Marketing & Communications

Is the Customer Always Right?

By • November 5, 2012

As I mentioned last month, there’s probably never been a more exciting, but challenging, time for association leaders to build, maintain and sustain their brands.So I was surprised to learn recently that the marketing and communications director of a well-respected, international association—which by all accounts is doing many things right for its members and industry—was having a tough time gaining approval from the association’s marketing committee. The challenge wasn’t a matter of budget approval; it was about getting approval for the director’s recommended redesign—a much-needed update of the association’s brand.

  • Give your internal and external customers all the facts they need to make an informed decision.
  • Our research shows the No. 1 communication problem association executives think they have is the inability to cut through the noise and clutter of all the entities vying for members’ attention.
  • Association communication professionals tend to be very cautious about changing their branding. Even if more compelling options exist, many fear that a dramatic departure from the norm will render their image unrecognizable to members.
  • Consider taking your association brand in a direction that sets it apart, i.e., be the needle in the haystack—not the haystack.

From what I understand, everyone at the organization agreed it was time for an update to the association’s image, so a designer was commissioned and came up with a state-of-the-art design. The new look was a big improvement over the association’s current creative presence. The problem wasn’t the new design; it was getting the committee to move forward with it.

This leads me to a poignant blog post from @deirdrereed that highlighted Kivi Leroux Miller’s article, You Are Not Your Target Audience. Miller said you need to get feedback from, and give autonomy to, people inside and outside your organization who most fit your target demographic. After all, as marketers and communicators, we should continually strive to initiate conversations that allow us to stay informed and become savvier about the needs and wants of our customers.

By all accounts, the marketing committee in the example above was most similar to the association’s target audience. But, does that mean they were right and the association staff was wrong about how to best evolve the association’s brand?

Is the customer always right?

Let’s assume that the customer is always right. Whether you are asking your members for feedback on how they would like to receive the association’s communications or seeking approval from internal board members for a new branding initiative, if the “customer” is going to be part of the decision-making process, you must ensure they understand the goals and objectives of your brand and the competitive landscape like you do.

When faced with a choice, most of us (present company included) tend to choose the safe and familiar route because we are afraid that if we do something dramatically different, our customers won’t recognize us as the association we have always been.

As Hank Berkowitz points out in this month’s lead story about Association Adviser eNews’s new communication and benchmarking survey, the number one problem that association executives believe they have with their member communications is an inability to cut through the noise and clutter of all the entities vying for members’ attention. What do you think would be more effective at achieving this goal: A) minor updates to your brand that are familiar and safe, or B) an innovative approach that breathes life into the organization and helps the association look like the forward-thinking leader that it truly is?

I’m not recommending that you hastily do away will all the branding, trust and goodwill your organization has built up over the years, just to show you can innovate. But, now is not the time for maintaining the status quo. Your members are too busy, and too many other voices out there are vying for their attention, to take them for granted. To quote Don Draper from the AMC series Mad Men, “You want to be the needle in the haystacknot the haystack.” Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always gotten—and that’s just not good enough by today’s standards.

Dana Plotke has worked in B2B marketing and communications for more than 15 years, with a focus on association media and events since 2002. She leads the marketing efforts of Naylor, LLC.