The Press, October 2007

Advertising and promotion are everywhere these days. Wherever you look there are logos, posters, clever adverts, corporate colours etc. A company has recently announced it will paint football-field sized advertisements on airport runaways around the world so you won’t be spared even when in flight. Companies are trying so hard to get noticed they sometimes forget the most important marketing job is actually on the inside of the company.

My experience at the recent Snow Patrol concert at Westpac Arena illustrates this. My impression of venue manager Vbase was a positive one, but it was damaged on the night.

Vbase manage a bunch of Christchurch venues – AMI Stadium, the Christchurch Convention Centre, Town Hall and Westpac Arena. Christchurch is lucky with the quality and spread of venues we have for the size of our city. In the main Vbase seem to do a professional job of keeping these venues running.

According to their website, Vbase is very customer focussed. “An event can only be great if the experience is great. Being a great host is about anticipating the unexpected and doing whatever it takes. We are responsible for making sure our clients and their guests at any event, big or small, have an outstanding experience.”

My encounter was different. I decided to duck out from the concert during the lead-up acts and grab some refreshments. Heading towards the bar I was surprised and delighted to find a small queue. I soon discovered the reason –none of the bars took electronic payments and all cashless customers were being directed to the one eftpos machine in the whole venue.

While the band played inside the auditorium, I spent the next 30 minutes lined up waiting to get some cash, trying to deal with a growing sense of frustration like many other punters. Finally with cash in hand I bought the intended refreshments and rejoined the crowd for a very enjoyable night.

Now maybe I was foolish to come along without cash, but in a society where you can use eftpos virtually anywhere it is easy to be complacent. According to the Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand has “the highest level of penetration of EFTPOS and ATM technologies in the world.” Unfortunately it hasn’t sufficiently penetrated Westpac Arena.

Preparing and managing a venue like the Westpac Arena would be a complex and pressurised task. I think Vbase generally do a good job of it. But I also think they failed a crucial marketing test – in the words of the old American Indian proverb “walking a mile in another man’s moccasins.”

Vbase would be well aware that they are only offering minimal payment options. But I am sure in the many, many hundreds of details they need to focus on when managing a large event, this is just one.

Trouble is for me, the customer, it is one of a few important things that contribute to a good night out.

Not being focussed clearly enough on the customer experience is a potential marketing disaster. In a recent major US retail study conducted by the Verde Group, more than half of the respondents reported that negative feedback from a friend or colleague about a shopping experience will prevent them from visiting that outlet altogether.

"This study is unlike anything we've seen before because it shows that for every 100 American shoppers, 64 people will be told about a store's poor products or services and no matter what that store does to entice shoppers - sales, promotions, advertising, marketing - those people will not set foot in their store," says Paula Courtney of Verde.

What’s so powerful about this word-of-mouth marketing, is that people in the study tended to embellish and exaggerate the negative experience in the retelling. And they aren’t likely to bother reporting it to the company involved.

This word-of-mouth power works right across industries. The internet has magnified and accelerated the power of dissatisfied customers to impact on a company’s brand. Every company has to be aware and focussed on the experience the customer is having.

The only way to gain an insight is to really immerse yourself in the world of the customer. Map out every single step of their experience with your product or service, no matter how small or insignificant it appears. From the time they initially think of you right through to them finishing with your product or service. Then try and rank these in order of the customer’s priority.

It takes some effort, and usually involves talking to customers, but doing this can really deliver some insights you might otherwise find hard to gain. If Vbase had done this they may have realised that putting obstacles between a man and his thirst is dangerous.

People are fascinated by clever promotional activities, but great marketing is often more prosaic. It is about an intimate understanding of how the customer encounters your company and how you can make that experience better.

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