Dear CMO:

It feels like ages ago, but the possibly misquoted VP of Marketing over at Verizon Wireless’s comments about mobile advertising still haunt us.

“We know we can make significant dollars in mobile Web advertising in 2007,” said [the VP of Marketing at Verizon Wireless]… “That said, we likely will not — we want to take it carefully and methodically, and enable the right experience.” More generally, he added, “Mobile advertising is going to take off in 2007.”

This may just be an unfortunate moment in front of a microphone and the VP may have all the best intentions at heart. He ended up saying that they’d go slow. But he didn’t start that way and that’s the worry. I appreciate the moment of caution that comes only a second too late. It’s like scolding the teller for a joke made in extremely poor taste, but only after laughing a little bit. Seth Godin wrote an open letter covering this ground under the assumption that this was a lost cause. I’d like to think that it’s not.

Had Verizon said something more comforting, something that made me think that they were thinking about us – and not just about our ARPU, for the moment — I’d feel better.

How about this:

“We want Verizon customers to have a great experience with us so we’re going to do some testing with a triple-triple opt-in list of our highly valued consumers who we’re giving six months of service for free just for helping us out – and hey, do you want to play, too? Let us know! Just hit this URL or dial ‘star two’ and we’ll hook you up – and if we find out people hate it, then we’ll find out why and hopefully make it even better. Then we’ll try it again. And we’ll never – ever – roll it out nationally until it’s a feature, not a burden.”

I’d be OK with this.

Compare this philosophy with the interesting work done by Paco Underhill and his team at Envirosell — they do what I’d describe as ‘retail anthropology’ for many big names in the brand and retail worlds. Interestingly, he comes from an urban planning background. As such, the mindset changes from ‘where can I up-sell a customer’ to ‘where should we put a park bench, because people might want to sit right about here’. This philosophy has found its way into retail where places to sit, the presence of mirrors, widening aisles and other consumer-friendly things have begun to happen over the years. Not because of the seller’s need, but because of the customer’s need.

Wouldn’t it be great if all brands woke up tomorrow thinking about making good profits – the ones that come from driving their customers wild with over-met expectations – and not ways to profit badly by dinging them with things they don’t want or didn’t expect?

What would happen if we served customers first? How would packaging change? How would customer service change? How would features (or the lack thereof) change?

Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny