Not All Touch Points are Created Equal

First there were “hits,” then impressions, then “engagement,” and now the newest hot metric buzzword is “touchpoint.”

The assumption seems to be the more touchpoints the better. Let’s hit them everywhere—earned media, social, digital, billboards, broadcast, events, mugs, parking meters, and movie theaters. And there’s some evidence that such a strategy just might work.

But I would argue that all touchpoints are not created equal. In fact, most of them aren’t worth much at all.

Human nature dictates that you don’t absorb information unless and until you see a reason to do so. That reason might be FOMO: everyone but you knows something. Or perceived risk: if you don’t know this thing something bad might happen to you. Or, perhaps, you need to know this to achieve some immediate goal or overcome the obstacle in front of you.

Then on top of that there are the far fuzzier concepts of trust, relationships, and reputation.

Hertz tries harder

I was reminded of all this last week when I rented a car from Hertz. Now, I have one measure of success when it comes to renting cars: the elapsed time between getting off the plane and exiting the car rental facility. In my experience it ranges from fifteen minutes to an hour. I evaluate every rental on the same criteria: from -10 (you have wasted more than an hour of my time and I will vent my fury on Twitter for the next week) to +10 (I love you to death and will say so on every social media platform and in every survey you send me).

As far back as I can remember Hertz has been the dominant brand in car rental. And, being something of a contrarian, I always rented from Avis. I was indoctrinated by years of advertising and brand campaigns to believe that they were #2 and they “tried harder.” And for years, because I spent a great deal of money with them, they got me on my way in a hurry.

Then consolidation came to the marketplace, Avis raised its prices, competitors came into the market, and I started looking around for better alternatives. I tried all the cheaper brands and discovered most of them weren’t trying very hard at all. Longer lines and worse service were not worth the few dollars I was trying to save.

A few years ago Hertz made its prices more competitive, so I tried them out. On my first experience they beat everyone but Avis. So even if they weren’t cheaper, they became my company of choice.

But Hertz and I had a bit of a crisis last week, when they took over an hour to get me from from plane to highway. Most of that was spent at the exit gate, waiting on some electronic malfunction. When my ordeal was over the attendant apologized profusely and gave me a bottle of water. As the rest of the day unfolded other events displaced my annoyance, and so Hertz was spared my usual Twitter rant.

I was reminded of that problem when I returned the car. The attendant politely asked why I hadn’t filled the gas tank. I explained that I couldn’t find a gas station. He told me the nearest one was a couple of miles away and if I wanted to fill up he’d give me directions. It was, however, the end of a very long week and I just didn’t have the energy. The goodhearted attendant perceived my weariness and said, “Don’t worry ma’am, I’ll take care of you.” Just like that he made my problem go away, saving me a fair amount of both time and money.

Your touchpoint is my heroic employee

So, back to touchpoints… Think of how many billions of touchpoints Hertz buys every year, and of the millions they push out specifically to loyal members like me. But in my case all those mean nothing, because to me what Hertz represents is a particular kind individual who made my day better.

On a cost-per-touchpoint basis mine was definitely on the high end. A seven-minute encounter at a fully loaded employee cost is probably about $30, compared to pennies for most of the rest. But it’s the one of the few brand touchpoints I’ll remember, and share with my friends.

Most people whose job it is to promote and protect a brand see communications touchpoints as transactional: we buy them in bulk and dump them on a target audience. From that point of view, customer service and front-line employees are someone else’s responsibility. Touchpoints they may be, but not ones that can be bought and deployed by the billions.

But the most influential touchpoints are human interactions. And unless corporate communicators understand the import of all their brand transactions, they’re wasting a lot of time, effort, and energy.  Touchpoints are the new impressions. Collecting a ton of them is just as meaningless. See my rant on how to fix all these problems by putting communications in charge of everything.∞

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