When a seemingly great idea isn’t well received by your audience, the consequences can be devastating – possibly putting you out of business. Let’s look at some major brand failures to understand what happened, and how these debacles could’ve been prevented.

New Coke

It happened in 1985, but was such a disaster we’re still talking about it 32 years later. Why did Coke ever think changing their formula would be a good idea? CBS News recalls, “Coca-Cola was number one at the time, but Pepsi was gaining ground and cutting into Coke’s precious market share. In the fierce cola wars of the 80s, new Coke was no shot across the bow. It was meant to be a direct hit.” Instead it was the direct opposite. New Coke was so widely panned, it made headlines when Coke finally switched back to their original formula.

Windows Vista

Microsoft’s upgrade over operating system Windows XP didn’t feel like one to consumers. A combination of bad timing, buggy software, and incompatibility issues had users reverting back to XP after trying Vista. It didn’t help that Apple promoted Vista’s flaws to entice users to their own camp. Ultimately, Microsoft backed off on its Vista promotions and focused on speeding up the release of Windows 7.

The Netflix account split

It’s almost hard to remember Netflix started as a DVD-rental delivery service – or that they still offer physical DVDs to those who want them. When streaming was added, users could opt for both services through their account – it would just cost more to do both. Then in July 2011, Netflix separated their DVD service, running it through “Qwikster,” requiring users to maintain two accounts – while also raising their price on the combined service. A price hike is bad enough for PR – especially without any added services – but making more work for consumers never earns you points. Losing “upward of 800,000 subscribers, and 10% of their quarterly revenue” forced the media company to go back to a single-account service – though the price increase remained.

The Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay app

Following on the success of Starbucks Mobile Pay, the coffee giant released a new perk earlier this year – the ability to advance order and pay from the mobile app, then pick up in-store. Starbucks’ new Mobile Order & Pay app was designed to reduce long waits in-store, but is actually having the opposite effect, “resulting in walk-in customers not making a purchase due to the heavy rush, impacting comparable sales negatively.”

The brand is working on solving the problem, but like all of the examples above, they could have foreseen it and had a plan if they’d just done a little social listening.

Never forget consumers are in charge

With all brand product and service failures – and there are many more than are listed here – the common thread is not including consumer opinion in your decision-making.

A Coca-Cola spokesperson perfectly sums up our point: “When we look back, this was the pivotal moment when we learned that fiercely loyal consumers — not the Company — own Coca-Cola and all of our brands.”

Indeed, fiercely loyal consumers are the ones who started a grassroots campaign to ditch New Coke in favor of “Classic.” If Coca-Cola hadn’t listened, would more than the mere 13 percent of soda drinkers who liked New Coke have eventually embraced the change? Or would Coke have gone under, leaving Pepsi as reigning King of (Soda) Pop?

Luckily, Coke was smart enough to do what was necessary to save their brand – but smarter still would have been finding out in advance if consumers even wanted the change.

Now, with social media, it’s even less forgivable to discount the voice of the consumer – because it’s right there, loaded with insights, all the time. In the case of Starbucks, for instance, they could have used social sentiment analysis to know there was an audience segment of walk-in customers they needed to consider, and planned their post app-launch execution accordingly.

Instead, with every failure to meet the needs of this consumer segment, they risk losing them to a competitor better able to take care of them right now. And savvy competitors should absolutely be aware of and using this opportunity to cater to and court Starbucks fans. That’s just good competitive analysis.

Solid customer experience management relies on combining strategies like design-thinking with hard data from social analytics to create exactly what consumers are dying for – versus something you think they’ll like. Guesswork is far too risky nowadays – and there’s no need for it when you have access to real-time sentiment data.

So vet your great ideas with your audience before implementing – and you’ll have no regrets.

Have you seen our sentiment analysis tools at work? Reach out for a one-on-one demo!

Image from Mike Mozart


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