Your Brand is Defined by the Customer Experience, Not the Slogan


When the 2007 holiday season kicked off a little over a month ago, US-based electronics retailer Circuit City introduced a series of TV commercials focusing on the simplicity of the digital lifestyle. With the ads, Circuit City introduces their latest moniker “Simplicity Guaranteed“. According to Circuit City’s Chief Marketing Officer, the new spots “illustrate how Circuit City makes it simple to Shop (on-line), Buy (in-store) and Enjoy (firedog services) your digital lifestyle this holiday season and beyond”. ”Simplicity Guaranteed” is the latest in a series catch phrases used by the retailer over the last few years. Previous slogans have included “Imagine That” (2000-2001), “We’re with You” (2001-2004), “Just What I Needed” (2004-April 2007) and “Circuit City Makes it Simple” (2005 Christmas Season)

All of these past slogans describe brand perceptions that Circuit City aspired to but failed to achieve. Why? Because a company’s brand is not defined by its catch phrase, logo, aesthetic style or culture. A company’s brand is ultimately defined by the experience they deliver to their customers and Circuit City has been unable to consistently deliver experiences that supported those brand promises.

The latest revival of the Simplicity theme is part of a larger strategic framework that I helped develop for Circuit City a few years ago (you can hear about it here). Making it Easy for customers to shop, buy and enjoy is one of the four key ingredients to the vision my team proposed. We also recognized that delivering experiences consistently supported the “Make it Easy” idea would require significant changes in processes, culture and internal success measurements. Almost two years after those recommendations were made, Circuit City has “re-branded” many of the same operational features that they have been touting for years with the “Simplicity Guaranteed” label, but has not done any of the heavy lifting required to support the long-term strategic vision of sustainable growth through exception customer experiences.

Marketing strategist Scott Glatstein suggests five steps for building a strong brand and optimizing customer experience:

  1. Identify your reasons to believe.
  2. Identify customer touchpoints.
  3. Determine the most influential touchpoints
  4. Design the optimal experience
  5. Align the organization to consistently deliver the optimal experience

Reasons to believe are those things that the customer experiences that support the brand promise. Circuit City has decided that Simplicity is one of their reasons to believe, but they have not executed any of the other steps suggested by Glatstein. Without those crucial components, the customer experience can easily fall short of the brand promise. Here’s an example:

nano.jpgOn Christmas Eve, we decided to purchase an iPod for a relative. In the weekend tab, Circuit City was advertising a free $15 iTunes card with purchase of a Nano priced at 149.99. Electing buy on-line and pickup in the store (A feature that usually does live up to the Simplicity promise) we went to the web to place the order. We were surprised and delighted to see the web price of $142.49, but noticed that there was no mention of the free iTunes card on the web. Here is the first indication of a problem. The tab touchpoint and the web touchpoint are not aligned in terms of the offer. This generates confusion and apprehension for the customer.


We made the purchase and left, with tab in hand, for the local store. When we arrived, the iPod was waiting for us as promised, but there was no $15 iTunes card. Our concerns about the conflicting offers are validated and we are now entering confrontation zone.

We showed the tab to the customer service associate who wasn’t sure how to deal with the situation. Someone else was brought over to correct the problem. He suggested to “return” the web order and resell it to get the iTunes deal. The CSA did that, but in doing so, the price went back to the advertised price of $149.99. The CSA called the assistant back and the process of “fixing the order” began. At one point, we were told that we owed another $0.70. At another we were going to get $).09 back. Clearly, the front line associates; the ones that come face-to-face with the customers every day, are not prepared to deal with this problem. The processes have not been optimized to deliver a great experience.

With the line backing up behind us, the CSA team finally found a way to make deliver the transaction with the free iTunes card at the price advertised on the website. The total in-store transaction time was over 20 minutes. Our expectations were not met and the other customers in line behind us got to share our experience as well.

So did Circuit City satisfy their 24/24 guarantee. Technically, yes as the web order was ready in less than 24 minutes. Did the experience reflect “easy to shop, easy to buy”? Absolutely not! Circuit City has not identified and evaluated all of their touchpoints against the “Simplicity Guaranteed” reason to believe. They have not designed optimal customer experiences that include these touchpoints, and they have not aligned the various channels and business functions to deliver an optimal experience. This may sound like an isolated incident, but it is not. Where else is dealing with Circuit City not Simple? How about rebates, scheduling an in-home service or getting a product repaired under warranty if you didn’t buy the extended service plan?

Circuit City was once a retail powerhouse. They practically invented the “Specialty Superstore” concept. Today they are struggling to remain relevant in what has become a commodity market. They have to compete with mass marketers like Wal-Mart and Costco who can price aggressively, niche players like Gamestop and Verizon who can beat them at the “authenticity” game and web marketers like Amazon and eBay who can always deliver a better selection and competitive prices. At $4.62, their stock price is trading a 52-week low and is flirting with a 5-year low. Circuit City will have to find a way to build a truly differentiated brand if they are going to survive. Simply adopting a new slogan that says you “make it easy for me” isn’t going to cut it. They must also consistently deliver a customer experience that supports the claim. Without that, the slogan only serves to set expectations that won’t be met and further erode the brand.

