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FLYING THE FRIENDLY SKIES

United Airlines Broke Our Trust and How Marketing Will Save It.

Dr. David Dao’s de-planing of United Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville has made it’s way across the internet in what seems like record speed. United was first alerted to the incident, which took place Sunday evening, April 9 via Twitter minutes after it happened. The shocking and disturbing video was being passed around Facebook that night by millions of American’s sitting on their couches with their phones. It became part of casual, workplace conversation by Tuesday and even worked itself into a Saturday Night Live sketch by Saturday. From incident to national attention in six days.

Why has this story stirred up so much emotion in people? Maybe it’s because American’s have a degree of airline fatigue? So many of us can identify with the the hassles that come with travel. Maybe because this is only one of three stories the entire year that has distracted us from the ongoing media circus of the Trump Presidency (the other two being the Patriot’s Super Bowl comeback and the Oscar’s Best Picture fiasco)? Or maybe we’ve been burned one too many times by big companies that have no intention of putting people first. United says they “Fly the Friendly Skies,” but what happens on the ground must be a different story.

At the heart of this incident is a story about trust. It’s a story about how trust was broken and why that’s not okay.

In March, YouGov asked its four million plus participants if they trust the advertising they see, read or hear. 61% of respondents said they did. So, in 2017, a large group of people representing the population of the country as a whole said they trusted the advertising they saw. To contrast the results, Gallup polls report an all time low level of trust for US institutions including churches, press and government (32% in 2016 — down from 43% in 2004).

Blame it on fake news or the Trump administration (actually, that’s not fair, blame it on politics as a whole), but American’s are trusting the news less and less and trusting advertising more and more.

Which means that marketing is an opportunity to build…. trust.

I realize that statement could seem very foreign for some and very natural for others. If your perception of marketing comes from repetitious 1980’s television ads that oversold products from big box companies, this could all be a stretch. If your perception of marketing comes from 2017 targeted ads on social media that seem to understand your interests and network, then this completely makes sense.

Marketing is no longer about selling. It’s about connection.

Here are some ways your practice can advertise trust and end up saving the day:

1. Accurately represent your practice.

I have to be honest, I recently got taken by an Instagram ad. It was during the Holidays and a great looking image came across my feed for this grey leather coat with fur lining for $59. I’m always in the market for a distinctive fashion piece… especially at $59. What’s the risk, right? So, I ordered. Actually, I trusted. Then I ordered knowing the whole time that this violates one of my guiding principles, “If it’s too good to be true….”

It took six weeks to get the coat. Apparently it was coming from China and they were waiting on a minimum order to begin production. Once it arrived, the coat looked very little like the image I had clicked. The fabric was not the same, the stitching wasn’t even close and though the tag said it was an XL, it was about three sizes too small. Realizing the chances of shipping it back to China for a refund were extremely unlikely, I gave the coat to my son as a Christmas present. He loves it.

I tell you that story because there are retailers who are basing the economics of their business off one sale. They have no intention of creating trust nor do they need repeat buyers to be profitable. However, getting one transaction as a retailer and keeping loyal, repeat patients are totally different strategies. For that reason, any marketing we create must accurately represent our practice.

2. Target a relevant audience.

Broadcast was very 1980’s. Push your message to as many people as possible regardless of the relevancy. Television was king because it had access to our homes. Radio was king because it had access to our cars. What happens when social media has access to the most personalized information about us? They become the gatekeepers and eventually the largest marketing distributors in the world.

Today, the game has shifted from broadcasting to targeting. We can no longer waste attention (and money) talking to people who are not a relevant audience. Your ads should have a targeted message that’s meant for a targeted audience in a targeted location.

3. Don’t oversell.

The thing about trust is that it’s not transactional. It’s not an exchange of money or services. It looks more like a journey and will require multiple interactions along the way. The tendency is to shove everything we got into one Facebook ad because we need to make sure it “works.” Let’s include an amazing 5-Star review, a compelling offer of $100 off and a persuasive “Call Now, Time is Running Out!” Don’t forget the phone number and oh yeah, “We’re the BEST!”

What if we approached Facebook advertising through the filter of the next five years? What if we spent $500 a month this year, $1000 a month next year, $1500 in three years, $2000 in four years and $2500 in five years? We will have invested $90,000 into Facebook. Do you think we could capture a significant portion of the market share in our community in the next five years? Do you think we would have more brand recognition than any other practice in our area? Do you think we would have dozens of new patients every month that walk in the door saying, “You know, I’ve been seeing your stuff online for years now and finally decided to call you?”

If you’re too aggressive with short-sighted sales, you’ll miss long-term equity.

4. Have a heart.

I am a Southwest A-Lister. I fly a few times a month on average. I love the way they have chosen to focus their marketing around values like love and heart.

I took this picture walking down one of their jetways in March, 2015. I find the story of the ad relevant in light of the recent events two years later:

I know that mission-driven companies seem trendy right now, but they’re not going away. It’s the new way to do business. Values need to be at the forefront of your marketing and communicate why you’re different. Every practice needs to talk about what they believe, make promises to their patients and more importantly, uphold those promises. That’s having a heart.

While United’s recent treatment of a passenger is a shocking example of how a company can treat humans, it also gives us an opportunity to be startling different. In a world of mistrust — politics, news, religion — our businesses have a chance to be something different. It might be old fashioned, but I think people (and businesses) that do what they say they are going to do always win.

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