July 11, 2019

Moving The Goal Posts

Sometimes "brands" have a problem working with third parties.

Say you sell a product and/or service that Google isn't fond of (or you sell a product/service that borders on being unethical, or is addictive). Google might require approval of your digital advertising strategy before allowing their users to see the ad.

If the rules are consistent and make sense to the "brand" and to the customer, there isn't a lot of consternation.

Sometimes the vendor moves the goal posts. The vendor had rules, the vendor applied the rules consistently, and then the vendor decided to change the rules (i.e. moving the goal posts). Facebook comes to mind. They hooked you on free advertising ... and once you moved the majority of your customers to Facebook, Facebook moved the goal posts and eliminated the vast majority of organic reach and as a consequence you had to pay to speak to your own customers.

These days, it's not uncommon to see goal posts move in all industries. Even in traditional / old-school catalog marketing, where not much ever changes, goal posts occasionally move.

If the vendor changes the rules, if the vendor moves the goal posts, have a checklist ready to evaluate the vendor.
  • Is the vendor being honest? In other words, can you understand what the vendor is trying to accomplish? If the vendor uses language like "In the spirit of consumer privacy in the era of the connected customer", the vendor is not being honest with you. That's bad.
  • Is the vendor being consistent? Are you required to follow the rules but a competitor is not required to follow the rules? If the answer is "no, the vendor is not being consistent, and that's bad.
  • Is the vendor taking control over your brand? If your creative team develops something that is brand appropriate and a 3rd party vendor says "no, you can't use that imagery and/or promotional offer", that's bad. 
  • Does the vendor insert itself unnaturally into your process with other 3rd party vendors? If the answer is "yes", that's bad (i.e. you have a calendar where you and six other vendors are cooperating and the vendor creates new rules that require all six vendors and your in-house employees to change everything to accommodate the vendor).
If the answer to any of the checklist items results in a "THAT'S BAD" outcome, you really have two cards to play.
  1. Demand that the vendor adhere to the rules established prior to the change made by the vendor.
  2. If the vendor says "no", stop working with the vendor.
You're probably going to end up in a situation where the answer is "STOP WORKING WITH THE VENDOR". Now it's up to you. Are you going to repeat the mistakes you made with Facebook and let the vendor take a piece of your business (either via money or institutional control over your brand) ... or are you going to do what is right for your brand?

Do what is right for your brand.

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