Build Your Brand with Downtime

Most marketers, and business people in general, tend to define brand in a way that I feel overly complicates their world. Even those whom I highly respect as marketers, such as Seth Godin defines brand as a series of components that make up what he refers to as the brand value (see here).

Marketing philosophy side note: Brand value should not be measured in its ability to create customers and value. Brand is about getting the right customers. In many ways, brands help turn away more customers than they create. Brand helps you focus.

For me, a company or product brand has always represented one simple thing: The emotional response elicited by your customer when your product or company is mentioned.

Tying your product to a brand helps customers decide which product (relative to your competition) someone should purchase. If I want a safe car, I buy a Volvo. If I want a luxury watch, I by a Rolex. If it absolutely has to be there overnight, I go with FedEx. You get the point.

Now lets look at your job. In almost all ways, managing your application infrastructure is a thankless job. Whether you work for a corporate IT department, or manage a cloud application for thousands of other companies (SaaS), the opinions of your user base are typically the same:

When everything is up and running, you’re just doing your job. However, when things go wrong, you and your team are a bunch of bungling idiots.
In the nineties I worked for a software company that built and sold a product that was bigger and more complex than a company our size should have built or sold. The product suffered a lot of downtime as a result of bugs, and unplanned emergency upgrades. The thing is, the few customers that we had, absolutely loved us. Our team realized early on that the application was problematic and we worked hard to make sure our customers knew that we knew. During some of the worst times, we would sometimes camp out in our customers server rooms even when things were working, so that we could be there as soon as something went wrong. Our intense focus on proactive monitoring and customer communication earned us a lot of credit with our customers. We often said,
“We were at our best, when we were at our worst.”

One of the best ways to build brand is communicating directly with your customers. When end users access your application, or purchase your product, very often the only interactions you end up having with them is when they call in for some support, or when you need to get paid. With so few opportunities to interact with them, application downtime, as awful as it is, should be treated as a third opportunity, and should be looked at as just that: an opportunity.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • You manage software applications.

  • Your application will crash, your network will go down, or maintenance will eventually need to be scheduled.

  • Customers / end-users care about downtime.

Given the inevitable fact that you will eventually be communicating to your customers about application availability; isn’t it in your best interest to build a process around that which frames your company in the best light possible? Here at, we call this “the politics of down”.

The Politics of Down

It’s a simple philosophy: Control the message.

Being proactive about the situation lets you frame the problem under your terms. This includes communicating the problem to your customer proactively, letting them know that you are on top of the issue and that you care about their situation. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly from your end-users perspective, it prevents them from wasting their time trying to guess when the application is going to be back up.

Treat downtime as another point of customer interaction that you can use to build an emotional tie they will have with your company or product. In other words, use it to build your brand.

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