By Robert Tuomi
(WINDSOR, ON) – Some may wonder if marketing has a real role in business aside from painting pretty pictures of a company or issuing nothing but positive comments about an organization. Despite all the work done to create positive images it all falls apart the first time a customer is disappointed and sees right through the traditional marketing created façade.
A company that knows much about this type of marketing and how the discipline is changing to respond to new demands in the 21st century is Burlington, Ontario’s JAN Kelley Marketing. On November 11 Hamilton Spectator reporter Meredith MacLeod reported on a trip she made to Burlington to talk with its leaders. The company traces its roots to 1913 when it was founded by Russell T. Kelley. It is one of the oldest marketing agencies in Canada and for years was a staple of the Hamilton advertising community before moving to the city’s northern neighbour.
For most of its existence it worked for its clients, “creating polished appearances.”
This approach has long been de riguer. Indeed, for most of the 20th century advertising and marketing was largely one directional. The order of the day was sending messages, often highly refined, about the greatness of a company. These messages always pretended that the senders never had a problem and never did anything wrong and if they did it was the job of marketing to fix the problem.
That has changed. Chantel Broten, JAN Kelley’s chief strategy officer, told MacLeod that the, “future of marketing and brand-building is that rather than helping clients tell the story of how great they are we are helping them to be great. There is so much opportunity to help them do good things.”
One of the first steps in a program to make a company great is to solve its problems. This new task just happens to arrive on the scene at precisely the time many companies now have their backs to the wall.
They can no longer act as they did in the past. They can no longer ignore their customers as so many have done and even continue to do.
In today’s interconnected world they must admit to their failures and their on-going mistakes because if they don’t the social media will do it for them. In the past it was easy for a company to isolate its critics. Rarely would the media bother with customer complaints. To say it politely, such complaints were not seen as real news. This allowed corporations to ignore dissatisfied customers with impunity.
The critics had no sounding boards and were disconnected from other critics.
Now a couple of comments on Twitter or Facebook and a company can see itself slide from grace in about the time it takes to drive from one end of the Ambassador Bridge to the other.
Broten knows of what she speaks. She gives a very instructional example of work her agency carried out for GO Transit the outfit which runs a commuter network of trains and buses in the Greater Toronto area. It was, she reveals, to no one who as ever sat on a Go train or bus, a real surprise that the it had, “an image problem. Riders were unhappy with their experience and the system’s on-time record wasn’t great. They were viewed as uncaring and they were trying to transform from an operational focus to a service focus.”
The only real solution was to find a way for GO to visibly show it cared about those who relied on its transportation system. It was a grand chance for Broten and her crew to change the operation for the better. The marketers helped, “the transit authority establish and implement a passenger charter, customer training for employees and service ambassadors on each train. Customer satisfaction rates soared, along with on-time records.”
In other words the public transit system was transformed into an organization focused on its passengers. While such a change may have seemed obvious the challenge is that in too many commercial organizations customer issues are ignored. Today these companies do this at their peril with many, like GO, starting the process of transitioning from marketing being the department creating advertising slogans and tag lines to the department that is the instrument of change.
Companies are admitting that actions speak louder than words and words about bad actions can be detrimental to their business prospects. Now, if all businesses started to practice what they preach the customer would truly become king and queen. Sometimes change is good.
If you have a question about marketing, you’ve come to the right place. Let us know and we’ll give you an answer to help your business.