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Scott Stratten: How to avoid the brand attack (Book excerpt)

Hint: You need to be responsive and awesome

Unselling Cover smallScott Stratten is the president of UnMarketing, an Oakville-based agency. He is an expert in viral, social, and authentic marketing which he calls “Un-Marketing.” 

He’s also the author of several books, including Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging and QR Codes Kill KittensThis is an excerpt from his upcoming book, UnSelling: The New Customer Experience, due out this week.


More than any other advice businesses ask for help with is how to avoid the attack – the outrage. That is, how can they keep from being internet famous – and not for their new viral video. Early detection of a brand attack is all about keeping your ear on the pulse of your customers.

I love New York City. After Las Vegas, it is our favorite place in the world. Chelsea Market, Broadway, Shake Shack, Carnegie Deli. I consider the place a home away from home. The problem with New York being a home away from home is that I need to get there. And as much as I love the city, I hate their airports: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, the three horsemen of the travel apocalypse. Newark has gotten slightly better in the past few years… but anyway.

So when I found myself in line at JFK security during the dance of the flight attendants, you can guess I wasn’t exactly surprised. We got to the airport early, as good Canadians do, and were in line watching other travelers step ahead of us in line because they were late. We get it; you need to make your flight. Who would have thought there’d be traffic in NEW YORK CITY?

Finally, we got to the front of the line and got naked, and I proceeded to push my bucket through the x-ray machine when the dance of the flight attendants began. Have you ever been in line when this happens? I know they need to make it to the plane in time. But the thing is, I also know the first rule of flight club: The plane won’t take off without them. It will, however, leave without me. One after the other, they throw their buckets ahead of mine, pushing and elbowing, until my Canadian politeness cannot hold me, and I reach level nine Canadian anger: swearing.

“Come on!1 Not even one excuse me?”

I think I may have added a “sorry” on to the end, just to represent my country.

The last attendant heard me and turned around angrily. Delta shining off her lapel, she shot me an angry, dismissive look and said, “I said excuse me. If you didn’t hear me, why don’t you open your ears?”

I was beside myself. My mama taught me right. I don’t care where you come from, how much money you make, or what kind of job you do; that does not excuse you from common courtesy. By the time I was through security, I was speechless. Have you ever been so angry at a brand that you start making a shun list? I would never fly Delta again. My son would never fly Delta again. His unborn children would never fly Delta. If they wanted to make it up to me, I would need my own plane. Delta would be changed to Scott. I wanted to sit on the captain’s lap. And I wanted two bags of peanuts when I asked for them, without a saucy look from anyone when I asked. I did the only thing a self-entitled social media big deal can do: I tweeted.


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I was so furious, I was so blind with anger, I misspelled Delta. Did you see it? I didn’t either. Two groups of people you need to be listening to in your social media management system: angry misspellers and the all-cappers.

Within 3 minutes, I received this reply from Delta airlines.


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It seems they have so many blind, angry misspellings of their name that they have a search set up for them. That’s some effective social media strategizing right there! The response totally disarmed me. I went from being a raging misspeller to a calm airline traveller in 140 characters or less. I wasn’t offered anything for free. I was simply treated with respect and had my frustration acknowledged and apologized for.


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Immediacy is one of the most important things in social media response. We speak a lot about authenticity and appropriateness, but without immediacy your message will be lost and ineffective. Early response is the best way to prevent a brand attack.

If this reply had been sent 3 hours later, I would have been angrily stewing on the plane, every tiny interaction with the staff fueling my frustration. The conversation online would have continued without me sharing their reply.

What about if it had been sent three days or even three weeks later?

In 20 minutes I went from irate to smiling. Then when I got on the flight, the person serving drinks was one of the nicest people I’ve dealt with, and no she didn’t know it was me. She was just wonderful with everyone.

When it hits the fan, it’s not time to hide behind the fan; it’s time to be awesome.

The speed with which we reply to things exponentially changes the response. When people complain on Twitter, they are looking for validation and an apology. They want respect, courtesy, and immediacy.

Many say there is no ROI in social media, and I agree. There’s ROI in being responsive and awesome and sometimes that happens in social media. I’ve heard a lot of brands say they don’t want to use social media because they’re afraid of negative interactions. That doesn’t make any sense. The negative brand sentiment doesn’t vanish because you’re not there to be a part of it. It just gets unheard, and the anger brews.

The tool doesn’t solve the problem. If your product or service sucks, it is just going to suck harder in social. But when used right, it can be a tool for amazing customer service, sending customers back into the sales cloud with great stories to share.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from UnSelling: The New Customer Experience by Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer. Copyright (c) 2014 by Scott Stratten. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

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