The Future Never Comes When You Can't Nail The Present

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It’s all about the basics.

You know this. Your business knows this. To build a brand… you must know this. But the present is often harder to nail down than the future. 

Case in two points…

Case One: One of the world’s largest retailers. They are in direct competition with almost every other retailer (including Amazon). The other day, I found myself curious about the price of smart water. After checking out Amazon, I headed to this other large retailer. The term “smart water” generated zero search results (even though I have purchased this product in their store on countless occasions). I decided to use their intuitive navigation to see if this was a simple tagging problem. From the Groceries tab it was a quick jump into Drinks and Every Drinks (there was nothing in the Water tab). The “above the fold” section for energy drinks had four product listings. The first result was… wait for it… Feta Cheese. The Second search result was Red Bull and the third result was for Bocconcini cheese (the fourth was Starbucks Frappuccino Mocha). Feta cheese. Feta cheese was the number one result that their own navigation (not a type-in search query) generated. Sure, it’s a #fail. What’s make it a bigger #fail? This brand is constantly in the media talking about e-commerce, innovation, analytics and more. They have thousands of employees in Silicon Valley as a monument to their dedication in innovation and technology (even though HQ is miles away and in another state). I’ve seen their executives live on stage at major events touting their digital prowess and transformation. And on and on. 

Case Two: I’m a 100k traveller on a major airline (this is not to brag, but rather to create context that this brand knows everything about me… and I am considered in their top-tier of clients). Last week, I booked a return flight to Philadelphia (I live in Montreal). Several hours after the booking. I got an email from the airline. The subject line: Book your Montreal hotel today. The email reads: “Have you thought about where you’ll stay while you’re there?” With a listing of airline-supported hotels and prices. I figured I’d just stay at home. This brand knows more about me than almost any other brand in the world. And, the reason this happened is actually quite simple: their databases must be a mess. Without having full exposure, I’m willing to bet that that the ecommerce database, email marketing database and loyalty database are, simply put, not one database. Again, this is a brand where the executives and their PR machines are quick to talk about industry leading innovation and digital marketing capabilities.

Don’t talk about the future when the present is such a mess.

I know executives at both of these companies. I know the agencies that work for these brands. The brands are good. The agencies are good. The people are good people who want to do great things. Still, this is the customer experience equivalent of “death by a thousand paper cuts.” It’s also frustrating. The result really is 101 marketing and technology that has been around for decades, at this point. Instead of fixing the problems of the present, the brands put their marketing and platform business up for review and lay blame to their partners for a lack of innovation on the technology and marketing side. It’s hard for an agency to help a brand (or make them look good), when the true fundamentals are so lacking.

The data is also lying.

The real tragedy here is how the data will now lie. Why are water sales down? Why didn’t anyone open up that perfectly targeted and personalized email? And on and on. The data will be lying because the platform and infrastructure is flawed. This happens more than anyone will readily admit. Go ahead, do some random searches on your own, or look at how ineffective and un-targeted so many branded emails are. The brands simply don’t know that they’re sending the wrong message to the wrong person. The core is rotten. Still, brands will please the media and Wall Street with press releases, acquisitions and strategic partnerships in order to not look stagnant in the marketplace. Time and energy might be better placed in servicing customers and inquiries today with true excellence (hat-tip to Tom Peters).

Brands: don’t look to the future if you’re struggling in the present to get, keep and grow your customers today.