You Only Have to Be Wrong Once

My friend in advertising loves to remind me that a company like Mercedes must advertise to a potential customer constantly from the moment they’re born just to earn the chance to sell them a car.

Most people will see ~40 years of Mercedes advertisements before they consider and are able to buy a Mercedes.

Building, building, building.

In basketball you have to shoot 50pct. If you make an extra 10 shots per hundred, you are an All-Star. In baseball you have to get a hit 30 pct of the time. If you get an extra 10 hits per hundred at bats, you are on the cover of every magazine, lead off every SportsCenter and make the Hall of Fame.

In Business, the odds are a little different. You don’t have to break the Mendoza line (hitting .200). In fact, it doesn’t matter how many times you strike out. In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once.
Mark Cuban, You Only Have to Be Right Once

Karl Benz just had to be right once. But now Mercedes has to get the experience right every time their brand passes through one’s conscious, for ~40 consecutive years.

When the product’s expensive, the stakes are high for both the seller and the buyer. Mercedes will work over an entire lifetime to convince a buyer they can deliver value beyond the buyer’s imaginative horizon. And their effort is so effective people will work harder just to enable the purchase of a Mercedes.

But, incumbency seems to breed customer neglect. That’s the point of this post.

After ~40 years of work convincing someone to buy a car, the marginal work of keeping them happy is purely marginal. Once a Mercedes has been ordered, built, and delivered, the amount of work to get the buyer to order another Mercedes in the future is small by comparison. Mercedes spent ~40 years building that customer relationship, now they just do relationship maintenance to sell their buyer Mercedes over and over again for the rest of the buyer’s life.

Relationship maintenance is where the rubber meets the road, and, in my experience, it’s the point where most customers describe the wheels coming off their relationship with the car maker. I’ve never heard someone say “I’ll never buy a Mercedes because of X ad!”, but I’ve heard constantly “I’ll never buy another Mercedes because of Y experience at the dealership!”


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