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A “real” example

After my recent post on the Three R’s of Web Marketing, I was challenged on the premise of being real with customers. Is honesty always the best policy? Well, nothing is always the right approach in any situation, but being authentic with your customers makes a lot of sense. Coke doesn’t have to divulge their secret formula if asked, but they don’t have to lie about it either. I ran across a recent case of extreme honesty in the face of difficult circumstances that is a good example of what “getting real” means.


What do you do when you have customers counting on your service and you fail? Many of us marketers would do nothing—that kind of communication is for the tech support department. And of course the sales reps need to be briefed on what to say, because they may be dealing with some angry customers.
Few marketers would decide to post a blog entry entitled “Anatomy of a(n ongoing) Disaster”—but that is exactly what DreamHost did, when they had a series of snafus that produced service outages for their customers.
DreamHost operates the computer servers that run other companies’ Web sites, so when DreamHost fails, their customers’ Web sites fail. Having the company’s Web site down can be a disaster for many businesses, but how many marketers would use that word to describe their own service to their customers? DreamHost did.
And DreamHost went into exhausting detail on what went wrong, which was actually a series of errors, many by DreamHost, but a few out of their control (by their suppliers) that made the problem as bad as it was.
And what was their customers’ response? Some changed to the competition, but many stayed. And the comments posted to that blog entry were overwhelmingly positive:

  • “I’m not going anywhere and this blog post is a big reason why.”
  • “Posts like this are the reason I love dreamhost and continue to pimp you guys out to all my friends.”
  • “…try not to beat yourselves up too much over this period of bad luck..”
  • “I have to say that without this post, I’d be outta here.”
  • “It’s rare to find a company who is willing to own up to their mistakes and be honest with customers.”
  • “…I am rooting for you.”
  • “Without this post I would seriously consider moving.”

Did every customer respond that way? No. There were a few flaming comments that took DreamHost to task. DreamHost left them in there along with all the positive comments, for everyone to read.
And then a funny thing happened. Famous bloggers linked to the DreamHost blog to show such a great example for a company being honest under fire. For all we know, DreamHost actually attracted more customers than it lost.
Now will marketing like this make DreamHost a success? Not by itself. DreamHost must actually fix these problems or their customers will flee no matter how honest they are about them. But this kind of authenticity may have forged stronger relationships. It would have been easier to keep a lid on information, to placate customers privately, or to make excuses. And customers are smart enough to know that.
Getting real is not just about avoiding ethical lapses, but about using truthfulness as a differentiator to build trust in your customer relationships.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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