Blogging Out Loud

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All Aboard.

Consumer awareness is up and scrutiny is in the driver’s seat.

The old adage still applies: when the going gets tough, businesses need to do more than talk the talk, they need to walk the walk. Otherwise, informed consumers may jump ship.

I hesitate to even mention it, since I know we’re all miffed about The Oil Spill, some of us, depending on our political leanings, more than others. But I don’t want to talk about politics (after all, we are just getting to know each other). I don’t want to talk about the oil spill, either, except to say it’s tragic. While the cleanup has fueled (pardon the pun) some jobs, it’s cost thousands, too: according to The Daily Finance, as of early June more than 12,000 Louisiana residents had filed for unemployment. Then there’s the spill’s implications on the financial market, where BP’s shares have dropped considerably since April 20. There’ve been talks of a take-over. Heck, there’s just been a whole lot of talk. From a lot of different people. And people – consumers – are angry. Which begs the question: Will they forgive?

Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but don’t companies – whether they be BP, Toyota or the mom and pop that overcharged you on your last visit – have a responsibility to take responsibility? It’s the only way to keep consumers from jumping ship.

The Oil Spill has dominated so much of the news that smaller (although no less important) consumer issues have been lost in the fray. Chrysler’s recent recall of some 25,000-plus vehicles following complaints of sticky gas pedals didn’t garner nearly as much attention as the Toyota recalls of early 2010. One reason, perhaps, is that companies are learning to deal with disaster head-on. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, speculated in the LA Times: “Clearly, Chrysler and CTS [the manufacturer of the gas pedals] have taken a look at what happened at Toyota and said they don’t want that happening to them.” They’d be fools not to, as the LA Times continues: “In addition to facing more than 200 federal lawsuits over alleged sudden-acceleration problems, Toyota has also seen its market share slide in the U.S.” What is widely considered a public relations debacle on Toyota’s part – and BP is getting hit with insults far worse – is a lesson: consumer awareness is up and scrutiny is in the driver’s seat (this time, the pun’s intended).

Sometimes, when I’m trolling the supermarket isles or considering the message of a new commercial, I imagine the boardrooms where businesses dream up their images. It might sound funny, but I always think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Wag the Dog. In the film, Hoffman plays a Hollywood producer hired by the U.S. government to produce a war – “a pageant” replete with theme, song, visuals and celebrity “endorsements” – to distract the American public from a presidential sex scandal. Now, I already said I wasn’t going to get political, and I stand by that. But what’s so humorous about the Wag the Dog concept is this: it’s advertising and marketing. Without a slogan, a catchy jingle and a flashy package, most candy bars look alike. Without cutting-edge design and claims to certain safety features, most cars are the same. And oil, well, I’m pretty sure that for most of us, it’s all the same, too. To make themselves different, businesses give consumers something bigger to believe in, to trust. They make promises and invest in building their brand equity. Those claims should stand the test of time.

Like any relationship, there will be ups and downs; that is a fact of life. What matters more is how businesses deal with those “debacles.” Consumers are like jealous girlfriends – quick to fly off the handle and jump ship. But at the end of the day, whether you’re selling us cough syrup, free-range chicken, cars or something bigger, we simply want to believe – and trust – that you care.

Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.

About JJ Nelson

Freelance blogger for Vertical Marketing Network; food writer; bartender.

4 comments on “All Aboard.

  1. Myla
    June 29, 2010

    Now more than ever consumers are looking for value. In many cases, consumers are turning to the cheapest option only to turn their retail dollars back to a brand they trust. And many times, when consumers are looking for a new option- whether it be a restaurant, cable provider or hair salon, they turn to the court of public opinion available online. In a world where everything is reviewed – whether it be through Yelp or a product review on Amazon- and word of mouth can be transmitted across the globe in a moment- each and every opinion counts. If a brand doesn’t take responsibility, they are making a very costly mistake.


  2. Alice
    June 29, 2010

    As a consumer, we often rely on trust and an excellent customer experience to determine how we feel about a product, establishment, or brand. It applies to every day outings to more elaborate schemes at large.

    Like Nicco, we’ve all had experiences of doubt with a company, whether its through servicing your vehicle at an automotive dealership or through other venues. Personally, I think we deal with these issues every day. The impression that we’re left after any experience may deter any future relationship or may even possibly enhance it.

    My family and I are all loyal Toyota owners. We’ve remained loyal to the brand for over 20 years. When Toyota took a hit earlier this year, we suddenly became skeptical to the brand that we had trusted. We had relied on them for our safety and now that it’s put so many lives at jeopardy, we were hesitant to continue this relationship. However, having previously worked at an Advertising agency for Toyota, I knew that on a local level, we were doing everything we could to reassure our customers that we’re addressing all their immediate concerns and fixing the problem. Our mechanics were literally working around the clock. Seeing all of our Toyota employees hard at work, and with Toyota promoting their complimentary 2 year service plan, we were put at ease that they had taken their problem seriously and were compensating for breaking the bond.

    We should all accept our faults when a catastrophe hits and work on a valid solution. There has to be an immediate course of action to retain your client base and to regain the trust that may have been lost. Essentially the client experience is what keeps anyone in business and what builds the brand. I just hope that everyone is able to learn from the mistakes of others to prevent any future damage to occur.


  3. Danielle
    June 29, 2010

    Recently came across the story about the woman who discovered the mold glob inside the Capri Sun drink pouch. The woman posted the picture of the mold on her personal Facebook page and through the power of social media, the story made headlines. I checked out Kraft’s Facebook Fan page to see what was going on with the Capri Sun sitch including the company’s FAQ about the Mold incident. It is interesting Kraft chose to end the comprehensive FAQ with the notion that pretty much Mold Happens. I also saw the heated debate amongst fans of the Kraft Facebook page who thought the “Mold Lady” (as she was referred to) has been taking her reaction to the discovery too far – all of this dialogue in between other posts about the latest coupon tips and salad recipes. Social Media has changed the way both companies and consumers address news of the day issues or problems and I think we’re better for it.


  4. Nicco
    June 29, 2010

    This subject really hits home with me. I recently went to a Chevrolet dealer to have some maintenance done on my vehicle. I left the dealer when the service was complete and noticed shortly after that my spare tire was missing. When I went back to the dealer, I told them and the service person said it was never there originally when I knew it was because I had a special key to lock it and the repair they had done required that the spare tire be taken off. I asked to speak to the Service Manager and he told me that he would replace the tire at no cost. That was a critical moment for that Manager because if he didn’t replace the tire, I would never go there for service again and spread the word to others what happened. Although, he did replace it and even called me directly on the phone later to confirm that my vehicle was running well and apologized for the tire issue. This effort by the Chevy Service Manager will keep me going back to that dealer for service because I trust that they will do a good job and make sure I am pleased with their service. A quality relationship between a consumer and a branded product or service is key in the long run. Consumers will stick with a brand or service provider they trust and will go the extra mile to deliver for their customers even when something goes wrong.


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