Lipstick on the Pig

I thought you might enjoy these thoughts from a guest blogger!  Enjoy, Josh.

Lipstick

Lipstick on the Pig
By Peter H. Lewis

As a freelance writer I’m always grateful to hear from potential clients. Telling a company’s story in a fresh and compelling way is more than just a job; it’s a fun, creative challenge. There’s great satisfaction in helping a busy executive share her or his thoughts cogently and entertainingly to an audience, or to help a start-up company define and deliver its message to the world.

Sometimes, however, the assignments are doomed.

Here’s a recent case study:

Company X is a well-established, closely held multinational maker of … let’s say widgets. It sells an estimated $200 million worth of widgets a year. Although some of its widgets can be bought from Amazon and Wal-Mart, most of Company X’s revenue comes from selling widgets to other companies. You might have a Company X widget in your house, even if it doesn’t have Company X’s brand on it.

Company X competes in a ferocious market with larger and better-known rivals, but it sees great opportunities ahead. The company’s public relations firm has been tasked to raise Company X’s public awareness by doing several things:

  • Establish a blog “to educate consumers, increase our search ranking, and develop thought leadership in the [widget] category, ” and
  • Build a vertical website to summarize current events in the widget industry and to provide Company X’s perspective on trends and events.

Good ideas. Very doable. So why is this assignment doomed?

It is doomed because Company X’s executives don’t really care about consumers.

How do I know this?

I know because Company X’s existing website — a collection of web pages already on line for the world to see — is embarrassingly bad, and has been allowed to be bad for a long time. If anybody really cared, it never would have been allowed to go live, or at least it would have been fixed long ago.

Even worse, Company X’s social media experiments (Facebook and Twitter, especially) are effectively billboards that tell the world, “We are doing this only because someone told us we have to do it, and we don’t want to waste resources to do it the right way. ”

Before going into the details, here’s are the main lessons for any company, whether it’s a start-up or a Fortune 5oo giant:

the-jerk
  • If you want to make a good impression on consumers and be taken seriously by potential business customers, don’t go out in public with your pants down.
  • If you want consumers to believe that your products are superbly engineered, meticulously constructed, completely reliable and thoroughly supported, don’t open a junkyard on the company’s front lawn.
  • If you want to be a thought leader, you have to put some thought into it.
  • If you want people to think that you care about your consumers, it helps if you actually care about consumers.

Or, to get to the heart of the matter, if the C-suite executives don’t care enough about how consumers view the company to even bother to look at their own company website or social media feeds, they should not be on the Internet at all.

Which would be embarrassing, because Company X’s widgets are designed to help people use the Internet.

But that’s less embarrassing than having a company website that includes these gems:

Widget
and
MinSysReq

If Company X is willing to publish WordPress, Facebook pages that are so glaringly neglected and unfinished, why would I believe that its products are any better constructed? Why would I think that Company X’s customer service would be anything other than dismal?

It seems that whoever was responsible for maintaining Company X’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed was abducted by aliens at least six months ago, and no one in any position of authority at Company X has noticed. The company’s most recent Twitter stream (last updated in February) consists of nothing but fortune-cookie aphorisms, clichés that have nothing to do with Company X’s business, and the occasional “Can you see the angry bunny face?”

The company’s online Press Center consists mainly of broken links to moldy press releases.

MoreMoney

Here’s what I told Company X: Stop, drop, and roll. There is absolutely no benefit to having a website that advertises your incompetence and apathy. Be grateful that you have only a handful of Facebook and Twitter followers. Thank your lucky stars that Google’s search algorithms are engineered to ignore crappy websites, because otherwise consumers might actually find you and see how little you care.

Okay, so that’s not what I actually told them. But I did suggest that Company X pull down its online presence temporarily until the most glaring embarrassments are fixed. And then, before forging ahead, make sure the C-suite executives are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their communications goals.

One of the companies with whom Company X wants to go mano-a-mano is Apple. Can you imagine what Tim Cook or Phil Schiller would say if they saw Apple’s website in similar disrepair? Can you imagine what Steve Jobs would do?

I can, and believe me, it would not be pretty.

Jobs was obsessed with making the consumer experience as perfect as possible, down to the choice of fonts on the website, the music in the TV commercials, the design of the screws inside the iPhone where no one would even see them, the choice of wood for the tables in the Apple Stores, the meticulous design of the packaging that customers would hold in their hands. It was that passion and attention to detail that helped propel Apple to the pinnacle of consumer admiration and loyalty. Other successful consumer companies understand this.

No amount of lipstick is going to transform Company X into a consumer company. There has to be a commitment from the top.

Peter H. Lewis is a former Senior Writer for The New York Times and Senior Editor at Fortune magazine. He blogs at www.peterlewis.com.