Many of you may have shopped Circuit City in the past couple of months. I would love to hear about your experiences and your ideas regarding how Circuit City could improve the customer experience.

The Power of Community

peavatars.jpgIn the ten months that have passed since I became addicted to Twitter, I’ve seen the platform used in powerful and unexpected ways. It was the first place that I heard about several news events like the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the tragic school shooting in Finland. It’s also been used to relay events as they are happening. David Armano (@armano) witnessed a teen save an elderly woman from being hit by an oncoming train. Armano posted updates of the events to his Twitter account immediately after it happened, long before either the Chicago Tribune or CNN posted their stories.

The most powerful thing for me continues to be the way Twitter facilitates the development of new and real friendships with people all around the world. At 140 characters per tweet, you certainly don’t develop these digital friendships overnight, but with a steady interaction over the course of weeks and months, you find yourself very much attached to these people. In many cases you interact with your digital friends more frequently than your physical friends and like your physical friends, these people are human; each with their own set of life’s ups and downs. When a digital friend shares good news, like the birth of a child or a promotion, the community responds with congratulations. Likewise, when they share bad news, like a sick child or the death of a parent, the community rallies around them with words of support and offers to help.

I’ve experienced this support from my digital friends first hand, so I knew that when Susan Reynolds (@susanreynolds), informed her Twitter followers that the had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the community would be there to support her. True to form, Susan created a blog to document her journey. In one of her first posts, Susan described how using bags of frozen peas helped to ease the pain following her biopsy. She jokingly named the blog “Boobs on Ice“. Shortly after, people started changing their Twitter avatars to “pea-vatars” and Cathleen Rittereiser (@cathleenritt) tweeted that we should all donate the cost of a package of frozen peas to a fund for cancer research. That little spark has now developed into a full-blown fund-raising campaign, named in Susan’s honor, called the Frozen Pea Fund.

Frozen Pea Fund logo

The site will officially launch tomorrow (December 21, 2007), the day of Susan’s surgery. Money raised will go to Making Strides, the breast cancer campaign of the American Cancer Society.

As of this writing, at least 145 146 people have changed their avatars to a Pea theme. Members of the community are suggesting ideas for spreading the message. CK (@ckEpiphany) suggested contacting Green Giant or BirdsEye (there’s an opportunity). Someone else suggested communicating the campaign to the head guys at Twitter. Tonight’s conversation has been almost exclusively centered on Susan with people getting creative with their tweets, changing words so that they contain the letters “pea”. Some have gone so far as to change their Twitter name (on Frozen Pea Friday I’ll be @DougPEAcham).

Wow, talk about the power of community. I often get funny looks when I talk about Twitter with people who “don’t get it”. They have a hard time understanding why anyone would “waste” time talking telling perfect strangers what they are doing. I don’t see it as wasting time. I see it as investing in real and lasting friendships. Susan is going to have a small army of digital friends to support her tomorrow and over the coming weeks as she recovers from her surgery. It’s a community brimming with compassion and I’m humbled to be a part of it. Won’t you join us?

¿Habla Español? and Other Direct Marketing Annoyances

enterprise.jpgEarlier this week, I received an email offer from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Too bad I couldn’t read it. It was sent to me in Spanish. Now I’ve supported Direct Marketing IT operations in the past, so I understand how this could have happened. Still, that doesn’t make it right. Companies who use direct marketing often walk a fine line between sending junk mail/spam and something that will be of value to the customer. The objective of course is to be highly accurate in the targeting to maximize response rate and minimize costs. Web-mail marketers don’t have the cost incentives that snail-mail marketers have, but they should still be vigilant to ensure that their marketing is, at a minimum, not an annoyance, and optimally, seen as something of value to the recipient.

In the case of Enterprise, I don’t know if just my record has been mistakenly updated to indicate a Spanish preference, or if this was a larger problem affecting many people. Apparently Enterprise either doesn’t know about it either or perhaps they do but don’t care enough about their customers to send a follow-up explaining what happened. Either way, it’s sloppy marketing and reflects poorly on their company.

With that as a backdrop, here are a few other annoyances that I’ve been meaning to whine about for some time now.


It’s bad enough that your monopoly (in my area) on highspeed internet access allows you to gouge me for your services, but when you send glossy, four color mailers to me every other day and usually send multiple copies (one for me and one for my wife), I have to wonder how much less I could be paying each month if I didn’t have to subsidize your highly inefficient marketing.


