My favorite ice cream brand is not as good as it once was. The vanilla bean specks, once plentiful, are barely noticeable. The half-gallon size is quite a bit shy of a half-gallon. This year I noticed a slight change in the flavor. The ingredients now list vegetable gum rather than just cream, sugar, and vanilla.
This slow decline is probably inevitable, given the pressures on the business. Management nearly always demands profit increases every year from big brands. Brand managers know that boosting sales is very difficult when the brand commands a large slice of the market share, so it is easier to focus on cost savings. Every year they try to shave a fraction of a penny of the expense off each unit. An eighth of a penny off ten-billion products sold can add up to a substantial saving that drops to the bottom line.
Every year procurement, manufacturing, and R&D look for ways to take cost out of the packaging, ingredients, and process. Every year the brand team compares this year’s product to last year’s product, and they congratulate themselves when the change is barely discernable. Too bad they can’t compare this years’ product to the product from a decade ago. Cost-saving doesn’t come for free. Each change creates a reduction in quality, which we consumers notice over time. As whatever made the brand great in the first place loses its luster, our apathy increases.
Associations are not usually laser-focused on profits in the same way consumer products companies are but, apathy creep can happen to us too. Usually, we make trade-offs because of time. Those special personal touches, unexpected nice surprises, and wow experiences are the first to go when staff members lack time. Member response is usually slow, but one year we might wonder, “why is membership declining?” The next time you have to prioritize time, prioritize in favor of your members’ experience.