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“There’s nothing like a bad product to screw up great advertising!”

True tales of an Arkansan adman

By Frank Cox, Jr.


The first time I heard this line, I just loved the truth of it. And in those cases where a company wants to market a product, and that product happens to be flawed, it’s the responsibility of the marketers to first understand how those flaws will impact the customer, and then work with the company to fix them, if possible.

Lots of gray areas here, though. Years ago, while working with a cellular telephone company, I suggested that to gain new customers, the company (which had the ability to do it), should analyze a specific customer’s usage habits, then automatically fit them to the most cost-effective plan possible. The result of this would be to immediately save the customer money, as well as create trust with the customer that he or she need not shop around for their cellular service with the knowledge that he or she would continue to get the best deal possible. (At that time, customer “churn” – moving back and forth between companies – was a huge problem.)

This particular company, as well as its competitors, had dozens of different usage plans. These plans would be explained (?) to customers who, then, had to choose which plan they wanted. Perhaps you remember having to choose which plan you wanted, never really knowing if that was the best plan for you. I do.

This “auto-optimized” plan idea would have eliminated any confusion. Plus, since no other competitor was offering such a plan, it would have been an incredibly strong differentiator for the company – the thing marketers dream about.

The reason why it didn’t happen was that, while the customers saved money, the company would have had a short-term reduction in revenue. Even though the longer-term benefit (including the reduction of churn) would have been great for the company.

Many companies live and die by their quarterly reports. Although the longer-term view would have been very positive, the idea died on the vine due to fears of short-term revenue reduction.

Given this, our task was to make their existing products and plans look as appealing as possible, which we did.

I still like to imagine how great the customer-focused, auto-optimized plan would have been. Sadly, we’ll never know. But, hey, it’s a new day—perhaps someone today will take this more customer-centric approach.


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