Geico must have one of the largest advertising budgets of any company. You can see their messaging everywhere from TV (multiple simultaneous campaigns) to banners flown behind crop dusters that fly up and down the Northern Outer Banks of NC and yes, I switched a year ago and I am saving 15% or more on my car insurance. So why do you keep sending direct mail pieces to me telling me to switch to Geico??? Do you not update your prospects list after people switch to you? Like with Comcast, I wonder how much more I could be saving if you stopped wasting money soliciting customers you already have.

Capital One

Back in August, both my wife and I received notes from Capital One saying that they would be raising the rate on our cards to some outrageous figure north of 20% in 60 days. That was an effective campaign for their competition as we immediately took the “offer du jour” from one of the other 10 credit card companies that solicit us and transferred our balances to fixed low rate accounts. Perhaps that’s what Capital One wanted, but clearly, the message that I heard was that we were not valued customers. Of course, Capital One continued their weekly barrage with offers telling me I can get low interest loans and even transfer balances at a low fixed rate to our newly zeroed credit cards. They never did raise the rate on our cards and I have not used any of their services since.


I could go on with things like misspellings and blatantly wrong names, but you get the point. Whether big or small, companies that choose direct mail/webmail, must earn and maintain the respect of their valued customers and prospects. Here are some thoughts on that:

  1. Take the time to validate your campaign at critical points prior to release. Was the target group selected accurately and was that same group sent to the production house?
  2. Are you ensuring that your data is scrubbed and accurate. If you don’t care enough to get my name right, why should I consider your product or service? Are you sending things addressed to people who no longer live at my address? Does the rest of you operation lack the same attention to detail?
  3. If you are selling a service (like Geico or Comcast) stop sending solicitations once your prospect signs up with you. I know that the target lists are often selected weeks ahead of the actual mailing, but it’s pretty easy to insert a process to pull names from the list just before the pieces are generated by the production house. A couple of weeks overlap is OK, but much longer than that becomes annoying for me and costly for you.
  4. Ensure that the message you are sending in a marketing piece does not conflict with other messages, whether from marketing or other parts of your organization.

What are your direct marketing pet peeves and what suggestions do you have for direct marketers to help them earn and maintain the respect of their customers?


Apparently Enterprise became aware of their Spanish email problem. Today I received another email from the apologizing for their mistake and offering me a discount or upgrade on a future rental. Which reminds me of another takeaway:

    • Make sure you monitor your campaigns to ensure that they execute as planned. When they don’t, as in the Enterprise case, make sure you follow-up with your customers with an apology.

      Today’s Indulgences are Tomorrow’s Necessities

      holidayad.gifI subscribe to’s monthly trend report and you should too. It’s jam-packed with great insights and it’s free. This week, I received an email from Trendwatching advertising their annual compilation report. In the graphic, I saw these words:

      Today’s Indulgences are Tomorrow’s Necessities

      It was accompanied by a couple of iconic branding images like the PanAm logo and what looked like a Digital Equipment Corp VT52 terminal. That got me thinking. Each decade has had it’s indulgences and aspirational luxuries which have gone on to become everyday necessities. Here are some that come to mind:

      • 50’s: Television, room air conditioner
      • 60’s: Air conditioned car, color TV
      • 70’s; Microwave oven, personal music player (Walkman), calculator
      • 80’s cell phone (in a bag), terminal and modem (PC towards the end of the decade)
      • 90’s: PC (early), Digital Camera, stock broker
      • 00’s: Daily Starbucks $4.00 latte (took less than a decade to become necessity), mobile web browsing device (also rapidly becoming a necessity)

      What’s important to keep in mind is that the migration of these things to everyday necessities has been the result of both technological advances and cultural/societal changes in the world around us.

      Technical advances have clearly been the enabler for the rapid transition of many recent items. In fact, it becomes increasingly difficult to look at these things in terms of the “decades”. The DVD player, for example, went from aspirational to necessity in just a few years and brought with it the death of the VCR.

      This collapsing timeframe means innovators, designers, entrepreneurs and marketers all need to stay keenly aware of the technical and cultural trends which drive these migrations and be ready to take advantage of those that are about to take off.

      In the spirit of leveraging the trend of social media, I would like to get your thoughts on the subject.

      • What things, considered to be aspirational or indulgences today, do you think will be necessities in the future?
      • How long will it take to get to that point?
      • How can innovators, designers, entrepreneurs and marketers take advantage of the opportunity today?

      The Web 2.0 Videos Worth Watching

      During my multi-hour marathon on Twitter last night, someone shared this video. Very entertaining, but for anyone who’s portfolios lived through the last Web bubble, it does get you thinking. Thanks to Greg Verdino and Karl Long for re-sharing.

      On a much more serious note, you may have heard about the controversy surrounding Facebook’s Beacon. Valeria Maltoni shared this video on her blog this morning. Raises lots of questions to think about if you maintain a Facebook account.