Smart Marketing: The Customer Conversation

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Can we all agree that there is something to what we call the customer "relationship," something that has a lot to do with revenue and profitability? Let me see a show of hands.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> By relationship, I think we mean a connection between the marketer and the customer. Not the gooey-kind-of-relationship stuff, but a connection that is defined by, and measured by, the creation of a pattern of preferential repurchase. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> So if we want to improve the relationship, vis a vis its measurement, we would naturally do everything we could to increase the preference that drives the repurchase, both by offering more value and removing obstacles. Thus, I will posit, communication&#x2014;you know, like an exchange of ideas&#x2014;could be a very powerful tool. Say, Mr. Customer, how do you define value, and do you see or experience any roadblocks to the value? Sort of like a conversation. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Still with me? Here's how I, as a customer of many companies, generally experience the conversation:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> I am bombarded by high-decibel, irrelevant marketing messages at every turn. My guess is that maybe 1 percent of it is interesting. Maybe 1 percent of those are relevant and compelling. I have three choices:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 1. I can buy. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 2. I can do nothing (sort of like being numb). <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 3. I can opt-out.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Marketing is stuck in broadcast mode. Listening to the individual customer does not seem to be a priority. This is unfortunate (and a general waste of time) because I, as a customer, would be happy to share my preferences with selected marketers. Which is probably pretty reliable information and would save a lot of time and effort on everyone's part. Here's what I'd like to tell them:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Who I am.</b> Remember, I am volunteering this information, so I am opting in (which is infinitely more effective for any marketer). I am convinced that this is the place for me, so I'm not afraid to tell you things that will help you to serve me better&#x2014;within reason and as they apply to your product or service. I'll tell you demographics and psychographics if I am convinced of the relevance, so why guess?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> By the way, I am categorically not opting-in to receive miscellaneous offers and promotions from your marketing partners and affiliates. That would fracture our bond of trust, and once that goes, I'm gone like a cool breeze.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Exactly where I see the most value in your product or service.</b> The greater the value, the greater the satisfaction, which is a key driver of preferential repurchase. A good example is barnesandnoble.com. If I opt-in, they ask me my authors I like best, and will be happy to notify me when the next Michael Chabon (my selection) comes out. That sounds like a good deal to me.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Aside: I was once going over a data dictionary with a client. "Wow," I said, "you've got a field called 'future purchase plans.' That's really terrific. How do you know? Where does this information come from?"<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> My client replied that they, too, thought it was a terrific idea&#x2026;but they couldn't develop reliable information, so they populate it with the customer's last purchase. No new information is no improvement.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> How I'd like to hear about that value: my media and frequency preferences. While the specter of putting the customer in charge of media selection and deployment strikes fear, look at it this way&#x2014;if a person is averse to a specific medium, you can sing all day everyday and they'll never tap a foot. And if you continue the tune, presto! You get something like the National Do Not Sing Registry.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Conversing with your customer creates a much more efficient system, delivering messages that arrive with the expectation of value, as well as eliminating mountains of waste for both the marketer and the customer. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sounds like profitability to me. Think about it, please.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Scott Hornstein is the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing" and president of Hornstein Associates in Redding, CT. He can be contacted at <a href="email: scott@hornsteinassociates.com">scott@hornsteinassociates.com</a>.</i>