A Terrific Example of a Really Bad Marketing Decision

I think we all agree companies need to make it easier to do business with them. Conversely, I’d like to contend companies also need to make it easier for customers to NOT do business with them. Allow me to explain and provide a real-life, tangible example of what I mean.

I recently received and opted into a promotional offer from LinkedIn to receive a free month of their ‘Business Plus’ services. I was somewhat skeptical at first to accept the offer, especially because LinkedIn wanted my credit card up front—this is a relatively benign and expected marketing ploy for companies with a tiered pricing model in today’s market, but it still always gives me pause (because I know it’ll create an extra future step for me if I end up not finding value and want to unsubscribe, and frankly, I hate unnecessary steps). Nonetheless, I decided to play LinkedIn’s game and provided them with my credit card—and concurrently set a 29-day meeting reminder on my calendar to opt out of the ‘Business Plus’ upgrade the day before my one month promotion would roll into a paid service, in the event I didn’t find enough value from the about-to-be-paid option.

The opting-in part wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, not surprisingly, LinkedIn made it amazingly simple for me to accept their promotional offer (e.g., a customized landing page). I don’t remember the exact details, but I do recall a fairly well thought out landing page via a straight-forward promotional email click-through. The whole sign-up likely took about two minutes, including reading the promo email, the landing page, and getting out my credit card.

Unfortunately, however, this is where my experience with LinkedIn goes awry.

As designed, my calendar reminded me this morning to evaluate my LinkedIn situation (i.e., to contemplate whether I wanted to continue using ‘Business Plus’ as a paid service). After a few moments of thought (it really didn’t take me long at all, which is likely a topic for a future blog post), I decided I wanted to unsubscribe from this “premium feature.” I just wasn’t using the “premium” features much at all and couldn’t rationalize paying for the premium service.

Naturally, I headed to my Account Settings page in my LinkedIn account, but—and you know what’s coming—couldn’t figure out where or how to downgrade my account. In fact, LinkedIn was providing me with a ton of options to upgrade my account—awesome!… just what I DON’T need, thanks a lot, LinkedIn!—but for the life of me I couldn’t find any option anywhere to downgrade. I actually took a few moments to stop and literally carefully scan the Account Settings page, and all other pages that might have anything remotely close to what I was searching for—button by button—but couldn’t find anything. (I’m getting over a three-week head cold and thought perhaps my still-foggy brain was missing something.)

At this point, I was getting irritated. And despite what I really wanted to believe, that LinkedIn wouldn’t really engage in this type of “gimmick” marketing with its constituents, I unfortunately knew what was happening. I’m a marketer, and I’ve seen these tricks before (and for the record, they suck—a lot).

I paused and thought for a moment about what my next step was going to be. Here I am, having already invested approximately 10 minutes trying to figure out how to downgrade my account; this wasn’t a ton of time relative to my day’s bandwidth, but this seven minutes was exponentially exacerbated by my increasing frustration—it felt more like 20 minutes.

As I saw it, I had two options:

Option A: Give up and allow LinkedIn to begin charging me for a service I wasn’t going to use. At some point I’d get around to canceling the service, or perhaps even find actual value in it. I’m confident this is the option LinkedIn was hoping for.

Option B: Dig a little deeper, get to the bottom of what was happening, and finally downgrade my account.

As I saw it, Option B was my only choice. I didn’t want to pay a company something like $30/month for a service I wasn’t going not utilize. And I certainly didn’t want to support a company I feel engaged in this type of bullshit marketing.

(Note: Not only couldn’t I find a downgrade option throughout this entire process, but I also couldn’t easily find any information about what the actual monthly cost would be if I did in fact remain a ‘Business Plus’ customer. Perhaps if LinkedIn had explicitly told me what the cost was going to be, I would have at least facilitated a moment of lucidity and consideration of ‘Do I really want to go through the trouble of canceling this? It’s only $XX per month.’)

Rather than get sucked down a Google-rabbit-hole of searches trying to figure out how to downgrade my account, I decided to use the LinkedIn ‘Contact Us’ feature and simply ask to be downgraded. So that’s what I did. And it’s also how I quickly realized this whole thing was strategically and purposefully designed.

I completed a ‘Contact Us’ form and wrote somewhere in it that I wanted to “downgrade my account.” Upon hitting the ‘Submit’ button, I was presented with a pop-up dialog box that provided a few more options before I really, actually submitted my request to LinkedIn… you know, kind of like a digital version of the all-too-familiar Customer Service Phone Tree Hell we’ve all experienced: ‘I see you’ve said you want ‘this,’ but I’m thinking ‘this’ is really what you want. Press #2 for this option instead.’ *SIGH*

Funny thing is, one of the options presented to me was to downgrade my account; I immediately clicked that option. I was then immediately directed to a landing page detailing exactly how to downgrade my account. FINALLY. Way more difficult than that needed to be.

You see, the fact the LinkedIn system was sophisticated enough to automatically recognize what I was trying to do at this late point in the process tells me they expected people to do this, and created the system logic to help people downgrade… ONCE THEY GOT TO THIS POINT OF EXTREME PERSEVERANCE, rather than clog up their customer service support queue with “unnecessary” customer dialogue.

What I don’t understandWhat I now understand and am really pissed off about is that if LinkedIn is smart enough to create the logic to automatically recognize what I was doing, why didn’t they just make it at least a LITTLE bit easier for me to downgrade my account much earlier in the process? Listen, I get the fact we as business folks perhaps shouldn’t make it AS easy for people to opt out as it is to opt in, but for goodness sake, don’t make it next to impossible to do so. Unfortunately, someone at LinkedIn made a really bad strategic decision about how to handle their promotion trial attrition. (That’s marketing-speak for: LinkedIn tried to make the downgrade process really complicated so that people would choose to continue to pay their monthly fees despite finding little or no value in the premium service.)

I’m pretty upset about all this and I really hope someone at LinkedIn reads this blog post, and changes their process. (Yeah, I know—wishful thinking, buddy.) I get the fact they’re an 800-lb gorilla right now in a silo’d market and own the majority of market share, thus allowing them to act without much competitive fear, but I’m telling you this: If a viable alternative were available to me, I’d be the first in line to take my business elsewhere.

And just to spite LinkedIn, I might just pay for it, too.

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  1. Bullshit marketing! Ha! I hate services that make it so very easy to join and then a pain in the rear to quit. Some email lists are like that, forcing you to log in to unsubscribe from a mailing.

    • Precisely. I recall reading something a few years ago about this exact thing, basically validating with research statistics how engaging in this type of activity actually hurts a company’s revenue in the long term. I need to find that research.

      You know, if an email list required you to log in prior to unsubscribing, that might violate the CAN-SPAM Act. I’ll check in with an email expert buddy to answer this for sure.

      UPDATE: Here’s what my email expert buddy had to say: “Technically legal, but messed up. What happens if non-members get on the list? They can’t unsub … bad idea.”

  2. Well put Mr. Sweatybrains. I had a similar experience with LinkedIn premium. I willingly joined thinking I would use it as a self marketing tool, then realized how annoyed I get when people use LinkedIn as a self marketing tool, except perhaps for filling job positions. I was late in cancelling, mainly for the reasons the blog pointed out, and just didn’t find the timely time to call and cancel.

    When I finally did, I fully expected a partial refund. No dice -and they didn’t charge monthly, they charge yearly (this may have changed). No partial refunds.

    I contemplated cancelling my account as a matter of principle, but it really is an effective means of keeping track of all those people you worked with and DON’T want to be facebook friends with. Further, even the free service has some nice features beyond contacts, such as searching “degrees” of separation on industries and such.

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