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The Narcissus Dilemma: Why Looking Good to Yourself Doesn’t Matter

Reality is relative. It changes with each individual. What appeals to you may leave another person cold. And what makes sense to the seller may make none to the buyer. Here's a real world example.

I took a business class flight in April 2015 from Los Angeles to Berlin, and the accommodations were pretty darn cushy (the airline only offered coach and business classes, so business was equivalent to first). Yet the home screen of the video monitor in front of each seat was a series of rotating beauty shots of the plane's exterior. That may have caused the airline's executives to burst with pride; yet, as a passenger, there was nothing more pointless, especially when I remembered that the airline's website (which is plastered all over the planes) makes a three-toed sloth look as fast as a Ferrari.

branding_like_narcissus Perspective Matters
For me, it would have been far more interesting to know what amenities were available onboard or what the various seating options were (in case I might be flying in coach the next time). Since business class passengers turned left when boarding, I had no idea what coach seating looked like to the right or, on an international flight, what was included and what was optional.

Considering that the airline anticipated that an overnight flight would probably involve sleeping, it was ideal that the seat reclined completely to function as a bed. Yet they seemed to ignore that business class passengers might actually want to do business...and provided no WiFi...not even for a fee, which would probably have seemed inexcusable to many business class flyers. (On the German and Italian trains I took in first class, Internet access was both available and free.)

Timing Really Is Everything
The fight's complimentary packet of amenities—eye shades, socks, toothbrush, lotion, etc.—included a discount coupon that (on the flight back to the States) was good only in Germany... and expired in November of 2014. I had to laugh...in disbelief. That's because, whenever I'm ready to launch a marketing campaign, the first tests I run are on whether the URLs, the email address, the phone number, and any other response options are working correctly (or at all). In this case, the airline, the manufacturer of the packet, and the retailer all screwed up.

From the perspective of the airline and its promotional partners, they were providing a tangible benefit. From the perspective of the passengers (or this one, at least), they were looking good to themselves. And, unless they were buying seats, doing business en route, and thinking, "Hey, this lotion's really great," they missed the mark (and their market) completely.

Perception, as Rolling Stone magazine stressed in its ads in the '70s, is reality. If you can't see your business from your buyers' perspective (and, like Narcissus, only admire your own reflection), those buyers will probably see more value somewhere else.

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About the author

Peter Altschuler's picture

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Peter Altschuler has been making products and services irresistible for more than a generation in a career that extends from high technology to television production.

He’s currently the chief marketing and creative strategist at Wordsworth & Company and has served as a Group Creative Director at San Francisco ad agency Anderson & Lembke, run the in-house agency at Candle Corp (now part of IBM) and, earlier, worked in television, producing for ABC News, Sesame Workshop, The Food Network, and PBS.
   
In his spare time, he brings books to life — most recently narrating Getting Religion by former Newsweek religion editor Kenneth Woodward and Creativity, Inc. by Pixar founder Ed Catmull — and performs in everything from Shakespeare to commercials.

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