This guest post is by Kenneth J. Weiss, director of e-commerce for Hoover. Ken has a new book out titled Slightware -- The Next Great Threat to Brands. You can download the first chapter free at www.slightware.com.
App AbsurdityA few months ago, Apple took a huge PR hit when it released a "Shake the Baby" game in its App Store. When the animated baby started to cry, the user needed to shake the iPhone until the baby stopped. After a huge backlash, Apple simply removed the app and offered the typical "Sorry" press release. Not to be outdone as the leading classless iPhone app, Pepsi launched one in October to help users "Score with women." Enter the type of woman in question and the app would offer ways to make her feel bubbly. The app got plenty of coverage, but nearly all of it was negative.
The fashion industry has been hammered repeatedly for settinn impossible standards of "thinness" for women. So how does Ralph Lauren respond? By Photoshopping a model to non-human, stick-thin proportions and then firing her when she complained. The story broke in mid-October when Fillipa Hamilton was fired for being overweight. Ironically, the Photoshopped ad showing Fillipa was supposedly approved by Ralph Lauren himself. The company claims the ad was only intended to run in Japan. Somehow, an internationally known model and brand would be immune to the dynamics of the "World Wide Web," right?
Lose Data - Lose Customers
T-Mobile and Facebook are supposed to be brands that are good with technology. Well... both suffered massive data problems last month. T-Mobile experienced a glitch that compromised personal data and information for thousands of users. The company eventually came clean and said "most" of the data had been recovered. "Most?" How well is the company perceived if you are one of the people not part of "most?"
Facebook took a page from the corner-crack-dealer playbook. First it gets people addicted to checking their Facebook page with relentless emails, and then it blocks 150,000 people for nearl;y a week. How bad do they want it now? Some want it more and others have happily decided to go cold-turkey.
Banks You Can Trust - Technology You Can't
No industry has more trouble with consumer trust than banking. October started with Rocky Mountain Bank attempting to explain why it sent confidential information of more than 1,000 customers to an unauthorized Gmail account. Next, TD Bank, which bills itself as "the most convenient bank in America," had a technical problem that prevented deposits from showing up in people's accounts. Convenience quickly turned to panic when paychecks were vaporized. Bank of America followed with a glitch that stopped people from making ATM withdrawals. The problem then expanded to drive-ins and tellers. In all instances, competitive banks reported an increase in new customers.
The drive to do business faster and cheaper will continue to fuel the rush to technology, and mistakes are likely to continue. Brands need to realize that an apology may make the brand people feel better, but the consumer will feel differently once they've been burned by the brand.A note from David Reich: Ken's piece points up the need to think things through carefully by trying to put yourself into the mind of customers and non-customers. Had that been done, it's hard to imagine the examples of Ken's "App Absurdity" section would have advanced beyond the brainstorming session.
Embrace new technology, for sure. But don't forget to use good old common sense as well.