Do brands suffer from Shakespearean hubris?

Can you tell I studied English literature at university? To be honest it’s not often I draw upon my degree as part of marketing, however, sometimes there is a strong whiff of Shakespeare in the business world.

I am thinking more about the Tragedies rather than Midsummer Night’s Dream (although there are times when marketing sometimes becomes slightly farcical…Snapchat’s Ouija promo being a case in point). When I look at the rather obvious contender, Tesco, I can’t help drawing comparisons to one of the bard’s most infamous protagonists, Macbeth. Without being overly dramatic, one can plot each step in which the brand has dis-engaged with its consumer in the belief that they are somehow invincible. At least this is how it seems, and certainly UK consumers appear to be voting with their feet on this one.

Tesco, of course, are not the first nor will they be the last. Apple, or rather Macintosh, was not always the lauded brand it is today. It disappeared from view after IBM overtook it in terms of sales, only to rise again, and it remains to be seen what will happen next without the influence of Steve Jobs. Blockbuster, famously disregarded the digital revolution until it was too late. And the demise of Woolworths left a gaping hole in our high streets until Pound Land took over. HMV, whilst still hanging on by a thread in various guises, is certainly not the ‘go to’ brand for music in the same way as i-Tunes has now become.

The common theme? They mistook repeat sales for loyalty. And in doing so they forgot that customers will always be far bigger than the brand. Macbeth always thought (with the encouragement of his Mrs.) that if he could kill the competition (literally) and anyone else who stood in his way, all else would follow. And, as is the nature of all Shakespearean tragedies, his hubris was his undoing.

I realise I sound like the voice of doom, however, customers will always do what they want, fickle bunch that they are. That means brands have to know their place. And their place is a grateful participant in their customer’s lives. This means giving them what they want, how they want and when they want. Not the other way around. Of course this is not an easy task. Brands that succeed in appealing to customers by their actions and their philosophy, I am thinking of Ben and Jerrys, have something of the humble about them. Something that Macbeth could have done with.

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Ten tips on the art of Frank conversation

1. We have two ears and one mouth. Listen. Really listen. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say.

2. If you are interested, you will appear interesting.

3. Avoid repeating their name just for affect. You’ll sound like a 1970’s car salesman.

4. Learn from Harold Pinter. There is beauty in a pause.

5. There are always going to be people who talk over you. Grit your teeth and know that silence can be golden.

6. Be succinct.

7. Use those adjectives judiciously. Less is definitely more.

8. Summarise what you have just heard. This handily ensures that the other person feels they have been listened to and that you understand.

9. Be in the moment. Of course you are busy. Everyone is busy planning the next hour/day/week/month. But if you are planning in your head, it will show. Unless you an expert poker player.

10. It’s ok to show emotion. No really it is. In fact a face that registers nothing is distinctly unnerving. However, if you are likely to show a trace of anger, take a breath. The mere act of doing so releases the tension in your face.

Frank conversation is not just about your friends, colleagues and peers. It’s about your customers too. Every single one of these points are absolutely pertinent to your communication strategy

1. We have two ears and one mouth. Listen. Really listen. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say. Brands can no longer talk at customers. They need to talk to. And this means asking for, accepting and acting on, feedback.

2. If you are interested, you will appear interesting. Brands who deliver content relevant to me, in the channel of my choosing, are interesting.

3. Avoid repeating their name just for affect. You’ll sound like a 1970’s car salesman. Personalisation is great. No-one likes an email that reads ‘Dear valued someone’. However, be careful that you don’t over do it. Re-engagement is a wonderful tool but you can feel stalked if the opt out isn’t clear.

4. Learn from Harold Pinter. There is beauty in a pause. Ask your customers how often they want to hear from you. Both M&S and John Lewis have taken this to heart. Your data team won’t love you but your customers will.

5. There are always going to be people who talk over you. Grit your teeth and know that silence can be golden. Be the brand that consistently listens.

6. Be succinct. Be benefit lead. Always. Why should someone listen?

7. Use those adjectives judiciously. Less is definitely more. Creatives everywhere wince as clients and client services insist on adjective confetti. Slice, dice and cut through it all.

8. Summarise what you have just heard. This handily ensures that the other person feels they have been listened to and that you understand. Use any means to get feedback. Then tell your customers what you are doing about it.

9. Be in the moment. Of course you are busy. Everyone is busy planning their next hour/day/week/month. But if you are planning in your head, it will show. Unless you an expert poker player. Of course you have a 12 month marketing plan. But deployment is not the end. Measurement is vital to drive the next phase. If you are always thinking ahead to next campaign you will miss the insight coming out of this one.

10. It’s ok to show emotion. No really it is. In fact a face that registers nothing is distinctly unnerving. However, if you are likely to show a trace of anger, take a breath. The mere act of doing so releases the tension in your face. Well no brands should ever be angry with their customers (as frustrating as they can be). However, there are numerous examples of brands not treating customers with respect or empathy. A metaphorical breath is ensuring you have good social media and customer service governance.