Disreputable Tech

Dilbert’s distrust of marketing exists for a reason.

Back when I had a regular job — during the Taft administration — my co-workers loved to drop Dilbert cartoons on my desk whenever marketing was the strip’s topic.  In one installment a customer asked Dilbert if he was lying about a product, to which Dilbert replied “No, that’s marketing’s job.”  This naturally reinforces the very stereotype that Seth Godin outlined in his masterwork All Marketers Are Liars.

The reputation of marketing people has been rightfully sullied because many marketing “professionals” destroy reputations — of their companies and themselves.  They fail to grasp both the mechanics of reputation as well as its essence.  Much has been written about the former since reputation in social media is a hot topic, yet the latter has been incompletely analyzed for high technology.  Reputation for a company and its technology products are intertwined, and failed market reputations have a number of causes.

I assert that marketing must be in charge of maintaining corporate reputation.  Marketing is not responsible for defining corporate/product reputation as that involves strategic business decisions and tradeoffs.  However, assuring the reputation is maintained and grows falls in marketing’s domain because they define the interaction with customers who in turn defines the public’s perception of your reputation.

The dictionary declares that reputation means “the estimation in which a person or thing is held, esp. by the community or the public generally.”  Thus marketing’s role is to assure the perception by the public is sufficient to achieve corporate objectives.  In order to do so, marketing operatives need to understand the elements of reputation, which are slightly more complicated than a typical Starbuck’s order (“I’d like a triple shot soy mocha, cinnamon frapomaco, extra foam, nutmeg, with a twist and a half gainer.”)  Though not exhaustive, the following short stack of basic reputation elements common to business and technology are essential and ones that marketing staff should have tattooed in reverse on their foreheads so they can review it every morning in the bathroom mirror.

Delivering on the promise: Everybody makes promises.  With technology the basic promises are that it will deliver some features, cause some expected outcomes to occur, and works reliably enough that your tech support staff will not require extra medication (and given some recent tech support interactions I have had, I fear some support teams are over medicated).  Failing to keep these basic promises is a fast path to fiscal oblivion.

Exceeding expectations: Merely meeting customer expectations give them no reasons to discuss your reputation.  Under delivering will, though in ways slightly less pleasant than attending confession after a Vegas bender.  However, exceeding expectations, even slightly, creates positive reputation and one that people will communicate to future customers.

Timeliness: Great products or service delivered late might as well have not been delivered at all.  Lack of timeliness is frustrating to customers, so you have to deliver within what they think is reasonable (no matter how unreasonable) or at very least within your promised timeline.  I once told Nokia the battery on my new cell phone didn’t hold a charge.  The department in charge of replacements took over a week to call and tell me they would send a replacement.  In that week Nokia’s reputation in my alleged mind fell, and I quit recommending their products.

Consistency: I’m an Oakland A’s fan because they consistently disappointment me.  Sure, it would be better if they won, but at least I know what to expect of them.  Consistency has value because customers know what to expect.  You can set expectations low as long as you meet or exceed those expectations consistently (in fact, there may be danger in setting expectations low and occasionally exceeding them by a wide margin, because customer may expect such surprises in the future).

Let’s put these four precepts into practice using Microsoft Vista as an unfair example.

  • The promise of a better and simpler operating system was broken.
  • If failed to meet expectations by a large margin.
  • It was very, very late.
  • However, it maintained Microsoft’s consistency in disappointing the market.

One out of four ain’t bad.  Oh wait, it is!  Perhaps this explains Microsoft’s faltering reputation.  Let’s try a different technology for contrast.  The iPad would be appropriate:

  • The promise of a “wow” device that redefined the relation between man and media was met.
  • It was beyond the public’s expectations, which for Apple are pretty high anyway.
  • It was delivered on time.
  • It arrived in a manner and style consistent with the public’s expectations.

Four out of four is a good score, and explains why Steve Jobs can afford to buy a new liver yet Steve Ballmer can’t acquire hair plugs.


Speak up! What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.