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How to trump cunning linguistics and seize competitive advantage

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The Commonwealth Bank is currently running an advertisement that irks me.

It is the suggestion box basketball ad.

Beyond all the arty-farty advertiser speak and debate over the campaign’s merits in the industry media, it contains a terminology flaw that sticks out like dogs balls.

When the kid says, “Can’t we just promise to fix it?” my hackles go up.

It pisses me off that CBA pays big money to rub our noses in the fact that its client base is dumb enough to be fobbed off with a hollow promise.

Any of us who’ve been the victim of a bank — any bank, not just Commonwealth Bank — know full well that they are quick to promise and long on delivery… if they ever deliver at all.

Other giants are also big on service-level agreements and customer service policies, but when it comes down to it, we, the customers, can just get stuffed.

Tell me what happened when you last lodged an official complaint with a telco. I’m guessing you were told you’d get a guaranteed response within a certain time. Did you? No. Me neither. Fobbed off with a promise. It doesn’t feel nice, does it? I know I feel like a chump each time I believe a promise and then get put back over the barrel in the Gimp suit.

The difference between the big players in any industry and you and I is that we have to keep our promises. Do you?

For us, the numbers game and client service are too tightly intertwined to allow us to discard the people we break our promises to. Or, more accurately, be discarded ourselves by our clients.

When I started my business, the fundamental operating principles included showing up on time and doing what we say we are going to do. It is that simple. It really is!

The Commonwealth Bank advertising gurus are so disassociated with the reality of what the organisation is doing that they don’t even see the glaring error they’ve made. I mean, the ad got to air, didn’t it? And more than once.

I’ve seen ads with barely suggestive bananas taken off air faster than this mistake. What were they thinking? Even if the Commonwealth Bank does deliver on promises, and I am pretty sure they don’t on a regular basis, would you as their marketing person give potential clients the opportunity to bundle you “with the rest”? The answer you are looking for is “no”.

It is all well and good to be different from the rest of your industry. It is quite daft to think that the market space won’t tar you with the same brush until you’ve proven that you are different.

This is a particular problem of the service industries. Just how do your potential clients tell the difference between the truth you are telling and the lies your competition spread until they’ve tried both of you and learnt the hard way?

Even if you are offering something brilliantly unique service-wise, your unscrupulous opposition will be offering it falsely within a heartbeat and you are back to a level playing field (except for the nasty after taste).

Right now I don’t really have an answer for you.

Perhaps we could wait until honesty comes back in vogue? The trend graphs on that one aren’t looking real promising though (no pun intended).

I’ve been to hundreds of business breakfasts and heard terms like “congruence” bandied about. It is about being consistent, honest and, you know, doing what you say you are going to do.

I’m pretty sure though that the answer is that I am wrong to worry about what the rest are doing. Hmmm?!

David Moore has 25 years experience in the computer industry and is now Principle PC Hater at ihatemypc.com.au.

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