How Not to Run a Business - Ignore Your Market

Published: by

Every now and then, I am amazed by the dumb things companies do. Inevitably, they stem from someone in a headquarters going, "I know what customers need!" They then come up with a great plan to market some new service or offer that is so completely detached from actual customer requirements, that it is bound for failure.

Not 5 minutes ago, in my inbox, I received an advertisement from El Al Airlines. El Al used to be known by the moniker "EL AL = Every Landing Always Late," and was distinguished by its high security, high prices and high level of rudeness to its customers on the air and in the ground. Since the early 90s, El Al, to its credit, has made enormous strides in improving in-air customer service - I saw it first-hand when I worked there during my college years - while other airlines seem to have taken a nice step backwards, with the usual exceptions of the Asian carriers.

At El Al HQ, on the other hand, servicing the customer, since s/he is where your revenues come from, seems to be a less important issue.

This advertisement that arrived in my inbox offered great "last-minute deals" on flights from Tel Aviv to Europe, Asia and North America, for those who are "quick to decide." I decided to take a look at the options. The prices are actually quite good for the routes, so first test is passed. Then I check schedules and availability. Of course, some routes are already sold out, but that is hardly surprising. Once I select an outbound date at random, say mid-Dec TLV-PRG, it gives options for return flights.... beginning in January!

There are lots of kinds of travelers, each making up its own market: business travelers who usually book close to travel and pay premium prices; leisure travelers who books weeks or months in advance for inflexible but highly discounted tickets; and many others. One is, of course, the last-minute deal-seeker. These are people who, when given a last-minute opportunity to get a great deal for a short vacation will manage to take an extra day or two for a long weekend, somehow finagle child-care for the kids (if relevant), and enjoy a quick weekend getaway.

No one, not a single solitary market, is built around, "last-minute, quick-decision, discount-seeking, inflexible tickets for extended two+ week vacations or business trips." No one. That combination sector simply doesn't exist. Sure, there may be a few individuals, probably in the student sector, but not in any material numbers.

Never try to market what your customers don't want, and never assume you know what your customers want without actually checking with them. Another Iron Flop Award to El Al.