Friday, March 28, 2008

Once upon a time in marketing: Why stories beat fact sheets

Is your marketing out of sync, asks Seth Godin

Everyone is a critic these days, Seth Godin said yesterday in an online seminar.

Ordinary folk (who may have never said a peep about bad service in the past) now feel free to fight back online. As Seth said, we all love good stories, like when he had elective surgery and they shoved him into the autopsy room by mistake. And we love the stories about companies that go to extraordinary lengths for customers like the rep from Zappos who sent flowers to a bereaved customer. Or the way has real technicians answering every call in person.

That's the stuff we remember and tell others.

Hearing Seth speak so eloquently empowered me to tell my story, the one that has bugged me for a week. I woke up last Thursday morning in the most deliciously comfortable hotel bed wondering why the hotel sucked. I've stayed in cheap hotels that messed up, but this one was beautiful, pretentious and the worst of them all.

I'd booked Hotel 57 on 57th Street in New York using and paid in advance for three nights.

I was very excited: a smart hotel, three days in New York, a double bed without my twins taking up 90% of the space, interesting work and the thought of going to the theater. The high life beckoned.

Part of the problem was my expectations had been raised by's advertisement on TV and YouTube (see below). The guy gets carried to his room by the porters and along the way he says: "Are you just treating me special because you know I booked with and you know I am going to write a review of my stay?"

The response is, "Er, yes."

So here is the review that asked for:

Promotion on TV and YouTube: Excellent. Funny. I love it.

Your booking process: Great. Easy.

The hotel: Awful. I hate it.

What happened? They were overbooked, I waited seven hours for a room, I came back to the hotel four times to see if it was available, I got snooty service and no one ever apologized for the delay until I begged for one.

As Seth Godin says, bad service is an opportunity. It is a chance for companies to show they can rise above the rest by going into recovery mode. It is also a time to talk to customers when they are feeling some raw emotion and may actually tell you what they really think instead of what you want to hear.

All the finest sheets in the world are not enough to compensate for bad service. In five years, what will I remember? The fancy sheets or the snooty man at the front desk who just wouldn't apologize. Not even a single sorry.

The story could've turned out differently. When I told a customer service rep at Hotel 57 a few days later what had happened when I arrived, she was appalled by her colleague's behavior. She listened, she said all the right things, but it was too late.

There's really nothing new about this story is there? But these are the stories that are now flooding the Web. Better think of some ways to prompt your most powerful advocates to tell some of your epic tales.

By the way, I caught Seth in a Webinar on RainToday where he was talking about his book Meatball Sundae. Thanks for letting me listen in.

Posted by Internet Marketing Report Online blog editor Julie Power on Friday March 28 at 8 a.m.


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