Stop Rickrolling Your Customers and Prospects

Stop Rickrolling Your Customers and Prospects

Never gonna give you upIn 1987, when Rick Astley filmed the video for his hit song Never Gonna Give You Up, he had no idea it would eventually become one of the most viewed videos of all time.

By 2011, the video had been watched over 50 million times. Never Gonna Give You Up’s resurgence began in 2007, when a user on an obscure gaming site posted a link to Rick’s video under the heading for a trailer of the not-yet-released Grand Theft Auto IV video game. One year later, the phenomenon had become commonplace and was dubbed “Rickrolling,” a term that is now ubiquitous with any Internet misdirection technique.

Although Rickrolling is a harmless, rather pedestrian prank, many companies unknowingly Rickroll their customers and prospects by improperly aligning their products’ capabilities with their respective marketing messages.

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According to Guy Gabriele, Chief Creative Officer at Idea Engineering, brands live in the minds of customers and prospects. Guy believes that your brand is not what you say it is or what you hope it will be. Rather, your brand is a promise which is interpreted by those to whom you message. When your product or service is unable to deliver on this promise, you are effectively Rickrolling everyone who responds to your misaligned messaging.

At Computer Motion (NASDAQ: RBOT, acquired by Intuitive Surgical), our initial brand’s promise was, “Robotics will reduce costs within the operating room.” Although we did not intentionally mislead anyone, the customers and prospects that believed us were Rickrolled. We assumed that robots would perform tasks that would reduce the required number of surgical staff persons. The reality was that robots added costs to surgical procedures because the size of the surgical team remained unchanged. Once our target market acted upon our call to action and experienced our products, they revised our brand’s promise as follows: “Robotics are cool, hard to use and add costs to surgical procedures.”

It took us a couple of years to realize that our brand’s intended promise was not in sync with reality. We eventually modified our promise to: “Robotics will enable new minimally invasive procedures.” Fortunately, we delivered on this revised promise and ultimately helped create a multibillion dollar industry in which costs increased, but patient outcomes were greatly improved.

We were slow to revise our brand’s promise because we wanted robotics to reduce operating room costs, as we felt that such cost reductions were a requisite for our success. Avoid Rickrolling your customers and prospects by ignoring what you want your brand’s promise to be and understanding the actual promise that resides in the minds of your intended users.

Rick Rolls On

Rick Astley’s career was revived by the Rickrolling phenomenon. Never Gonna Give You Up has been a tongue-in-cheek nominee for a number of awards, including the 2008 UK Christmas song of the year and the seventh inning stretch song played during the New York Mets’ games. Your customers might never “give you up,” if you maintain congruence between your brand’s perceived promise and the promise that your product actually fulfills.

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John Greathouse has held a number of senior executive positions with successful startups during the past fifteen years, spearheading transactions which generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.
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Copyright © 2007-11 by J. Meredith Publishing. All rights reserved.

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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  • James Harradence

    John – Guy is likely a Trout (Jack) & Ries (Al) disciple and he is doing a great job channelling their description of positioning. They were the originators of the positioning concept (in the early ’70’s – they wrote many books on the topic).

    Interestingly, their concept sprung from their belief that consumers were swamped (in 1969-70!) with too much advertising and there was no way to connect to consumers with out a strong position that could stake out an ‘uncluttered’ spot in the consumers mind.

    Obviously, their work is more relevant than ever.

    BTW, my best friend looks a little like Rick and had his hairstyle, before this video it big. He was forced to change it and has never been able to revive the style (everyone Ricks him right away!). The right kind of infamy is more fun than fame I think.

  • John Greathouse

    Funny re your friend’s “Rick look.” Makes me think of what Paul McCartney would say when people would stop him and say, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Paul McCartney?” He would smile and say, “No, but thanks” and keep on moving…

    Guy is an uber-talented marketer. The kind of person who could live anywhere in the world and do world-class stuff and he chose to live in Santa Barbara. I will check in with him and see if he a T&R disciple.

    Thanks for your feedback.

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