Are You Spamming Your Customers?

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It used to be that when you wanted to talk to your customers you had to stop them in the aisles, call them on the phone or go visit them. That was fine if you had fifty customers, but if you had lots of customers there wasn’t a cost-effective way to have a conversation with more than a few. Then email came along and for the first time in history, companies had an easy, inexpensive way to have an immediate, two-way dialogue with all their customers at the same time. This remarkable medium created the possibility of a dialogue with customers that could strengthen the brand relationship, thought leadership and trust, over time resulting in real sales growth.

The age of affordable one-to-one marketing had begun. Marketers loved it and since it didn’t really cost very much, the ROI was easy; one or two percent response paid the bill and made money. As a result, there was little concern about what was sent to customers and how often. Companies that had successfully worked to gather hundreds of thousands of opt-in permissions from their customers and prospects were ruining those same relationships they’d worked so hard to develop, and they didn’t even have the tracking or metrics to understand what they were doing to their own brand perceptions or the viability of the channel.

Today, faced with mounting email problems and declining effectiveness, many companies are ready to give up on the most powerful communications medium ever known. Major companies look at their email communications and blame spam for the low open rates and even lower click-through rates, but spam isn’t just unwanted emails for Viagra and get-rich-quick schemes—it’s anything that the recipient doesn’t want and the ugly truth is:

We’re spamming our own customers.

Today, it’s too late for many of these databases. Those same companies often only have five to 10 percent open rates from their own in-house databases and even smaller click-through rates.

That means that 90 to 95 percent of the people that signed up for an ongoing relationship changed their minds because of lack of value in what they received. These customers voted. They said, what you are sending me is the same as spam: irrelevant, uninteresting and a waste of my valuable time.

So where do companies go from here? Some of the proposed solutions involve systemic changes and are a big psychological jump for those who have not yet truly valued the potential of Internet communications. The golden rule is this: only market to that segment of your database that has a demonstrated interest in the product or service you are marketing. Relevancy helps to ensure your next email will be opened. Without it, the likelihood that future emails will be moved straight to the delete column is almost a certainty. The scary thing is that once you’re in the delete column it’s virtually impossible to ever get out again.

Why are people so tough? For the same reason you are. It’s because we all recognize how valuable our time is and we will only give it to those companies that earn it. It’s the same dynamic as with TV advertising. The essential contract is that advertisers get to show you their message if they can attract your attention with a compelling presentation of content that you want to see. Email should be no different, but it takes a commitment to develop and invest in compelling content to make it work.

And let’s not skip over the value of delivering compelling content. With the growth of broadband, which Nielsen//NetRatings recently reported at nearing 70% of all U.S. Internet households, marketers can now more easily satisfy our collective demand for richer, deeper types of interactive selling experiences. That’s a big attitude switch for many companies and involves a fundamental switch in how to execute email and other marketing efforts. I was recently on a call with a company that said they wouldn’t blink at spending $400,000 on a glossy sales brochure, but would have a heart attack at that same amount online. Email marketing is Sam’s job in I.T. — it’s quick, easy and cheap. Unfortunately, like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Especially in our increasingly experiential society, we need to change our attitudes and adjust our vision because the opportunities are huge for those companies that see how to use the Web. Far from being the pinnacle, email is only the beginning of what companies will be able to do with customer communications tomorrow. How we create, feed and grow our in-house, opt-in lists today will determine if we get to participate in the next wave of corporate communications already lapping on our doorstep.

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