E-mail provides insight into customers. But are you taking the initiative with that data?
When I seek inspiration and deeper thought, I ponder the definition of words that seem to flow routinely, some times haphazardly. In these lazy days of August, it seems everyone and everything slows down a bit, as if preparing for the fall season requires a period of respite and calm. So I began to ponder the meaning of two key words: "insight" and "initiative."
"The American Heritage Dictionary" ("AHD") defines "insight" as "the capacity to discern the true nature of a situation; penetration; the act or outcome of grasping the inward or hidden nature of things or of perceiving in an intuitive manner."
As I travel around the country, I find insight is a hot topic. The evolution of the e-mail channel is about to take yet another giant step forward for select marketers. These few have begun to grapple with the challenge of not only effectively and efficiently storing customer data but also trying to make sense of the data stocked away in warehouses and silos. For the first time they're trying to "discern the true nature of a situation" and attempting to grasp the not so "hidden nature of things."
This shift to taking a deeper look to create insight is driven by the marketplace's troubling, challenging behavioral trends. Never before has such attention been paid to legacy communication channels (print, TV, direct mail, radio) and their audience crises.
As the consumer and business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces gravitate more aggressively to the Web and e-communications as their preferred method of information exchange and commerce, the rules of engagement and customer relationship development change dramatically. Marketers are faced with the daunting task of building and maintaining one-to-one customer relationships at an unheard-of level. Consumers expect marketers to understand them, to have some insight as to who they are, what they prefer, what they're interested in, and how they interact with a company. Frankly, they have little or no time for those who don't leverage all the stored data to create more insightful communications.
If you're like me, you can probably recite social conversations with friends on how a company missed the boat because it sent a totally irrelevant e-mail. Just yesterday, I sat with a colleague who spoke about a sporting goods company with whom she'd purchased products over the last year. It continued to send irrelevant messaging. I asked her if she still buys from them. She replied, "Yes, but it's a lot of work. If they did a better job matching their products to my preferences, I would buy more."
"AHD" defines "initiative" as "the power or ability to begin or to follow through energetically with a plan or task; enterprise and determination; a beginning or introductory step; an opening move."
Here's the rub: We've all been around people who have superior intellect as a result of their academic backgrounds or DNA but who haven't achieved much. These folks have the brain power to achieve great things but may lack the initiative, the drive, to take that first step and energetically follow through by leveraging their insights. So is it with this evolutionary step in e-mail. Many companies have relegated data mining to a group of internal analysts. These resources spend hours pouring over data logs and files to glean real insight on building strategies to grow a company's customer relationships. But insight alone won't sell one more widget or service.
Many direct marketers approach e-mail and its unique opportunity to leverage insight and build more contextually relevant messaging via technology platforms but fail to meet their goal. The barrier to accomplishing this goal, or so they tell me, is, "It's a lot of work."
When I was a kid, my dad would always chide: "You know the grass needs to be cut... the dishes need to be washed... the trash has to be taken out." He'd go on, "It's staring you right in the face. Why must I always tell you to do something? Don't you have any initiative?" We were too young to realize the insight he was providing. His method worked, though. Through his chiding, we were ultimately stirred to action. We learned initiative the hard way.
The peril of not leveraging the work you do now to gain customer insight is more than losing your allowance for a couple weeks. If you won't take the initiative to act on your insight and use the understanding you gain from data mining and analysis to leverage e-mail's power, you'll lose incremental sales, profits, and customers. It's hard work. For too long, the tools have been available to do better targeting and stronger messaging to construct meaningful dialogues with customers.
Some marketers lack the initiative or passion to use tools to get the desired results. An entire generation of marketers longs for the days when marketing, advertising, and selling were easy. When they were someone else's responsibility. And there's the inevitable passing of blame, "It's not my job. My agency did the creative, the supplier screwed up, the media didn't run my ad in the right place, e-mail isn't working, the Internet isn't working. It's somebody else's fault."
There's a sign hanging in our offices that reads: "Never get into the habit of mistaking effort for productivity." Never mistake the effort of collecting data and insight with initiative. The tools, technology, and services are available from a wide variety of providers. There's virtually no cost barrier to doing more effective and efficient e-mail customer communications. Your customers demand it.
Do you have the initiative?
Just do it.
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Long recognized as one of the direct response industry's premier innovators and a pioneer in e-mail communications, Al DiGuido brings over 20 years of marketing, sales, management, and operations expertise to his role as CEO of full-service digital marketing company Zeta Interactive. Formerly Epsilon Interactive's CEO, DiGuido also served as CEO of Bigfoot Interactive, CEO of Expression Engines, EVP at Ziff Davis, and publisher of Computer Shopper, where he launched ComputerShopper.com, a groundbreaking direct-to-consumer e-commerce engine. Prior to Ziff Davis, he was VP/advertising director for Sports Inc. DiGuido also serves on the Direct Marketing Association's Ethics Policy Committee.
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