The Dreaded Asterisk
I thinking of writing a new book, simply titled *, or maybe ‘conditions apply’.
The case of Coles being stung by the ACCC in the past few days for advertising ‘freshly baked bread’ despite the fact it was partly cooked months ago on the other side of the world is the last in a long line of..well let’s just call them white lies…from organisations seeking to seemingly trick customers into buying from them.
So we would all agree in hindsight that this behaviour is unethical. But how did the asterisk and ‘conditions apply’ come about.
When did we stop simply promoting product features and benefits to customers.
The answer of course is a long long time ago. The term “snake oil salesman” came from individuals selling supposedly miracle cures made from all sorts of intriguing ingredients – usually from the back of a travelling wagon.
In it’s pure form, marketing is a discipline that is very interested in what the customer wants and needs, and trying to match this with an offering from your company. Again, in a pure sense – the customer who likes what you have to offer and is satisfied with the way you offer it, will continue to buy that product from you, unless something changes in their world. The term lifetime value of a customer relates to this hopefully long term relationship where your customer continues to buy from you over many years. I have had clients for over 10 years, and clients for less than a year. Obviously the longer term ones I’ve been better at servicing their needs.
In recent years, however the following things have occurred.
1) Every market segment seems to have more competitors.
2) Many markets have become ‘price’ focussed almost in the extreme
3) The tactical communication choices of marketers have increased exponentially
So the world of the marketer has become quite tough actually – how do I get more customers, how do I find them, how do I communicate to them? – cue small violin for all those marketers out there.
But – and it’s a big BUT – the answer to this tough environment IS NOT unethical behaviour. Even if unintended, the marketer has no right to claim something that simply isn’t true.
The answer in fact lies in better strategic thinking. Working harder at solutions that may involve having fewer customers at a higher margin, coming up with better offers, actually talking to customers.
A fast food company advertising that their food is “all good” isn’t a claim that should be allowed because we all know the word good is associated with potentially more than it tastes good – it may infer to some people that it’s good for them. A supermarket advertising fresh baked bread that is 4 months old isn’t right. A cereal company advertising that their product is high in iron(whilst just quietly it has 16 teaspoons of sugar in every serve) has just got to stop.
Here’s a challenge to all companies out there. How about getting rid of the asterisk, get rid of the conditions apply. Maybe work a bit harder on your strategy and don’t sell your bread or milk so cheap that it maybe forces this behaviour from your team.
Marketers, work harder on your strategy and surveying customers and making real claims. I think we’ll all be better off if you don’t have to wait for the ACCC to whack you.