Every company has some kind of an advertising budget. Even the smallest one man bands have to set aside some money for marketing their business, whether that’s printing flyers, running a simple website or placing an ad in the Yellow Pages (when they actually were yellow and pages).

The big players on the other hand pour money into advertising and marketing the same way I pour money into food and travel. A quick look around town and a few hours spent listening to the radio, watching TV or browsing the Internet should give you an idea of the sheer reach and depth of pocket of the larger corporates. As an ex-advertising manager, I’ve had years of exposure to the thought processes of corporations and their ad agencies desperately trying to stand out from the herd. From innovative new campaigns to name changes and total shifts in direction, I’ve more or less seen it all.

And after my years in sales and marketing, I’ve come to a final conclusion re. advertising, and it’s one that should be obvious to everyone who’s in business but for some reason, it’s not.

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, if your products and or services aren’t up to speed, then you will never be as successful as you could be.

Which brings me to Vodafone New Zealand as an example of rendering advertising worthless, or at least worth less than it should be. I’ve been a Vodafone mobile customer since I first arrived on these fair shores 15 years ago. The service has generally been okay, much of a muchness compared to all the other players… well, let’s make that the other player seeing as there was a duopoly in place for a much of that time. Arguably, there still is but that’s a tale for another day.

I’ve never used Vodafone for home Internet or land line services, preferring to just stick with Spark but after being out of the country for the last year or so, I ended up encountering Vodafone landline based Internet in a big way for the first time. I’ve been staying with family and friends for the month I’m in New Zealand, and all three of the places I’ve stayed have had the familiar white and red Vodafone router stashed in a room somewhere. The sight of that router has begun to fill me with intense trepidation.

You see, my partner runs an online business that needs to have decent Internet access. She doesn’t need mega speed or gamer-type pings, just enough to make international Skype video calls or VOIP calls. But we apparently can’t do that with any degree of certainty in any of the houses with a Vodafone fixed line.

Funny that. We managed in Bali, and not just in Ubub and Denpasar. We coped in some far-flung towns on the north coast of the Island; areas where the Internet infrastructure isn’t exactly flash. But not in NZ. How’s that possible?

We were of course also fine in the USA, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand. But in New Zealand, the calls drop out with an unerring regularity, even in Auckland and Tauranga. Which is when we need to fall back to the 3G or 4G on my iPhone (powered by Vodafone ironically enough). That connection is much more consistent, even if it’s not as quick but the price is just silly. I won’t grill Vodafone too much in that regard – the other players are pretty much just as bad in terms of their outrageous data pricing. I fondly remember getting 4.5Gb of mobile data (and 3G speeds close to 20Mb at times) on Thailand’s AIS mobile network for around $15, not the 1Gb for $29 that I get from Vodafone (and yes, I know about the unlimited txts and the 200 minutes). 

Anyway, back to the landlines – wondering if it was just our bad luck, I started asking around. I asked friends and family, and I asked on the social feed of a technology site I run. The verdict quickly became clear – almost overwhelmingly, Vodafone fixed line Internet access doesn’t seem to be highly regarded. The reason most people give for staying with Vodafone is that all the other ISPs are just as bad. So perhaps Vodafone is hanging onto some of its fixed line market share purely because of consumer apathy?

But this will eventually reflect on their bottom line. Sooner or later, one of the other players will start delivering measurably better service instead of something that resembles the bad days of early New Zealand ADSL when micro-outages were common. And they’ll find a compelling way to tell Kiwis about it, or just wait for word-of-mouth to make it plain. At that point, Vodafone can kiss a huge swathe of clients goodbye.

Which brings us to the moral of the story. How much money are you spending on advertising that’s being wasted because some part of your organisation isn’t quite running up to speed?

Is it your gruff sounding, uninvolved receptionist who makes your customers want to call someone else? Eventually they will, and it’ll be your competition on the other end of the line. Or is it your call center’s inability to think outside the box while rigidly adhering to their call scripts? Maybe a product with a lid that tends to spill liquid when the container is shaken? A rep in a branded company car that drives like a madman? Every one of these things can and will impact your company.

No business is perfect, which is why the people at the top need to be rigorously auditing every part of the machine to find and eliminate the weaknesses, whether that be product, people or processes. Find a way to improve your company in some small way every day and you’ll be stunned at what you end up with. Unless the rot does in fact come from the top, in which case, you might as well fire the marketing team and shut the doors because eventually, the competition will eat you alive.

Spend a dollar improving your company before you spend a dollar telling people about it. You’ll be far better off in the long run.