Can Marketing Be Too Successful?

Published On September 7, 2009 | By mbalogh | Blog, Uncategorized

We talk a lot about customer delight and how to turn irate customers into loyal ones, but how often to we prepare ourselves for the opposite?  What happens when we come up with that great idea but just can’t support it?  When we turn happy customers into irate ones bynot supporting our marketing?  In the end, is it a good thing or a bad thing? Not too far back Oprah got together with KFC to offer customers free chicken.  It was a popular marketing campaign.  Very popular.  In fact it was so popular there were reports of franchises not cooperating, long waits, and chicken outages.  They took a great idea and turned it into a slew of customer disappointment and franchise complaints.

Slashdot.org is a popular tech website.  It’s so popular, in fact, that it made a name for itself by accidentally crashing websites when good natured contributors post links to other sites they think are cool or offer cool products.  The Slashdot effect , as it’s become known, occurs when a popular website inks to a smaller site, causing a massive increase in traffic. This overloads the smaller site, causing it to slow down or even temporarily close.  Opportunity for the smaller site, lost.

I recently read an article about the total cost of launching a successful iPhone application.  It’s not for the feint of heart.  With nearly a billion applications downloaded from iTunes in the first nine months there’s a lot of opportunity for a great idea.  But what happens when you hit on that great idea?  Can you actually support hundreds of thousands of users with the majority jumping on board in the first couple of days?  Games like iMob couldn’t.  During those first weeks tens of thousands of individuals downloaded it resulting in sluggish and unresponsive game play.  That is, if you were one of the few that could connect to the servers at all.  Luckily for iMob, however, the idea was catchy enough that people waited around for increased bandwidth and server capacity but, in today’s fickle economy, we can’t all be that lucky.

Part of what I do is facilitate the sending of mass emails.  I try not to think of myself as contributing to the overpopulation of spam on the Internet because we actively engage our customers in an effort to serve them synergisticly.  One of our clients has managed to do this well.  Quite well.  So well, in fact, we’ve been known to blast campaigns with nearly problematic response rates.  One campaign nearly took down our servers but, luckily, we were prepared.  A quick switch of a few IPs, spun up the squid cache, and burst our connection throughput, and we’re back up again.  A close call we were able to recover from because we were prepared.  But how many organizations are not?  And what is the effect?

These are great cases of successful campaigns teetering on the edge of success and failure.  At some point we have to make a choice and tip the scales one way or another.  Do we go for it and make it right, or cut our losses and hope the positiveness of the idea balances out the negative experience.  Will the consumer give us a second chance or has dangling the carrot tarnished the brand reputation?  KFC cut their losses and thousands of individuals left empty handed, frustrated, and hungry.  The creators of iMob did the opposite and our servers were online and responsive by the time the west coast woke up and checked their email.

If you decide to cut and run that’s it.  Game over.  A great idea, like iMob, or a great campaign, which may later proved to be fantastic and profitable, will never have existed past an aggregating customer experience like that of the KFC promotion.  Customers who walked in your door smiling leave angry.  Contrast to a successful campaign with an infrasturcture ready to support it at a moment’s notice.  Sure there’s a hiccup here and there, that can be expected.  It’s what you do after your campaign is a success that can make or break it.

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