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January 9, 2008

Don’t Alienate The Brand Evangelists

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There’s been lots of talk today about the recent changes Google will be making to its AdSense referral program at the end of the month. Some are calling the changes a slap in the face, while others are breaking them down and trying to make sense of it all. Regardless of whether or not Google has a right to change their policies on the fly, they’ve gotten themselves into a bit of trouble by pissing off a good many of their advertisers, the people directly responsible for Google’s success in the first place. As Jennifer Laycock will tell you, ticking off your best customers isn’t a good idea.

Going back to Google for a moment, they went ahead and changed their AdSense referral policy in a way that will equate into a huge loss for AdSense publishers. Where a publisher could once earn a nice $250 for bringing in a referral that made $100 or more in the first 180 days, now they’ll only make $100 for that same act. Publishers have also lost their $2,000 bonus for referring 25 new publishers, as well as the extra $5 they received if the person they referred made $5 in their first 180 days. As you can imagine, people aren’t so excited about the change. They were even less excited to hear that the policy takes affect in January, which means if your referral doesn’t hit their mark by the end of the month, regardless of whether it’s been 180 days or not, you lose your shot to make a commission. Hope you weren’t counting on that money to offset some holiday shopping.

Google angered even more of its publishers when they revealed that not only were they cutting referral bonuses severely, they were totally turning them off for publishers living outside of North America, Latin America or Japan. That means even if your target audience is totally in the United States and you’ve brought in thousands of new referrals in the past, if you’re physically sitting in the Australia, you’re unable to participate. Sorry, Darren.

Obviously, Google has the right to do whatever it wants with its AdSense referral program. If they want to start handing out cookies instead of checks, that’s their choice. But you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game and then refuse to honor your previous agreement. If I referred a new publisher to Google yesterday, and they earn $100 in their first 180 days, I should still be rewarded under the old program, even if the conversion doesn’t officially happen until February. To me, that’s just good faith. But Google has decided to go against that and as a result, they’ve pissed off some of AdSense’s most loyal and active players.

And that’s what you don’t want to do. Just ask Jennifer Laycock.

If Google was smart, they would have read Jennifer’s recent blog post before they made their announcement. Perhaps they would have learned a thing or two about dealing with brand evangelists.

Here’s a snippet from Jennifer’s post where she explains why her local Panera Bread should be more concerned with her frustrations over a new policy change:

"I’ve been coming here two mornings a week for more than six months. The staff knows me, the kitchen folks know me, the couch in front of the fireplace has an indent the shape of my rear on it…I represent the customer you don’t want to annoy. Not because there’s anything special about me, but because I’m the type of customer who is already enamored with the brand and therefore willing to put up with the occasional inconvenience. If I get annoyed by what you’re doing, chances are high that new customers will be annoyed as well. The difference is those new customers will simply walk out the door and never come back. The loyal customers will probably at least complain and give you a chance to fix things."

Amen, sister!

Jennifer is spot on. No company, not even Google, can afford to turn its back on its brand evangelists. They are the ones who will make or break you. Panera Bread needs to reach out to the Jennifers like Google needs to reach out to the Shoemoneys of the world. It’s simply bad business to alienate those who stood by you when you weren’t quite as impressive and pretty as you are now. You’re not going to be top dog forever. At some point someone is going to come and challenge your entire business model when they prove that they can do exactly what you do but with far more pizzazz and people power. What are you going to do to make sure your customers stick? Going against your word or throwing annoyances at them won’t win you any friends.

So what should Google have done?

Obviously, they would have faced some backlash regardless of how they handled the situation. However, they would have received a lot less, and perhaps avoided the media storm, had they agreed to honor all AdSense signs up completed before the end of the month using the old rules. The new policy should only affect referrals that come in after the policy takes effect. Otherwise people feel like you’re cheating them. And that’s not how you want your best customers to feel.

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One response to “Don’t Alienate The Brand Evangelists”

  1. Darren writes:

    good post.

    thanks for adding to the conversation.



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