Antagonizing Your Customers Wins?

What is this? This new trend to gain a following by antagonizing your customers. I guess I am too square, or old, or numb to understand any of this, but there is a trend that I have been reading about for a couple of years not that is exemplified by this quote, “If you’re not eliciting a negative response from someone, then you’re probably not very compelling to anyone.” Sally Hogshead, Fascinate.

As a person who grew up at a time when Burger King was telling me that I could “Have it my way.” And that the customer (especially if it’s me) is always right, now comes this new trend in marketing called “antagonizing”. Yes, you heard that right, some companies are literally antagonizing some customers to create a greater loyalty base. 

Instead of trying to fix weaknesses, they will double down on them and make them part of their culture.

I can almost see you shaking your head and wondering, “What the heck is this guy talking about?” let me give you some examples:

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas policy is: “If you talk or text during the movie, we kick you out” And they really do it. They are deadly serious about this. When one customer complained profusely in a voicemail. They kept it and broadcasted it all over their social media so that over four and a half million people heard it, and it even made its way to CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s program. To the delight of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema management whose answer was simply, “Thanks for not coming back to Alamo texter!”

In and out Burger has a special secret menu for people who give a darn enough to follow it on their website. It makes them feel part of the “In” crowd. But it also makes half the population feel like they are part of the “Out” crowd. Maybe that is the real story behind their name. And, by the way if you want to get sneered at, just ask for mayonnaise on your burger.

Now let’s provide equal time to their competitor Five Guys. Five Guys doesn’t care about people with peanut allergies, if you have ever been there you know that the place is loaded with peanuts, they’re everywhere. They spend millions of dollars a year on giving away free peanuts and they are not going to stop because it is part of their brand.

Progressive knows that people hate Flo, like really want to beat her up, they hate her that much. Her commercials appear on every list of the most disliked advertisements in the country. There are even “I hate Flo” groups all over the country including one called “No Mo Flo.”

Dick’s Last Resort Restaurants train their servers to be obnoxious. They failed at being a fine dining restaurant, so they went in the opposite direction. They trained their servers to be obnoxious. For example, they don’t even have napkins on the table. If a customer wants one, they throw it at them.

Starbuck’s is a champion at creating inner cults with their insistence that we all talk in their stupid pretentious language.

And remember these golden oldies we all hated with an equal passion?

Mr. Whipple telling us to “Not squeeze the Charmin”.

And what about those “Ring around the Collar” Whisk commercials?

You remember those right? Now that I think about it, maybe this is not an exactly new trend, but has been around for years.

So why do these companies do it? Why could they possibly want to get customers angry at them? The answer is simple: Recognition. I am sure that you recognized just about all of the companies and products, right? The sad truth is that when it comes to the public, obnoxious sells. People remember the company name. Look at Flo for example she is the best- known spokesperson in the country at this time.

Years ago, product research revealed that more kids knew Joe Camel than they did Mickey Mouse and that was in the post TV cigarette commercial age!

So, what am I telling you here? Look folks I’m only having a little fun. Those of you in the business-to-business businesses please don’t try this at home on your B2B customers!  The real takeaway for us here is that we need to be memorable. We need to find good positive ways to stand out from the crowd, to have people remember us for the good things that we do. They need to know us for being head and shoulders over our competition. We have to be known for the exceptionally good things that we do. 

The best way to do this is to define your brand. Discover what you are best known for and then continuously burnish that brand in all of your messaging. Come up with examples, success stories, references, endorsements, and ad messaging that consistently and repeatedly pushes your message to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. You want to be referred to as “The on- time guy” or the “Flex company” or the company “that goes where no other company can go” when it comes to customer service. 

And for Pete’s sake if your customer wants Mayo with that, just give it to her! It’s only common sense.

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