Quit Touching Me! I Just Want Simplicity!


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“Most commentary on social media ignores an obvious truth—that the value of things is largely determined by their rarity.” A smackdown of social media’s best and brightest that appeared in a column in The Economist in December, 2011, titled Too Much Buzz.

Getting a social media strategist, marketer or salesperson to buy that idea might require a hard sell of its own, because it means upending some well-entrenched beliefs. For instance, “It takes an average of seven touches to convert a suspect to a prospect.” Persistent marketing advice that some accept with the same fealty as a family proverb passed from generation to generation. If it takes seven touches to move a prospect just one level in our sales funnels, how many touches to get to Close? Time to hop on Excel and run the numbers! Engage! Nurture! More is more!

But a recent article in Harvard Business Review found touching has a point of diminishing return. An elusive concept for marketers, if you checked your email or spam folder lately. “For many consumers the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.” To paraphrase from Fiddler on the Roof, “Why do we communicate so much if it’s so dangerous?” Tradition!

Marketers have gotten the hint, but have done little about it. Last week, when I freed myself from some unwanted email, the propagators wanted to know why, helpfully offering their own suggestions, including “The email content is irrelevant . . . the emails are too frequent . . . I never requested receiving email from your company.” Check. Check. Check. What part of unsubscribe don’t you understand?

Did I opt in? Or did I just fail to opt out? Who cares? It’s only the tip of the communication-overload iceberg. According to a recent IBM CEO Study, Command & Control Meets Collaboration, “While social media is the least utilized of all customer interaction methods today, it stands to become the number two organizational engagement method within the next five years, a close second to face-to-face interactions.” Heaven help us if marketers keep steadfast to a Seven-Touches, more-is-better mentality. Overloaded? Just wait! We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

According to the article Too Much Buzz, “the more people tweet, the less attention people will pay to any individual tweet. The more people ‘friend’ even passing acquaintances, the less meaning such connections have. As communication grows ever easier, the important thing is detecting whispers of useful information in a howling hurricane of noise. For speakers, the new world will be expensive.”

Most of this I knew, but it was the word expensive that elevated my pulse rate. With the low-cost ubiquity of social media communications today, it seems a rare word, unsettling in this context.

What’s the solution? Has engagement lost its meaning, watered down from overuse like other marketing buzz-speak, including synergy, proactive, and innovation? Are we intoxicated on metrics, servile to Seven Touches, or seventy, or seven hundred without thinking about the consequences or outcomes? If Seven Touches doesn’t cut it today, what does? Or might?

There are several answers. Start by letting go of the myopia that “there is a continuous linear relationship between the number of interactions and share of wallet”—a finding from a recent Harvard Business School Study, described in an article, Three Myths about What Customers Want. “There’s no correlation between interactions with a customer and the likelihood that he or she will be ‘sticky’ (go through with an intended purchase, purchase again, and recommend).” Instead, the authors believe that “shared values build relationships.”

What does that mean for marketers and salespeople? “Instead of relentlessly demanding more consumer attention, treat the attention you do win as precious,” according to the article, which makes these additional recommendations:

1. Ask yourself “is this campaign . . . going to reduce the cognitive overload consumers feel as they shop my category? If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure,’ go back to the drawing board.”

2. Communicate shared values by promoting a higher purpose to your product or service. Companies like Mini, Pedigree, and Southwest Airlines were mentioned as examples.

3. Get off the brand wagon! “Only 23% of the consumers in our study said they have a relationship with a brand. In the typical consumer’s view of the world, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues.” When they explain why, they say, “‘it’s just a brand, not a member of my family’ . . . Stop bombarding consumers who don’t want a (brand) relationship with your attempts to build one through endless emails or complex loyalty programs.”

Move over Seven Touches. Say hello to Decision Simplicity Index—”the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options,” according to Harvard Business Review. “Our study found that the best tool for measuring consumer-engagement efforts is the ‘decision simplicity index,’ a gauge of how easy it is for consumers to gather and understand (or navigate) information about a brand, how much they can trust the information they find, and how readily they can weigh their options.” Ahhh. Just reading that makes one feel better!

What’s touching to a marketer might be groping to a prospect. Something to think about before you envision your social media strategy. Keep things simple, and treat the attention you do win as precious. Easy to say, but much, much harder to execute when “conversation” is so cheap. Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath said it best in a recent FastCompany Magazine article, Why Market Your Company with Stick-on Emotion When You Can Tap the Real Thing?, “When you mean it, convincing customers doesn’t take as much shouting.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Andy, You have hit on several points that I myself have been dealing with. Automated marketing which sends you emails everyweek – unsubscribing. Motor mouthTwitter feeds automated into LinkedIn – delink. Facebook timeline images of beautiful places with no corrolation to the person, not taken by the person, or posted 10 in a row – welcome to hide. As a long-time biz dev and sales executive I understood that 7 time rule. But it should be a mix right? Not 7 twitter pings, 7 LinkedIn messages, 7 emails. consider Europe where if someone unsubscribes their email, you can’t even send them an email invoice!

    The touches should be part of a broader communications effort – email, linkedIn group post/comment, phone call, snail mail, knowledge share, Twitter article link, advertisement view, trade show F2F. In our effort to embrace social media and save money – we have forgotten context, content, timing and added value.

    As B2B companies are taking steps to enter social media, they should be reading posts like this. With the luxury of hindsight they should embrace their communication strategy with the pursue of adding value and not forcing opt out mentality. Wendy (all my social presence Xeeme.com/wendysoucie

  2. Wendy: thanks for taking the time to comment. The opt-out mentality you mentioned is a whiplash effect of over-communicating. It’s what results when marketers grope for conversations rather than using discretion and offering something likely to be of value.

    I hadn’t thought of this phenomenon until you mentioned it. When I receive email from unfamiliar sources today, my first reaction is “how do I get rid of this?” I could write a short scorecard on which email generators have the easiest-to-use unsubscribe link. Many leave much to be desired. Some have links, but don’t take any action. They just continue right on with their annoying outreach. Are you listening, United Airlines MileagePlus Promotions?

    Marketers that aren’t circumspect about the value of their communications, and those that don’t heed opt-out requests increase their selling and brand-equity risks dramatically. Nascent antipathy begins with unsubscribe–a relatively low degree of negativity. Many times, unsubscribe just means “I’m not interested enough to receive email.” Unheeded, it mutates into higher levels of disgust, including “I don’t ever want to hear from your company again.” A slippery slope that’s totally unnecessary. No marketer today should find that an acceptable risk.

    If we adopt the European model as you described, maybe companies would think twice before propagating low-value, irrelevant, and gratuitous marketing communication.


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