OPINION: How Much Should Direct Response Marketers Care about Customer Satisfaction?

by Jordan Pine on Dec 15, 2014 8:30:00 PM Digital Marketing, DRTV, Consumer Behavior

Editorial Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and advertisements expressed on the ERA Blog and other online entities owned by the Electronic Retailing Association are those of individual authors and companies and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Electronic Retailing Association.

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There is an inherent conflict between the companies that market your typical ‘As Seen on TV’ (ASOTV) product and their customers. The companies want to make a profit, of course, while also ensuring their product sells at a rate deemed worthy of staying on the shelf. Their customers want a product that delivers on the promises made in a TV commercial, and they want it for a bargain price. In most cases, both sets of requirements cannot be adequately met, especially inside the crucible of the fast-turning ASOTV end-cap.

This is evidenced by a quick perusal of the World Wide Web—or as my producer friend John likes to call it, the World Wide Whine. Two-star reviews abound, three-star reviews are special and four- and five-star reviews are unicorns. This gives the impression that in a majority of cases, consumers are not happy with their purchases. In the field, this had led to more than a few conversations around the office Keurig machine (because no one gathers around water coolers anymore) about why this problem exists and what to do about it. But I want to ask a different question is this month’s Field Report: How much should we care?

The knee-jerk answer, which is also the answer found in every best-selling business book, is a lot! You should treat any customer like you would treat your aunt or uncle. Ignore your customers and they will go away. The most important metric in business is how likely your customers are to recommend your product to a friend, and so on. But in our industry, there are quite a few problems with this philosophy. Allow me to enumerate…

1. Our products can’t possibly live up to the expectations set by our commercials.

You don’t have to use your product to pull a tractor-trailer or airplane to realize that every ASOTV commercial is essentially 120 seconds of bold promises. At minimum, it takes an entire day and a team of experienced professionals to produce just two minutes of good advertising—and in our business we don’t fill that time with bizarre entertainment like the brand companies do. We sell, and that means we show (a product performing flawlessly) and tell (using strong claims).

2. Most of our products are here today and gone tomorrow.

Customer satisfaction matters most when trying to build brands. We don’t build brands. Our products blow out the doors the first year and are shown the door the following year. Consumers are unlikely even to remember the name of a product, let alone build a positive or negative association with that name. And as for the name of the company that sold it to them…

3. Most consumers view ‘As Seen on TV’ as a single brand.

My first career was in the military, and I graduated training as an “Airborne Ranger.” When I used this phrase with civilians, they would inevitably think that I was either: a) some sort of forest ranger, or b) a pilot who flew planes instead of a soldier who jumped out of them. I use this true story to illustrate a point: Outsiders don’t understand basic things that insiders take for granted. Ever talk to an industry outsider about what you do and then get asked if you work for the “As Seen on TV company?” Most people have no idea that the ASOTV logo is not a trademark or that a dozen different companies (most of them fierce competitors) market and distribute products bearing the logo. This means the overall perception of ASOTV products is being set by the entire industry, so any individual effort to improve ‘our’ brand is pointless. For example, if you attempt to sell a five-star product for the higher price that would require, your fellow ‘brand manager’ will gladly sell a two-star version of the product for a lower price and take the business away from you.
 
Don’t get me wrong: An avalanche of bad online reviews has been shown to cause sales to fall off a cliff, leaving a company stuck with a warehouse full of goods and facing profit-killing markdowns to get retailers clean of their inventory. But move one step up from that worst-case scenario, and low customer satisfaction seems to have very little impact on DR success. So why should we care?

Image courtesy of tiramistudio, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jordan Pine is a consultant specializing in short-form DRTV and the author of The SciMark Report (scimark.blogspot.com), a popular industry blog.
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Editorial Disclaimer

The statements, opinions, and advertisements expressed on the ERA Blog and other online entities owned by the Electronic Retailing Association are those of individual authors and companies and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Electronic Retailing Association.