“Don’t link to the product itself in the campaign,” he said. “We’ve never had enough stock to match the demand. Instead, link to the category. Let users search for the product. They’ll at least order something else if it isn’t available.”
In effect, the VP was ready to let users face a huge inconvenience just to avoid going through the personal inconvenience of solving the inventory planning problem.
Spare a thought for the user. She’d expect to land on the product’s page and purchase it if she wanted to. Instead, she’d land on the cluttered category page and have to hunt for the product.
Plus, in the highly-likely possibility that the product was out of stock, she’d have to wade through the sea of options and find another product by herself.
In other words, the company wanted its customers to figure out the solution to a problem it didn’t bother to solve.
It’s unfair to single out that company though. Most companies don’t just commit similar blunders to add to their customers’ woes. They also refuse to learn from them.
The question is, why?
“How can we create TOMA?”
Business leaders often sit in air-conditioned conference rooms or go offsite to brainstorm over strategies for determining their brand’s positioning, creating TOMA, identifying disruptive technologies, implementing Porter’s 5-Force Model, and so on.
But they repeatedly ignore the most important question they should brainstorm over: “How should we keep the promises we make to our customers?”
The academic and business world is filled with dense definitions for the term brand. But as with everything else, the definition that truly matters is simple.
A brand is the sum total of the promises it makes and the ones it keeps.
Companies do the first part well. They use clever promos and sales pitches to promise customers that the product will make their lives better.
But they often ignore the second part.
Businesses focus so hard on their competitors that they fail to track whether their products live up to promises. They harp on the importance of top-notch customer service but leave customers to figure out the answers to their own problems.
Naturally, customers feel cheated. And since the entire industry functions the same way, customers accept want they get because they don’t have a choice.
But as soon as they find an alternative that addresses their unmet needs, they slip through the open back door… sometimes with plenty of fanfare on social media, but most times without a word.
Then, businesses complain that customers are finicky, unpredictable, and always demanding discounts.
But here’s the thing.
Such leaders commit the oldest blunder in the business rulebook: they keep their product at the center of everything.
Your product is not what your company sells. It’s the name outside the office door. Your product is your organization itself.
Here’s what it means for a leader.
Instead of doing things better than your people and dousing the same fires every day, you must empower them to contribute to systems and processes which in turn, enable your organization to constantly deliver on its promises to customers (and keep improving at it).
Your promises are responsible for the most powerful aspect which separates companies today: customer experience.
“If you want to build a great company, your product has got to be ten times better than the competition.” Today, that advice feels out of date. If you want to build a great company… your customer experience has to be ten times lighter than the competition.” — Brian Halligan
The rewards for keeping your word
When your company can consistently keep its promises, it can scale meaningfully by reaching a larger customer base.
Your customers reward you with their trust, which accelerates sales cycles, creates long-term moats, and makes you profitable.
Thus, by investing in customers, you reward your investors as well.
But wait! There’s more.
Your customers also help you figure out your brand’s position.
Volvo’s ability to constantly make vehicles that customers felt safe in, led to safety becoming Volvo’s brand position.
Burbn’s ability to constantly delight customers with the feature of photo sharing over and over again turned it into Instagram.
Amazon didn’t just stock everything under the sun; it also obsessed over efficiency in delivery. As a result, customers accepted it as the everything store. (The company’s stock price is proof.)
Content Sutra’s clients believe that we “take [their] expertise and turn them into powerful stories.”
The Real Positioning Gap
You can brainstorm over your brand’s position in a conference room. But the real position gets conferred upon you by your customers… the loyal and disgruntled ones alike.
Quit searching for the demographic gap to position your product(s) in. Instead, search for ways to fulfill the real gap: the gap in customer experience.
The easiest way to do this is to keep your promises. Everything else falls in place.