Stop bombarding customers with dreary comms and build a proper relationship instead

One of the benefits of an extended Christmas and new year break is having the time to change aspects in our lives that have been niggling at us. One thing that featured high on the list last year was the state of my overflowing inbox – a random mix of important, interesting, irrelevant and wholly inappropriate missives in need of a cull.

It doesn’t take long to establish that the worst email offenders (irrelevant, inappropriate, or just plain dull) are some of the best-known brands with whom I’ve traded in the past year. I’ve spent my money with them and shared a plethora of personal details – inside leg measurements, eye colour, roll on or spray...

And that’s the point. These brands promised that they would be more relevant, fun and informative if I would tell them more about myself. But they lied. The exclusives, the previews, the added value simply failed to materialise. Instead:

Gap – chose to discount clothing every other day at 4pm, giving off an odour of real retail ruination.

Glasses Direct – must assume I have ten sets of eyes

EE – spent all year trying to shift me from the call and data package it sold me… that same year.

And that’s what so ridiculous. These brands deliberately overpromised and under-delivered on their quest to build a personal relationship with me. And they should know better than bombarding inboxes with so many sales messages that it was fair to assume they, like American Apparel, were on a countdown to closing down in the UK.

The issue is that email has become the channel of choice for appalling marketing practices. Some brands do things by email they wouldn’t dream of doing anywhere else. Perhaps it’s a consequence of the three-letter acronym society we live in that seasoned marketers have forgotten that the R in CRM is for Relationship.

You cannot expect consumers (let alone your customers) to keep opening, clicking, sharing or just thinking nice things about your brand if every communication starts with buy and ends with now. Especially when brands raised the bar on their own accord. They didn’t have to make big promises, they just had to set some clear expectations and promise they wouldn’t sell personal data to WikiLeaks.

The punishment is banishment from the inbox. And though we Brits forgive but we don’t forget, many brands are going to have to spend some time in the sin-bin unless there’s a public declaration of mea culpa that leads to reconciliation and reconnection.

Will 2017 bring a change in behaviour? Unlikely. With so much talk around marketing automation and data science there’s a danger that some brands will foolishly leapfrog to anticipate individual needs (before we even realised we had…a need) when they should be concentrating on delivering an elementary but compelling customer comms plan that kind of actually, really works at a segment level.

To help those brands that might be tempted to over-promise through their eCRM this year (yes, that’s a four letter acronym, but what the hell, this is 2017 and Trump is in the house) here are four detox tips to mull over:

  • Speak when you have something to say – and not every Tuesday, because that’s what the marketing calendar currently says.
  • Sell, serve, sell, serve, sell, serve – and repeat. Kill the urge to sell every time you speak. Go on, add some value. Get a conversation going.
  • Bizarrely, not everyone loves a newsletter – in which other channel would you lob out six marketing messages at once? Exactly. Let’s get single-minded again.
  • Plan to be unexpected – put some surprise and delight back into the contact strategy, that’s how to keep a relationship alive.

There you go. Not rocket science or data science, just the application of common sense in a channel that’s gone awry. Rant over. Inbox cleared.

And breathe.

Ben Stephens is chief executive at customer engagement agency STACK

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