Hugh Macfarlane, Founder & CEO of, writes…

I’m only early in to reading David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR. Great so far. Well-written and compelling. I hope to have more to write about this book as I get further in.

In it, he tells the story of two companies and their response to fast-breaking customer dissatisfaction in blogs and forums. Briefly:

Sony BMG and Digital Rights Management

  • An authoritative blogger complained about Sony BMG’s software on their CDs used to protect their property
  • The complaint was not that they sought protection, but the way the software was written and how it behaved
  • Bloggers and forum posters got all over this and created a frenzy of dissent
  • Tech media and then regular media picked up on the story
  • Five days later, an official from Sony BMG chose a radio program to mount their defence
  • Too late, too little, and the wrong media (should have been on the very forums that created the frenzy)

B&H Camera and Nikon

  • Nikon introduced a prosumer camera that loyal customers were waiting for
  • They distributed not just through speciality stores, but also mass merchants
  • Supply was constrained anyway, and this broad distribution exacerbated the problem for those who like to support their specialty stores (the very audience such a camera is designed for)
  • NY retailer B&H Photo and Video (my favourite tech store in the world) got caught up in the dissent because a few of their customers had orders cancelled by B&H and needed to get refunds
  • B&H jumped on the forum quickly to explain their position (they have an informed staff member who has this as a part of his job)
  • They cancelled the orders so they wouldn’t hold customers’ money without any real hope of being able to fulfil. A reasonable position for B&H, but something in the refund mechanism didn’t work (causing distress), and they ‘fessed up’ to this error, apologised and explained how they would rectify the problem

This is more than a tale of two companies – one getting it right and another not. It’s a trap for marketers; effusively and cogently argued, but a trap nonetheless.

Any new tactic (blogs and forums might be old to you, but they are not to everyone) invites the question “What should we do about [insert new tactic]?” In my view, this is the wrong question. The real question, always, is “How can we help more buyers to progress from [stage name] to [stage name] in their journey?”.

If we followed the first question (what should be do?), we’d have hundreds of tactics potentially receiving too-little attention. The second invites us to carefully choose which tatics to invest in, and then invest fully. And our investment in those tactics is in order to help buyers to progress – a good thing if you believe your product or service delivers value.

In the two cases in David Meerman Scott’s book, the buyers had Sony and B&H positioned as trusted suppliers of certain products. A mistake, and the discussion about that mistake, depositioned them. For sure, active (and honest) participation in those blogs was the right tactic to reposition as a trusted supplier in those two cases, but don’t get suckered into thinking that you must therefore follow the blogs, post comments and participate in forums. Maybe you do, maybe not, it all depends on your audience, and their journey.

Who are they, and where are you trying to get them?

Here’s a few links on the buyer’s journey on this site: