There are few more cathartic consumer experiences than writing a hostile, customer complaint letter to a large corporation. I had the pleasure of United Airlines providing me with the glorious opportunity to wage war with my pen. My letter below to the CEO, Oscar Munoz, did not earn me a free ticket, but it earned me a few extra miles for the effort and simply felt great.
Subject: Ua84r ewr to tlv
I know it’s been a rough time lately at United, but you really have issues if my Tel-Aviv flight today is typical (and you know as well as I that bad product is usually system wide and not one off.) You can change the name of your Business First service to Polaris as many times as you want along with the new Saks blankets, but the service on this flight was more business “Last” than Polaris. If you have bedding, should they not be offered? If you have coffee in the AM, should it not be offered? Never mind a refill. Are bathrooms (note plural) without trash spilling out too much to ask? Do you ever fly Delta or even Emirates business to learn a trick or two? Lufthansa? Not a people known for bedside manner, but they’ve clearly been ordered to smile! Ever eat in a good French restaurant where staff ask you if you need anything or are proactive? Maybe you are having a labor slow down? I would fire this cabin crew or drop them in the polar ice for a week to contemplate the word service or that misnomer for service called Polaris. Anyway thanks for reminding me why marketing without great product is simply fraud. Regards. Fred Horowitz. Seat 11e.
A theme for this year is going to be how big brands reinvent themselves to look “smaller” and more authentic. Between Amazon, Aldi and a generational bias towards less processed food, the big brands are under incredible pressure. But there is light in the tunnel. When the owners of brands invest in the “soft marketing” and brand building that is not price/promotion focused, they have a pathway to beat back the changing retail structure and dominance of low cost retailer managed private brands. The 2017 story of Cheetos creating a pop up restaurant is a great example what the winners will be doing over the next few years.
The Wall Street Journal: “The Spotted Cheetah, a pop-up restaurant small big brands specializing in dishes made with Cheetos, has sold out all of the roughly 300 reserved slots for its three-day run, say officials with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division that makes the snack … Spaces were gone within six hours of last week’s announcement of the opening, officials said, adding that there is currently a waiting list of more than 1,000 people should anything become available.”
“The Cheetos restaurant, helmed by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, will feature several varieties of the snack in close to a dozen dishes … Menu items, priced from $8 to $22, include Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos grilled cheese with tomato soup and Cheetos-crusted fried pickles. There are even desserts made with Cheetos, albeit the Sweetos variety of the snack.”
Sweetos? Now that’s something private label can’t do!
If you can’t beat them join them (or buy them) is the mantra of the largest consumer product companies for the upcoming year. With minimal entry costs due to the low costs of digital media, combined with easy to find quality contract manufacturing, little brands have spent the past few years getting big fast and causing real pain to the largest companies. With consumers in the mood to spend up for (perceived) quality, it’s easier than ever to get consumer trial for a new brand because price is not the driving consumer focus.
The Wall Street Journal started 2018 with a great piece on Unilever and how they’ve adjusted their global branding to meet the challenges of these fast paced “ankle biters”. As someone who was once called an ankle biter by a dear wall street friend (oxymoron), I can think of no better compliment or sign that larger companies never see the train in the tunnel until it’s too late.
We who disrupt are not ankle biters. We are going right for the jugular of their business models, but it takes time for those companies to feel the cut until it’s too late. Read the WSJ piece here: Outfoxed by Small – Batch Upstarts, Unilever Decides to Imitate Them, as a great primer on one of the key battles that will be fought in 2018.
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