Marketing & The Machine: Operations & Opportunities (Part 14)

The Operations and Opportunities series will posted on Tuesdays Wednesdays, and Thursdays through the month of August 2011. A number of operational issues will be addressed in the blog. For more detail, depth or individual information and answers, please contact Soltys, Inc. Comments and questions are welcome. We will post answers and responses.

Marketing is the energy required to run the machine of business. When a machine is running efficiently with gears meshing and processes moving forward, very little energy is required to keep it running. Starting and stopping requires significant energy and usually causes a series of business disruptions.

Businesses have been required to incorporate new methods, vehicles and relinquish some of the old standbys. It is not easy to make these changes without stops and starts. A phone call to make a very slight change in our newspaper subscription provides a great story. Like most newspapers, they are challenged with changes in readership, readership preferences and maintaining advertising dollar revenue so that the business has viability.

We have watched the shrinkage of the newspaper's size over the years and found ourselves reading the online edition more frequently than the print copy. We reduced our subscription to weekends only. Then earlier this year, they launched an app for the iPad which was much better than we had expected it to be. Easy to navigate, full articles, pictures and even full page ads in a format that continued the newspaper experience. Unlike some publications and broadcasters, the format was great. Advertising was integrated, not obnoxious pop-ups, the sections were there and even the famed political cartoons.

The call began because the customer call portal would not allow me to make the change without calling in. The gentleman with the pleasant voice on the other end wanted to be helpful. He was able to make the small change and then asked if there was anything else that he could help me with that day. I said yes as a matter of fact, we would like to convert our subscription from print to the digital edition.

His response surprised me. “I am sorry that you want to cancel your subscription.” I explained that I did not want to cancel it, simply to transfer to the digital format. He told me that he did not think that was possible and since I liked the newspaper, surely I would not want to cancel my subscription. I said no, I do not want to cancel, simply change it. He said he was glad that I did not want to cancel and would I be interested in the seven day a week subscription. I said no, I do not want to receive a print newspaper in my driveway. He then said again that he was sorry that I wanted to cancel. Third time is the charm and I told him to simply cancel the subscription.

This launched a whole new series of dialogue as his computer screen coached him through the customer response escalation ladder. After validating cancel several more times he had to transfer me to another person as he could not cancel the subscription. The lady who came on the line was from customer rescue. She was armed and wanted to tell me all the great benefits that I would not want to lose by canceling. These included the Sunday coupons, that online editions do not have all of the articles and that the app version was simply in a test stage but not ready. The big close was that I would lose my long time subscriber discounts and other benefits. I again asked for the transfer of the subscription, willing to pay for a seven day a week digital or app subscription and she told me that it could not be done moreover, I would not be happy if it could be done. She admitted that she had no idea what the online or app editions looked like.

Finally with great reluctance, she agreed to cancel the subscription pulling out a few more suggestions, Since, I was already paid for a year, just let my subscription run out or donate it. Too much time was invested. Even though I know that these two were just doing their job, I really had no interest in doing business with this department again.

The newspaper broke the marketing machine because there were no gears to make the transition and move the relationship down a different path. The result will most likely have far reaching impact starting with the person delivering the paper who lost a subscriber and a holiday gift. The app which was supposed to be ready for subscription still does not have a way to be paid for by subscribers and the online version continues to be somewhat crippled. The customer has choices – print, digital and an app. Only one makes money for the newspaper and there is no way currently to be able to reach all three groups and have them worked through the machine. More importantly, opportunities to push marketing and products are disabled without any way to even know who the digital readers might be, what they are interested in and how to keep them.

The newspaper’s machine is only set up to run for print and literally grinds to a halt for all marketing to the digital, online and app viewers. It will take tremendous cost and effort to rebuild and engage those customer relationships. A well-engineered and maintained business machine incorporates change so that customers and relationships are not just kept but expanded to seamlessly transition to new products and services.