Marketers Can’t Continue These Worst Practices

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This article, written for Metzner Schneider Associates, was adapted for CRMGuru.

The concept of “best practices” has taken hold so firmly that a survey of such practices is one of our most sought-after services. And rightly so; learning from the best can be very valuable.

But one can also learn from those that are far from the best. Consider what we can learn from some of the worst marketing practices of 2006. All of these examples are drawn from real-life experience; and all of them involve very high-profile, respected brands:

  • A consumer signs up to receive news and offers from a specialty retailer. He never buys anything but receives weekly emails, addressing him as a “valued customer,” forever after.
  • A lapsed member of a major national health club chain receives member-get-a-member offers but no re-capture efforts and no recognition that she has not renewed her membership.
  • Another customer chooses not to pay $10 to renew his membership in a retail giant’s program. Months later, he still receives email, promoting members-only offers for which he is ineligible.
  • One of the world’s largest multi-product companies sends weekly emails to a rewards club member who signed up years ago but never took action on any offer, never earned or redeemed any points and seldom, if ever, clicks through to indicate interest in any of the confusing welter of unrelated offers in each week’s e-newsletter. Each week, a similar set of offers arrives and is ignored, but the marketer never tries to activate the consumer, motivate a response or discover why she is unresponsive.
  • During one recent time period, an online rewards program offered to “reward a member for her time” with 18 separate emails. She opened or responded to none. An even more aggressive bonus email club sent no fewer than 72 separate offers during the same 31 days (yes, that’s 2.3 emails per day from the same commercial source), none of which were opened, much less responded to. Neither company has ever inquired as to why the customer signed up but has never responded to anything they offer€¦or asked what she might find relevant or valuable enough to notice.
  • And a longtime card-member who owns two charge card products from a major issuer received four postal mail offers for four different card products on the same day from that company.

What’s wrong with this picture? And why do we care? After all, it’s only email; customers can always unsubscribe or simply delete the email that doesn’t interest them—or toss the print mail into the circular file. Email is virtually free compared to other media, so why not just keep sending it, whether or not it makes sales, drives inquiries or engages the customer?

Consumer fatigue
All marketers should care about those careless or thoughtless companies among us because they foster consumer indifference, rebellion, distrust and fatigue—ultimately blunting the well-planned marketing efforts of others.

And what’s worse, none of this heedless spamming is necessary, given technologies that exist today and are available more easily and cost-effectively than ever. Today, ASP companies offer CRM tools that can be operated easily by non-technical marketing staff, with minimal expense and without significant investment in infrastructure or staff. The platforms available make it easy for marketers to understand and analyze customer and subscriber behavior and tailor their communications accordingly.

Surprisingly, some of the offenders whose tactics we described above actually use these platforms. So clearly, the availability and affordability of the technology is not the issue.

The issue is strategy. Or rather, the lack of appropriate strategy.

In fact, today’s technologies actually enable some of the worst practices we’re talking about. Advances in technology and dramatic reductions in the cost of deployment make it equally easy to implement good strategy or bad. Since the effort and investment are roughly equal, why not pay extra attention—and devote adequate resources up front—to developing innovative, customer-centered programs to drive desired customer behavior?

Technology is a key enabler for effective customer relationship programs. But technology alone is not enough.

Implementing a great technology platform does not mean you have a customer loyalty program. And misusing the technology to simply send more non-targeted, irrelevant, repetitive and one-sided communications simply makes the marketer a high-tech spammer.

Technology is vital, but it is no substitute for strategy and creative communications. When tech companies position their offerings as “solutions,” that is not quite accurate; their products only enable solutions.

The best of the tech companies today are creating a great new world, where marketers can make use of highly sophisticated relationship, loyalty, reward and communications strategies, without having to invest in an inappropriate, inflexible and overpriced relationship with one of the large 20th century legacy companies.

The key thing to remember when starting—or periodically re-evaluating—a CRM program is to focus first and foremost on your customer relationship strategy and tactics; never rely on technology alone as a solution to the customer loyalty challenge.

Be sure you look at your marketing communications from the customer’s point of view. It may be easy to put an email program on auto-pilot, but that’s what leads to addressing customers in ways that are irrelevant or just plain wrong. Take the same effort in email that marketers have long learned to do in print communications, to ensure that all the basics are done right:

  1. Get the customer’s name right!
  2. Make sure your communications reflect the reader’s reality.
  3. Use the knowledge you have to target the right message to right consumer: Has she purchased from you in the past? Or is she a prospect who has simply requested information? What offers has he responded to? What has the customer told you about his needs and wants, his household, the way he uses products?

If you keep the focus on the customer and use the powerful technology tools available today to deliver relevance and value, your marketing programs will increasingly reflect the best practices in our industry and deliver maximum return on your marketing investment.

© 2006 Metzner Schneider Associates, Inc.

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