News & Views

Risky Business

by Alex Jenkins

There's an alarming stat in Bain & Co's 'Closing the delivery gap' report from 2005: 'When we recently surveyed 362 firms, we found that 80% believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. But when we then asked customers about their own perceptions, we heard a very different story. They said that only 8% of companies were really delivering.'

Yikes. That's a huge gap between the value companies believed they were delivering and the value customers thought they were receiving from a company. Maybe things have drastically changed in the nine years since that report came out... but I'm sceptical.

So what happens when you become so confident in the delivery of your core service that your company starts making even bolder claims? If you're Google and you want to tinker around with wearable tech and wifi-broadcasting balloons, fine. As long as search still works, knock yourself out.

But as brands try new ways to boost relevance and eke out some meaning in people's lives through ever grander gestures, I can't help wondering if they're setting themselves up for a fall. 

See, for example, the Australian mobile operator Optus and its shark-detecting buoy. Personally, I think it's a great idea and has just scooped the innovation Grand Prix at Spikes Asia. But what happens if – God forbid – a shark isn't detected. Why risk that? And why risk the ire of your subscribers of investing money in shark-spotting tech when they're still complaining about network coverage in Sydney?

Similarly, the Cannes Lion-winning Nivea Protection Ad. Nice use of tech and a great way of manifesting the brand promise. But what happens if a sodden band disintegrates from a child's wrist and they go missing without the parent being alerted. As a sun-cream brand, how culpable do you want to be for a child's safety?

And if you want to talk about really putting your brand in the firing line, it'd be remiss not to mention Lifebuoy and its commitment to keeping every child in the Indian village of Thesgora alive as part of its Help a Child Reach 5 initiative. That's quite a promise to live up to.

However, in addition to potentially setting themselves up for a fall, these brands have something else in common. Firstly, they're all operating in commoditised sectors where differentiation can be a struggle. If there's one thing that these campaigns do it's provide clear differentiation (my own mobile provider has never once offered to protect me from so much as a goldfish attack, the uncaring swine).

Secondly, you'd need a heart of cold, cold stone not to feel the faintest murmur of emotion when considering what these campaigns are trying to achieve. I think it's fair to say that few of us feel strong – or at least positive – emotions about a telco, a bar of soap or a bottle of suncream. But, by attempting a big, bold undertaking like protecting children, these brands begin to operate in that emotional space and, as the IPA's The Long and the Short of It report outlines, emotional advertising can be twice as efficient as rational advertising and deliver twice the profit.

This isn't to say that a company like Optus shouldn't address complaints about customer service and network coverage, but that, if you're a telco, those should be hygiene factors – the basics of your business which form the gap highlighted in Bain & Co's report. But if you are capable of delivering what your brand claims to deliver, then pursuing ventures which demonstrate your values, differentiate you against competitors, show you as future-facing and a positive contributor to the world while potentially delivering twice the profit well... it doesn't seem such a risky business after all, does it?