Thursday, April 27, 2006

April 27, 2006, Brand Manager's Log

Managing relationships is a tricky task. Coming from the ad world, where our entire business is pivoted on managing the client relationship, you manage everything from complex deliverables to simple expectations of how you dress. Now that I'm a brand manager, I have to manage the customer relationship, something just as pivotal and as nuanced.

The last few days, I've had to put myself to the test using all my experiences and skills to establish my relationship with our customers. First impressions are important and especially so for the new Acclaim since this is our first game. I've reached deep into my own gamer identity but also into my business training to establish the identity of Toggle (the name I'm known as in the community). Overall, I would say that I have been successful in reaching out to our community and have been very warmly received.

Now I realize that as you read this, you will think that I am being very tactical and possibly even manipulative with this relationship. That would be a valid interpretation. However, it is no different than wearing something nice or putting on makeup before a date. We prep ourselves before important social engagements. I did the same but with less lipgloss. I'm not trying to pretend to be someone else, I'm just selectively choosing different parts of my identity to show and hiding others.

I'm happy about the situation but it has not, however, been without anxiety. Let me give you an example:

We are in what we call closed beta. The purpose being to test the game with limited number of customers. It keeps demands on resources checked so we can focus on testing. We decided to invite users by a first-come first-served basis, the earlier you signed up, the more likely you're account is activated first. As the first batch of invitees arrived, the word spread and those that weren't invited also joined the community (we have a very active message board).

The not yet invited customers were, to say it lightly, very aggressive in wanting to be activated (A couple have left messages in the Gabbly Chat on the right). I totally understand their position. They can't play yet and they see everyone else playing so they feel left out. It's really killing me that I can't invite them. There are some very cool members of the community, posting useful messages and getting everyone excited and helping out in general. I really really want to invite these people, they seem to have earned it.

However, to invite people individually, we would have to go into the database and activate them manually. This is fine for one or two. But then we cross into the territory of favoritism and open the floodgates for more requests. Then how do you say no? Inevitably, it would become a drain on resources.

I bring up this situation because I think it's a classic example of how to manage customer expectations. Customers, like everyone else, are self-interested. You must befriend your customers but you also don't want to be taken advantage of by them. For instance, you want to give a wide-open return policy but even the Nordstrom's returned tire story is folklore (Nordstroms is a department store like Macys).

It's killing me that I can't give the productive members of the community an invite but at some point, you have to draw the line. Businesses exist to create value, for customers as well as themselves. They are also usually the ones with the most relevant information to make informed decisions, hopefully in the best long-term interest of everyone involved. Unfortunately, this means that businesses will never be your buddy.

This bothers me. More than I'm actually willing to reveal. I know I'm soft. However, my rational side also weighs in the consequences and realizes that being everyone's friend is a mistake. In the end, rationality wins out. Have I gone to the dark side? Am I turning into the man? I hope not.

(I shamelessly stole the Mickey image from someone's posted travel photos. The kid is hidden at least. I'm pretty sure that's a hug and not an abduction in progress....)

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