Learning From Android

I was listening to Kai Ryssdal, host of American Public Media’s Marketplace, talk about an interesting problem Google was having. 

Google, of course, recently launched its new phone, Nexus One, directly to the public — no more going through carriers. From what I understand, it wants to get its operating system into as many hands as possible — as quickly as possible — so it can do on phones what it’s been doing on computers. From all reports, Google looks at the phone as simply an OS delivery system. Makes sense to me.

Apparently, as with most tangible things, customers have been having problems. And as customers are wont to do, they contacted customer service.

But here’s the thing: Google doesn’t really have a customer service department. I mean, it does — you send an e-mail and someone gets back to you. But Ryssdal said that the department seemed to be swamped. As for live customer service, operators standing by, Google doesn’t have them. As Ryssdal pointed out, it’s an interesting dilemma for a company whose biggest product, search, is given away for free.

This got me thinking. OK, Google’s smart and it entered the phone business for very logical reasons that, viewed from the company’s perspective, intelligently extended its business plan. But those smarts put it in a territory — tangible consumer goods — that’s fraught with challenges it never had to consider before. It’s a search company. It doesn’t make stuff. It doesn’t ship stuff. It doesn’t have a returns department or probably even a loading dock. It’s entirely possible that not having customer service is just the tip of the iceberg. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, who knows what it doesn’t know it doesn’t know?

Now, I’m not here to beat up on Sergey and Larry. I admire their boldness and creativity, I appreciate their success and I envy the smartness that has led to it. Plus my daddy told me never piss off people who have a license to print money.

No, all this stuff about Google got me thinking about integrated marketing.

Integrated marketing is something every client tries to do for what are incredibly sound business reasons. Consumers have dozens of media touch points and a brand should be efficient about the way it uses them. Brands are trying to cut through the clutter of a loud and crowded marketplace and a consistent message across media is the smartest way to do that. But in practice we invariably wind up in places in which we have no experience. Advertising agencies try to understand promotion law. Web agencies try to staff guerrilla events. PR agencies try to produce TV commercials. And all are stepping on each other’s throats as they vie for more face time with clients.

In short, we do integrated marketing for smart reasons, but end up being blindsided by challenges completely outside of our area of expertise. Is there something wrong with the system or are we just morons?

I actually think it’s the former. We don’t have a methodology for integrated marketing because we think doing it is just like doing regular marketing, only bigger. So we use the same processes. But every client who wants to do it is different in ways that become painfully obvious to anyone with eyes when the work starts — even down to how they define the very term. Each client has importantly different needs, challenges and opportunities that must be addressed, but instead are often glossed over.

The fact that it’s similar to what we normally do (marketing involving agencies that perfect messages about brands to consumers) — and uses many of the same tools to do it (ad agencies, Web houses, promotion shops, etcetera) — is just a red herring to lull us into a false sense of security. Similar, as someone once told me, is not the same as “the same.”

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