I went through a pretty big breakup recently.

We were together for 5 years, and while on the outside our relationship looked great, I’d been miserable for the last year. In fact the entire relationship had never really lived up to my expectations. I was constantly being let down, made to wait, spending lots of money to make things right, and just generally having to put in more effort than I had to. I was fed up, things had to change. My MacBook Pro had to go.

I became a Mac user the year I decided to leave the corporate world and go out on my own.  While I did research the features and ask around about peer experience, I have to be blatantly honest and admit that I bought the damn thing because I thought it was cool. I wanted to be a Mac user because I believed it would evoke a different image when brought to meetings than a PC would. By association, I would seem more successful. And while most Mac users won’t admit it, the brand’s slick, minimalist, and elitist image was likely a huge driving factor for their purchases too.

Missed expectations

I was promised a superior computing experience. I was told that my new MacBook would put every PC I’ve ever used to shame. It never

did. In fact, my computer experience was so terribly average leaning towards poor that my husband grew exasperated at my insistence to keep using it. It crashed so often, took ages to load simple programs, and never worked seamlessly.

And yet when it came time to buy a new laptop, I found myself drawn into iStyle to look at the new MacBook Pro. After starting at the nearly monstrous price tag for a few minutes, I realized that my presence in the store defied all logic. Why was I still considering a Mac when I hadn’t enjoyed my current one? Instead of removing Mac from my consideration set, I had unconsciously decided that upgrading to a new Mac would solve all my problems.

This assumption was not based on reason. It was based on branding.

Loyalty without reason

I still wanted to be a Mac user. I still wanted that shiny silver laptop to emit an aura of sophistication about me every time I pulled it out. I wanted it to translate my credibility as a consultant without saying a word. That is the world that Apple has created – a world in which its brand association is perceived as a magic cloak of cool.

Upon realizing this ridiculous desire to repurchase a product I hadn’t enjoyed was purely based on branding, I had to take a step back. As a marketing consultant, I work on building brands with my clients every day. A product or service without a brand is merely a commodity, and “growing love and respect can increase buying intention by as much as seven times” (Source: QiQ International for Saatchi & Saatchi). But respect is the key word, as the fundamental basis for the brand should be the quality of the real experience the consumer has with it, and not an artificial one built through PR, brand placement, and clever advertising. Brand image alone is not enough and should never be the sole reason for purchase. You need to win both the hearts and minds of the consumers.

After this revelation, I went back to look at PCs. In the five years since I had first snubbed them, the evolution in the PC world has been incredible. I found a laptop that meets all my needs, has incredible features, is lightning fast, and looks just as cool as a MacBook. I no longer sacrifice my comfort at the altar of Apple, and I couldn’t be happier.

When businesses grow and develop a solid following and user loyalty, it is easy to fall into the trap of shifting your focus to purely building your brand image at the expense of continuously improving your product or service.

Here are three things you can do to ensure that your business doesn’t go down this path:

  1. Listen, listen, listen
    For the most part, consumers will be happy to tell you exactly what they like and dislike if you just ask them. So many business owners work purely off gut feeling or are scared of feedback and never take the time to ask how they’re doing. Even if it’s just a few one to one chats with shoppers in your store, you will find that consumer conversations are a good health check.Monitoring online conversations about your brand is also extremely important as it offers an unfiltered view into what people really think about your products and services.
  2. Mystery Shopping / Testing
    Mystery shopping is a fantastic tool whether you have an online or offline business. By sending someone in to anonymously test and assess your service, you will get a report from the viewpoint of a shopper which should highlight where you are excelling and where you are faltering.
    For the online world, many e-commerce business owners assume that their sites are easy to use, but never make the effort to actually put that theory to the test through user experience testing. What might seem intuitive to you, might actually be very confusing to a user.  Test it.
  3. Act quickly
    No matter how you receive feedback, never brush it off. If it’s positive, acknowledge the fact that someone has taken time to show your business love. If it’s negative, act quickly to understand and rectify the situation. Respond, even if it’s a one off complaint.
    It takes time and effort, but a positive response to a negative situation is actually a strong way to win hearts and minds. There are many examples of situations that could have caused brands PR nightmares but actually evolved into good exposure because of the company’s actions.

 

So while I’ve broken up with Apple for now, there is still room for forgiveness in this relationship. Judging by online chatter, I know that I’m not the only one jaded by the tech giant, so let’s see if they spring into action and win back their lost lovers.