Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sorry, no iPhone: T-Mobile's customer letter, written by their chief marketing officer, badly misses the mark

The past few weeks have been a great time in marketing education – I assume Harvard and other universities are trying to figure out exactly how to add in the recent marketing mistakes into their curriculum.

First, of course, was the Netflix debacle, or actually debacles. On July 12 Jessie Becker went on the Netflix blog to announce that they were raising their prices by separating out streaming from DVDs. The reaction was epic with well over 12,000 comments posted to the site.

Then came CEO's "I messed up" blog post of September 18 where Reed Hastings, well, messes up.

The problem, which any husband could tell you, is that an apology shouldn't be followed by claims that, while "I am sorry, I am still actually right." Not good. And if such behavior doesn't always end in divorce, in business it often ends in goodbye customer. (And the some 27,000 comments on the site pretty much tell Netflix that.)

Yesterday T-Mobile made a marketing mistake, as well. The good news is that I don't think it is nearly as epic as Netflix's, but then, how could it be. Netflix is this year's king of marketing suicide. So what did T-Mobile do wrong? It said it was sorry, then tried to say it was right (in a way).
Here is how the letter by Cole Brodman, Chief Marketing Officer, T-Mobile USA, begins: We’ve heard from many customers who love their T-Mobile service, but are disappointed that we don’t carry the iPhone. To these customers, first, thank you for your business. Please know that we think the iPhone is a great device and Apple knows that we’d like to add it to our line-up. Today, there are over a million T-Mobile customers using unlocked iPhones on our network. We are interested in offering all of our customers a no-compromise iPhone experience on our network.
OK, not bad. T-Mobile is sorry that it won't have the iPhone this year, but maybe some day, right?

But then they make the same bad mistake too many marketers make. Here was a simple message to those customers that want an iPhone that basically said "hey, we're working on it."

But then Brodman can't stop himself, he must try and sell customers that want an iPhone an Android unit instead.
In the meantime, we continue to bring to market some of the most advanced, cutting-edge Android devices. Today, I had the chance to take the stage at the Mobilize event in San Francisco and introduce our fastest 4G smartphones ever, the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Amaze. We’re very confident that these Android smartphones rival or beat any smartphone out there in terms of functionality, speed, overall experience and features – including the iPhone.
Maybe he should have said it this way: "I know you want an iPhone, but I'm sorry that we won't be able to sell you one. BUT, you really should buy this instead, it's better than an iPhone, you fool."

Good thing T-Mobile doesn't have comments on their blog or they would have heard an earful.

If rule number one of sales and marketing is listen to the customer, rule two is surely then don't turn around and tell the customer they are wrong.

The perfect way to handle this would simply to say they want the iPhone, too, and that they are working on getting it. Then customer really want an iPhone have a decision to make: if they like T-Mobile's service they can stick around and wait for the iPhone, if they don't they will leave anyway.

But here you are basically saying that the customer is wrong to want an iPhone so we want to lock you into another device. If the customer really wants an iPhone they are going to be furious at the bait and switch.