Customers are just like real people

KLM Surprise
KLM Surprise

Customers are just like real people

It was August 2010. One of the first big advertising campaigns I got to work on while I was a strategist at an advertising agency. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines had asked us to do a campaign about location based services – a pretty new field in digital those days.

We came up with the idea of KLM Surprise: based on open information people sharded on their social media profiles, we would surprise them with random of kindness to explore how this happiness would spread. It was insanely fun and rewarding to do. Not only to explore how to “get to know” people through their social media profiles, but also the logistics of spotting people and surprising them within a very limited amount of time.

We had been dry-running for three weeks before starting the campaign. And it was amazing. Passengers were super excited and happy. I was super grateful to the agency (Boondoggle Amsterdam), my colleagues (Tom, Astrid, Gaston) and KLM (Tjalling, Anna, Lonneke, Simonette) to be able to do this.

And then a tweet came in.

And it hit me like a brick wall. There was so much truth in this passenger’s tweet. Yes, we could do an amazing advertising/marketing campaign, but if we wouldn’t find his/her suitcase, it didn’t really matter, did it?

On the spot, I decided to quit working in advertising. I didn’t want the infrequent campaigns and marketing awards thingies anymore. I wanted to work inside of companies to change them to be less about ads and more about acts. To do more about the customer experience, products and services that would help their customers rather than merely talk about these.

The campaign went on to win a lot of international awards. And still, more than 10 years after, people regularly contact me about the campaign. But the change inside of my was made on that day.

The customer tweet did not only have a lasting impact on me, but also on the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines organisation. Years after, it is still referred to as the “suitcase principle”: you can have all the awesome marketing and advertising campaigns in the world, but if your basics (suitcase) aren’t right, you’re still failing as an organisation.
Convincing customers to buy products has become a war of who yells more and louder rather than who listens better. If you really listen to people, watch and analyze their behavior, you’ll see that your product is often chosen for lack of better and that most often the choice is influenced by past experience and by word of mouth way more than it is by advertising. Product fit, past experience and word of mouth are driven by what you do, your acts, so that is where you make the difference.This, while many of the greatest minds of our generation are figuring out ways to have people click more on ads, rather than solving true customer irritations. Many CEOs are never in contact with their customers. Most marketing spend is to acquire new customers, while existing customers do not feel recognized. Companies do campaign after campaign while new product or service development takes years. Companies ship things they did not test with customers and then need marketing to bridge the gap between what they offer and what customers want.

I do not see how this is a sustainable way forward.
So my plea is to advertise less and do more. Less marketing, more make-a-thing. Less yelling, more listening.

That is why I inspire companies to be less about ads and more about acts. I write about it, inspire people to change and above all, try and change companies myself.

Presentation: Acts, not ads.

Consumer expectations have changed. They expect more, faster, better and with better customer service. And when they don’t get it, they will complain. Offline but, more and more, online. Companies struggle to keep up with these new and changed levels of expectations. The only answer? Acts, not ads. Away from advertising and remarkable talks, towards really doing stuff. And that isn’t easy that requires to change companies.

Looking for a speaker on acts, not ads?

Or just someone who can do a decent Mexican Wave?

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