Open mouth. Insert foot. Lately, the media world has been awash with cringe-worthy stories of bad communicating. Maybe you’ve heard of Kenneth Cole’s insensitive tweet, where he used the plight of the Egyptian people to sell his spring collection, or you saw Groupon’s Super Bowl ad that seemed to make light of various social causes, including the situation in Tibet.

Both companies made a multitude of mistakes, including being insensitive to social plight, both of their problems stem from one single mistake: over assuming. Here are excerpts from both companies’ “apologies”:

“I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues…” Kenneth Cole

“Groupon’s roots are in social activism – we actually began as cause-based website called The Point, and we continue to use Groupon to support local causes with our G-Team initiative,” Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon

Can you spot what caused both company’s missteps? It was hubris. Both organizations assumed people knew more about their brands than they actually did. If one did know Groupon was a socially active company, or Kenneth Cole is an AIDS activist, it would put the ad and the tweet in an entirely different light.

Groupon even took their arrogance a step further, assuming people would know the company was giving matching donations to the causes highlighted in the spots. Unfortunately, they didn’t include this information in the ad, assuming that viewers would get the information from…somewhere.

The takeaway lesson from these disasters is simple: don’t assume your customers know or care who you are. It’s your responsibility as a business owner or marketer to create the story for them, not to make them rely on back story. Even at Roundpeg, we fall ourselves falling into this trap, letting our personality-filled Facebook Fan Page become filled with in-jokes. It’s an easy mistake, and we’ll be doing our best to stay inclusive.

What do you think? Do brands assume too much knowledge from their customers?



Question? Contact Roundpeg, an Indianapolis branding firm, for help.