What we learned: Sony, Microsoft, and the promises you make.

In this ongoing blog series, we’ll focus on hot topics and big events in the business and consumer world. From hugely successful product launches to monumental failures, we’ll break it down through the lens of marketing and public relations and highlight the lessons that even small business owners can apply to market their business more effectively.

What Happened:

September 2020 saw the two latest game systems, Sony’s Playstation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, go live for pre-orders. With a launch date in November, this meant that shoppers could lock down a system on day one. For some, this meant the chance to play the new system right away. For others, it was the chance to knock off a major item from a Christmas or birthday list. That is… if you managed to get one.

The entire situation was a disaster on both accounts. There was mass confusion, websites crashed for hours at a time, and many, many people ended up without a pre-order. Complaints and criticisms of both Sony and Microsoft poured in (and technically, this is another one) during a time when they should have been celebrating their popularity. But were the criticisms fair? And was some of the chaos entirely avoidable?

Yes. And yes.

What We Learned:

A promise is a promise… until it’s not (then it’s what we call “a lie”).

Promises were made, and promises were broken. Sony promised weeks before its announcement that shoppers would receive plenty of notice before pre-orders. They received less than 24 hours. And to make it worse, many of the stores offering pre-orders launched the very same day, leading others to play catch up, and absolute chaos to ensue.

Making a promise to your customers isn’t just something you do to make them happy at the moment or to sell them on your product or service. It’s setting an expectation that you must deliver on. If you cannot 100% guarantee delivery on a promise, don’t make it. Think of your brand equity as a bank account. The more deposits you make (kept promises, great service, reliable products, etc.), the bigger your brand equity grows. The more withdrawals you make (broken promises, bad experiences, fault products, etc.), the smaller it shrinks. Growing your brand equity leads to great things: more trust from customers and clients, more positive word of mouth, and more repeat or long-term customers/clients. But if you allow it to shrink too often, you go… well… brand bankrupt. And your customers and clients start to vanish.

Be careful picking on your competitors.

Microsoft had an advantage by announcing its console first and setting its pre-order date after Sony’s. All they had to do was sit and watch. Did they do that? Of course not. In the immediate aftermath of Sony’s chaos, Microsoft thought it was a great time to promote their own system (it was) and allude to a smoother experience (it wasn’t).

 

 

When the date for pre-orders for the Xbox Series X came around, nearly the same thing happened. Websites crashed, people spent hours just trying to make a single pre-order, many people ordered the wrong system entirely (the similarly named older system, Xbox One X), and sellouts happened real quick.

Most reasonable people predicted this. Microsoft probably predicted this. But did that stop them from making the same sort of empty promise Sony made? No, and worse, they did it for a very silly reason. Highlighting the benefits and advantages of your products is always a good thing but avoid taking the low road and taking unnecessary shots at your competition. It might be all in fun, but your customers and clients don’t care. They will be making comparisons on their own. Show off your value and let it speak for itself because, as soon as you encourage direct comparisons, you welcome the bad with the good.

Your website is a reflection of your business; make it a good one.

Outside of the avoidable mistakes Sony and Microsoft made, many of the retailers made equally embarrassing mistakes and most of those centred around the functionality of their websites. Many websites were out of date, unresponsive, and some outright crashed for hours.

Most small or medium-sized business owners won’t need to worry about people flooding their website, overloading their servers, and causing their website to crash. But it’s still crucial to ensure your website is optimized for the needs of your customers or clients (and prospective customers and clients), current and functional, and able to handle at least some unique scenarios. Your website is not a brochure that you update once every decade. It is a living, breathing representation of your business. And like any part of your business, ignoring it or setting it up in a way that does not serve your customers or clients creates negative brand equity that can hurt your business in the long run.

The Key Takeaways:

  • Make good promises, and keep them to grow your brand equity and build trust with your audience.
  • Focus your marketing on your strengths, not on your competition’s weaknesses.
  • Ensure your website is up-to-date, optimized, and a great reflection of your business.

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