems to be an established orthodoxy for measuring results. In just a decade, entire industry sectors have sprung up to provide real-time analytics on the number of impressions, shares, comments, reactions, new followers, audience attrition … you name it. And all of these measurements can be very helpful if, as my colleague Kyle likes to say, you ask the right questions (subtle boss shout-out). The challenge arises when the metrics themselves become the measure of success. British economist Charles Goodhart described the problem when writing about national economies, but the principal still holds true—whenever one statistical measure becomes a stand-in for evaluating the whole, it will cease to be a useful measure. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people are gaming the system. It’s simple human nature to repeat actions that are rewarded—and if moving that “Like” number one percent higher than it was last month makes the boss happy, then that’s what we’ll do. Standby for adorable puppy video in 3 … 2 … 1 … So, your team pumps out some “fresh content.” Some people like it. Some comment on it. Some share it … and all the numbers look great again. But why? And why is that better? There are situations in which the basic metrics are, indeed, solid measurement tools. If you’re marketing a mass-market product, follower and impression counts certainly factor into your evaluation. Grade-A, certified-genius-level content might make you feel good, but it’s not going to move much product if only 17 people see it. Gaining new followers may be in order. Conversely, if you’re marketing a highly specialized product or service with only a dozen or so potential users in the known universe, even a few million fanboys cheering you on in a social space won’t help if you can’t reach those key decision makers. But unless you’re a big-time professional online influencer, audience growth is likely, in and of itself, not a business objective. Most of us are in the business of marketing products and services. That’s the entire point of your brand’s social presence. By all means, keep an eye on your social metrics and pay close attention to when and how your online audience is interacting with your brand. But understand those numbers for what they are: leading indicators, not business objectives. Finding the right audience is more important to your real-world business objectives than reaching the biggest one. And even then, it really only matters when we succeed in motivating some action based on what we’ve shared. Y’know, in the real world. That’s why.