Let the 'United Breaks Guitars' Video Be a Cautionary Tale
OK, so I’m admittedly a bit late to the party on this since I was on vacation. With more than 5.3 million people having already watched it, the “United Breaks Guitars” video has become an internet phenomenon. (If you haven’t seen it, click here.)
For the last year I’ve been saying — screaming actually — that companies better have their acts together, otherwise they're sitting ducks in this new age of customer centricity. If your customer service, products and brand image aren't all buttoned up, you risk getting skewered on the internet, i.e., the people's media.
The video I'm referring to is really amazing to see. Here's the story behind it: United Airline's baggage handlers break a passenger’s guitar, and the next thing you know 5.3 million people hear about it in a catchy, four-minute ditty on YouTube. Viralocity at its finest (and scariest).
The song has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it on iTunes. For 99 cents, you too can help spread negative publicity about an airline. I hate to admit it, but I actually feel sorry for United. Well, to a point anyway.
As a marketer and consultant, I've seen every variation of apathetic customer service and crappy products sold by spin and hype alone. As a 30-year student of marketing and advertising — and, of course, firsthand experience — I’ve witnessed brands whose positionings were so far divergent from their actual customer experiences that you have to wonder what the C-level execs were thinking when they were sold hook, line and sinker on some overzealous, over-researched agencies' campaigns. I can just hear it now: “Well, our market research says that if you … ”
But none of that scares me more than the internet and social media, and their power to kill your brand with a song, tweet, Facebook status update, blog post, thumbs down, etc.
You should be terrified, too. If you're reading this column, let it be a call to action for you. Let my words galvanize you into looking into how your customers and prospects experience your brand. I’ll say it again — your customer service, products and brand image must all be buttoned up. I know I sound preachy, but how would you like a song written and gone viral about your company?
I strongly urge you to get together with your key staff members to pick apart every one of your company’s touchpoints to ensure every contact in every touchpoint is handled in a pristine manner.
To close out my sermon for the week, I want to leave you with a personal recollection from my early days in direct marketing. In the ’80s I was selling direct marketing media, and to hone my craft I read a book called “How to Sell Anything to Anybody,” written by a car salesman named Joe Girard. Girard had this rule, the rule of 250, which basically stated that any person you come into contact with knew and could influence 250 other people — positively or negatively. That one rule both terrified and inspired me. Here it is expressed mathematically: 1:250.
Thanks to social media, Girard’s rule has expanded just a little, I’d say. Take the United Airlines case, for instance, and do the math. It’s 1:5,322,806.
Oh, and by the way, check out the sequel to “United Breaks Guitars” here. It takes square aim at United's policies and people who refused to pay for the guitar to be fixed. It’s already climbing the charts.
Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert. You can email him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gilbertdirect or read his blog at gilbertdirectmarketing.wordpress.com/.
Jim Gilbert has had a storied career in direct and digital marketing resulting in a burning desire to tell stories that educate, inform, and inspire marketers to new heights of success.
After years of marketing consulting, Jim decided it was time to “put his money where his mouth was" and build his own e-commerce company, Premo Natural Products, with its flagship product, Premo Guard Bed Bug & Mite Sprays. Premo in its second year is poised to eclipse 100 percent growth.
Jim has been writing for Target Marketing Group since 2006, first on the pages of Catalog Success Magazine, then as the first blogger for its online division. Jim continues to write for Total Retail.
Along the way, Jim has led the Florida Direct Marketing Association as their Marketing Chair and then three-term President, been an Adjunct Professor of Direct and Digital marketing for Miami International University, and created a lecture series, “The 9 Immutable Laws of Social Media Marketing,” which he has presented across the country at conferences and universities.