A Painful Integrated Marketing Lesson

by Steve McKee

A Painful Integrated Marketing LessonThere’s never been a better time to be an amateur athlete, what with all the high tech, GPS-based gear out there that can entertain, advise, motivate, coach and track hikers, climbers, runners, cyclists and the like.

That’s not as true, however, for swimmers. Admittedly, it’s a bit more difficult to use (not to mention strap on) electronic gadgets when your sport takes place underwater. That said, there are a couple of recent inventions that have caught my eye. One is an mp3 player that transmits music to the brain through bone-conduction (I’m not ready for that one yet). Another is a wristwatch-like device that promises to track time, laps, speed and turnover for all four major strokes. Now that’s a welcome invention to any swimmer who hates counting laps (which, by the way, is every swimmer).

I became aware of this device several months ago, but was a little hesitant to buy the first generation (battery-powered gadgets seldom last long in a watery environment). But I’ve been slowly coming around, paying special attention to my own purchase decision process. It began with an article I read in a swimming magazine, a common way to discover new products. I then began noticing ads for the product in the same publication, which led me to go to the web to have a look. I wasn’t ready to buy yet, but the PR, advertising and online components of the marketing plan were all working.

A few weeks later I found myself in Best Buy and happened to notice they carried the product. I picked up the box, turned it over in my hand, and read every word on it. I still wasn’t ready to buy, but the retail plan was doing its job. Not long after that I went to a swim meet where the manufacturer had sponsored a vendor booth. I was able to slip the device on my wrist, play around with its buttons, and ask the rep about the warranty. Although I still wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger, he answered my questions satisfactorily and almost had me convinced. Chalk one up for the trade show program.

A few weeks after I got home, I received a postcard offering an exclusive 10% discount to meet participants. The offer was good for only a limited time, so I finally decided to go for it. The direct mail offer was the last link in an impressive and convincing chain that took me from unaware prospect to enthusiastic buyer.

Until I tried to order.

Everything worked well on the website until I entered the coupon code, which for some reason didn’t take. I tried again. It failed again. I was a little frustrated, but knowing these things happen I filled out a customer relations contact form. Shortly after I hit “send” I received an automated response, notifying me that the company would take up to 48 hours to reply. No problem, I thought–that’s pretty standard, and since I had waited this long another couple of days wasn’t going to hurt. It was a snafu, to be sure, but the e-commerce backup plan was working.

That was more than two weeks ago, and I haven’t heard a thing since. I don’t know what pains me more–the consumer dissatisfaction of not getting what I want, or the professional anguish of watching a perfectly good integrated marketing strategy go down in flames. Think about all of the time and money the company spent nursing me along, only to drop the ball at the finish line. I don’t want to mention any names, not only because there’s nothing to be gained by calling the company out, but because I feel a certain sympathy for it. What happened to them can happen to any of us.

The most magnificent plan in the world isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed if it’s not executed to the smallest detail. For reminding me of that lesson alone I’ll give this company another chance, and hopefully the story will have a happy ending. But how many people out there will just give up and move on if and when something like this happens to them?

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a portfolio only as good as its weakest piece, and an integrated marketing program only as effective as its weakest element. As the world of branding grows ever more complex, we must never forget that execution is (and always will be) everything.

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Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/stevemckee.

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