Apple

What Online Dating Taught Me About Brand Loyalty

Applewalmart

I’ve often joked that I’m a lifetime member of eHarmony. Which is my way of laughing off the fact that I haven’t found love on the online dating service – despite repeated tries over many months.

Friends have accused me of being too picky, too ambivalent, too idealistic.

As if those are bad traits…

Looking back, I think my first – and gravest – mistake was getting sucked in by those sappy TV commercials and assuming my dream woman would just drop into my virtual lap with little time or effort.

Accordingly, I started developing feelings for my first “match,” based entirely on a fantasy I had concocted around a few breezy email exchanges.

Naive, silly boy.

The fact is, I didn’t have nearly enough data to truly “know” this person, so I relied on my imagination to fill in the blanks.

When we finally met face-to-face, the actual woman showed up (as did the actual man), and there was no actual love connection.

A similar pattern plays out as consumers interact with companies and brands. You develop an initial impression (or fantasy) based on limited data: an ad campaign, a friend’s opinion, a cool logo. It’s only when you have a personal encounter with a specific company/product/service that you get a truly authentic experience. And it usually sticks.

My experience with Apple is a prime example. Raised on PCs, I didn’t have much experience with Apple computers. But I had admired the company’s marketing campaigns and cool factor. When it came time to replace my aging HP, I decided to give Apple a try. Fast-forward a few years, and I’m now a proud and avid user of an iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. I suppose that officially qualifies me as an Apple fanboy, but it’s only because the company lived up to its hype for me.

And speaking of fanboys, my mom most certainly functions as one for Walmart. She lives in a small town and considers it a treat to venture to the shopping mecca and pick up some greeting cards, yarn and a prescription refill. Despite her Walmart enthusiasm, however, I consider a trip to my local Walmart as something akin to being waterboarded. Sure, I appreciate a bargain as much as the next guy, but my first experience with my neighborhood Walmart carries painful memories of derelict crowds, disorganized merchandise, butt-ugly displays and surly sales associates. I’ve gladly decided to place my loyalty and dollars behind Target, a retailer that created what was a far more positive first experience.

For professional service companies, brand preferences most certainly boil down to a personal experience with a specific individual(s). I may opt to have my taxes prepared by H&R Block (if I receive a promotional discount) or a small independent professional (based on a colleague’s recommendation), but my actual experience with a provider will determine whether I choose the same one the following year or look elsewhere.

Which makes me wonder why companies don’t spend more time and money on the hiring and ongoing training of their people.

A glitzy marketing campaign can absolutely create buzz and attract customers.

But it’s the actual consumer experience that builds the brand loyalty that builds brands.

 

iPad 2, You Complete Me.

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After last Saturday’s crushing denial of Apple’s newest coveted device, I debated whether I would subject myself to the same barbaric ritual two weeks in a row.

Honestly, it wasn’t much of a debate. The stubborn, competitive side of me beat the rational, level-headed side hands-down.

This time, however, I was wise enough to understand the table stakes before going into battle. I arrived at the mall at about 5:30 a.m. (beating my previous time by more than an hour). My reward for this lunacy was to earn spot #5 in line, which quickly slipped to #7 when two “friends” of those ahead of me arrived.

My position was a definite improvement from last week’s placement (#25), but it would be a few hours until I found out whether I would be walking out a champion or a stooge.

Thankfully, I walked out a champ. As did most of the roughly 100 co-fanatics standing alongside me. Not only had the store received a healthy shipment of iPad devices the afternoon before, but they apparently were welcoming a second shipment as we were standing in line. It was a good morning to be a lemming.

After several rounds of handing out vouchers to match individuals with their chosen model(s), the doors to the store officially opened. I must say the process was quite well-organized, and the Apple team could not have been more accommodating and friendly. One of them even high-fived and congratulated me as I left the store.

So what did I do when I arrived home? Did I tear open the box, fire that puppy up and begin savoring all of its innovative goodness?

Nope, I laid down and took a nice long nap. It had been a long morning.

And when I awoke, did I scurry to begin exploring the device I had worked so hard to secure? No chance. I had errands to do.  

Looks like it might take awhile for us to become acquainted. 

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Some of my peeps.

Bobbing for an Apple: In Pursuit of an iPad 2

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That was the scene at about 7 a.m. on Saturday at the Apple store in suburban St. Louis. Scads of eager iPad 2 cravers. Bleary-eyed, but hopeful we would emerge in a couple of hours with a shiny new device (or two).

I had arrived at about 6:45 a.m., earning spot #25, which was noted on the ragged cardboard square handed to me by a cheerful security guard (“You here for a computer?” she asked, to which I responded, “I think.”)

Little did I know my tentativeness would be so well-founded.

Turns out the majority of us early-rising lemmings would leave the building clutching little more than deflated tablet dreams.

At about 7:30, a well-meaning Apple employee explained to the growing crowd that the “inventory specialist” was currently reviewing all the available stock and would join us at about 8:30 to hand out vouchers that matched each person with his or her chosen device(s). He delivered the same speech several times, moving down the line of consumers so everyone could have the benefit of hearing the process.

“That’s nice of him,” I thought, while hoping the thorough approach meant the store had substantial stock to distribute to its 100+ waiting customers. 

Then promptly at 8:30, the “Inventory Specialist” made his anticipated entrance, explaining that they actually only had three models available: a white WiFi 64GB (the device I wanted), a black Verizon 3G 16GB and another one. Once again, he moved through the crowd, repeating the roster several times so the entire throng could hear his spiel.

What happened next is sort of a blur, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t even reach customer #10 before announcing they were completely sold out.

Talk about a total mood killer.

Several in the crowd just peacefully dispersed (I’m guessing it wasn’t their first time around this block…)

Others thought this dude had some ‘splainin’ to do
- “How many iPads did you actually have”?
- “Why can’t you tell us earlier when your stock is low”?
- “How come you didn’t you get any AT&T models”?

His sheepish responses amounted to: “We don’t have control of what they send to us,“ “We’re not allowed to disclose specific numbers” and “You’re welcome to try again a different morning.

Not exactly stick-to-your-ribs answers.

But my fellow buffoons and I left the premises without incident, feeling more than a little disappointed and taken advantage of. 

I’ve read all sorts of conjecture that Apple may be intentionally stockpiling its inventory to drive demand (and ongoing publicity) for its newest, hottest product. But I find it hard to believe that Apple intentionally wants to piss off its customer base – and when 90 percent of customers leave a store completely dissatisfied, it strikes me as a real customer-service problem.

Alas, Apple ain’t talking – or delivering.

And so, I will live another day (or week/month/etc.) without experiencing the joys of Flipboard, Netflix, Dropbox, Google Earth and Twitter on the iPad.

I’ll live.

If only there were a suitable substitute 

Afterword:

Given the recent tragedy in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and cancellation of “Two and a Half Men,” I know my iPad envy is fairly insignificant. OK, it’s ridiculously insignificant.

But cut me some slack here. I willingly chose to delay purchasing an iPad until the second-generation device was introduced. Now that it’s here, I’m ready to finally satisfy this pent-up desire.

Cardboard

For the scrapbook: the official number denoting my place in the pack.