It's Christmas morning...
You've made quick work of unwrapping the socks and book backpack you didn't ask for. Now to the prize...the largest box under the tree. You just know it's a new Microsoft Xbox 360 video game console. It's in your hands before you even notice there's a tag on it.
You imagine the lights dimming in your house as you plug it in. The sounds of jet engines revving as you turn it on. A theremin solo rages around you as you go online and sign up to pay $50, so you can start wasting mutants and other players on Xbox Live.
Only nothing happens.
The service is having difficulties. You can't complete your registration. Then you can't connect. You try again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Later that day. Still nothing. The next day. Nothing. The problems continue until school starts. You're unable to fill your holiday vacation with slaughtering fun.
No help. No explanation. Until now.
It turns out that it was your fault.
In a statement posted to the service, Xbox Live general manager Marc Whitten said that the problems with Xbox Live downtime were caused by "...an influx of new users who had gotten an Xbox 360 over the holidays."
Too many users all but crashed the system.
But, since doing so evidenced the tremendous sales the company achieved, Microsoft is giving away a free arcade game download as "...a token of our appreciation to all of you in celebration of record success for the service."
Celebrating the failure of its online service? Microsoft is happy it broke its sales and online registration records, and takes no responsibility for failing to plan for it.
What marvelous doublespeak in defense of a branding mistake.
You'd think there was some simple math that would have enabled it to plan better:
- X number of Xboxes in circulation
- (+) Y units sold during past holidays (/) Z % variation for this holiday season
- (x) A % average online users(x) B consumer user variation for past holiday/vacation periods
- (+) C % incremental addition, just for insurance
- (=) Online capacity required to support holiday rush
Further, couldn't this equation have enabled Microsoft to promote and encourage holiday sign-ups and usage? Its online component has been one of the few wildly successful components of its game strategy, and a clear way to differentiate its otherwise generic piece of hardware from Sony, Nintendo, or any game-playing PC. Getting as many people as possible addicted to online gaming during the holidays might have been really smart branding strategy.
Nope. Preparation of any sort wasn't Microsoft's responsibility.
Maybe the online division and the console folks sit in mutually exclusive cubes. More likely, everyone sees the brand via packaging design, PR, and advertising. Something as inconsequentially un-sexy as technology support isn't really of concern to the marketers. Online gaming is just a function, not a component of brand.
So when consumers wanted to go online, they discovered they'd bought a device that delivered it about as effectively as a toaster. And Microsoft is celebrating this record-setting moment by giving away a free slice of bread.
Does this inspire confidence in its online capabilities? Does anybody associate the words quality or good with Xbox Live? Even with the failure of planning, couldn't the experience have been turned into a benefit to the brand, had Microsoft simply admitted a terrible error?
Nope. After all of the branding dollars and complicated slideshows, the company still doesn't see that consumer experience of brand isn't limited to ads and marketing creative. Experience is experience...usage, feedback, improvements, give-and-take, and all of the messy behaviors that constitute reality, which are often times very detached from the imagined clarity of branding.
Delivering that sort of engagement is what delivers usage and loyalty.
Making this mistaken isn’t uncommon in the business world, unfortunately.
Last year, when TurboTax users couldn't file their online returns on April 14, or JetBlue left passengers stranded because of bad weather, the companies shrugged off responsibility, and went about "branding" with CEO apologies, inconsequential payoffs, and more marketing. The toy companies did the same thing after numerous discoveries of poisonous materials in their products.
Branding is about communications and image, so brands can be surprised by realities, whether external or originating from some function within companies other than marketing.
The message to consumers: "Sorry, the dog ate my brand."
Or, in the case of the Xbox Live debacle, consumers ate it. And they didn't like the taste.