What Can E-mail Marketers Learn From Lebron's Decision Fiasco?

  |  August 12, 2010   |  Comments

Five lessons learned from Lebron James's PR disaster and how to avoid this in your e-mail marketing campaign.

The hype has dissipated for the time being, but Lebron James's prime time South Beach defection was one of those moments that seemed to captivate America. I'm guessing Europeans mocked our culture and priorities, but it was a big deal (Steve Carell mocked it here in a far more entertaining "decision" interview) stateside during this hot summer.

Well, Lebron's marketing and business team gets points for trying, although it looks like an air ball in hindsight. They, like many of you dear readers, crafted what seemed to be a unique strategic marketing plan that had win-win components and seemingly no downside. Delivering a huge audience for the top media dog in sports? Check. Raise awareness for Lebron's brand? Check. Include a children's charity? Check.

Imagine the feeling of sitting in a closed conference room plotting out such a good plan that no one has ever even dared to attempt it. Then you start to think of the rewards you will reap from this genius plan and how this will take your career to the next level. Or something like that before the door opens.

But then, the reality goes a different way and the reaction (externally and internally) isn't what you planned. Digital marketers can make this a teachable moment to prevent something similar happening with their e-mail program. Most of us can't withstand the negative impact that Lebron's image took, so what are the lessons learned here for mere mortals in the e-mail marketing universe:

  • Know your customers: Remember how and why the subscribers ended up on your list. If they signed up for a monthly missive from the CEO and your brilliant campaign involves a series of promotional offers, then you likely will and should fail. After all, your customers gave you permission for one thing and then you threw them a curve ball, which could alienate them much like most Clevelanders after Lebron left them high and dry for South Beach and the Miami Heat on decision night.

  • Have the business case to back up the risk: Calculated risks are what often separate great business leaders from the average ones. What happens when you role the dice on a progressive e-mail campaign? If you are savvy, you have "sold" this internally to minimize the risk of exposure (yours and the company's). A home run makes you a star and a strikeout can permanently derail your ascension or be a minor hiccup.

    What makes the difference between the two? Usually a business case backed with metrics from a test (we all do this for each and every e-mail campaign, right?) supporting demand, projecting results, and listing any variables that can impact success or cause a failure, as well as any contingency plans and secondary research that support this unique approach.

  • Control your message: Any good public relations professional will tell you it's all about controlling the message rather than the message controlling you. If you go out on a limb with an e-mail campaign, make sure you have the ability and thoughtfulness to envision how this may play out on the social networks and other channels that can help light a viral fire (for better or worse). Which means you must…

  • Have a plan B: Any e-mail marketer should plan for the worst just about every day. Most e-mail marketers break into cold sweats thinking of the possibility of an errant e-mail to a million subscribers, a suppression file going askew, or a subject line with an expletive. Whether by accident or a campaign that really missed the mark, a contingency plan is always needed. What do you do next? How do you say it or do you just hope for the best and stay silent. For one brand's final word on an e-mail matter they lost control of, please see the post script.

    Most digital disasters seem to happen when the silo is exposed and broken. Meaning, the liability with your e-mail campaign may have nothing to do with your e-mail program and team but on the tail of the click. If it involves a coupon, special giveaway, or something similar, ensure that you (and legal) pored over the terms and conditions, thought about the coupon blogs, photocopying, printing multiple, and so on and so forth. Basically all the stuff that could go wrong after the message is sent. If that isn't your group's responsibility, make sure you have assisted them with the due diligence as it will be your problem should trouble surface.

  • Transition gracefully (and quietly): Don't be mad at your subscribers for behaving in a way you didn't expect or in a fashion that disappoints you. All you have to do is go to any large brand's Facebook page to see even the most ardent fans act a bit unpredictable and schizophrenic on occasion. So after you implement your contingency plan, adapt, monitor, learn, and move on.

PS: The Ben & Jerry's e-mail/social hoopla (as I wrote about in my last column) continues to live on – however, the company controlled the message, set the record straight, and did so via e-mail to their subscribers. How deliciously smart and effective.



Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. The award-winning firm specializes in elevating email marketing and digital messaging programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a world-class client list including Affiliated Computer Service (A Xerox Company), Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, Phillips66, Porsche, and Southern Company. The agency was recently ranked among the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.

Jenkins was awarded the prestigious AMY 2010 Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association for being the top agency marketer and the Email Marketer of the Year at the Tech Marketing Awards held by the Technology Association of Georgia. Jenkins is regarded as one of the leading experts in the email marketing industry and is regularly cited by the media as such and called upon by the financial community to provide market insight and consulting.

Jenkins is the author of two definitive and highly regarded books on email marketing; The New Inbox (published in April 2013 by ClickZ/Incisive Media) and The Truth About Email Marketing (published by Pearson's Financial Times Press in 2008). Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news and commentary in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.

He has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Bloomberg TV, Wired Magazine, and scores of other leading publications and media outlets. Jenkins is a regular speaker at major digital industry and general business conferences.

Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of EmailStatCenter.com and SocialStatCenter.com, the leading authorities on email and social media metrics. Prior to founding BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media.

Jenkins serves on the eMarketing Association's Board of Advisors among other civic and professional boards. He is also a mentor at Flashpoint, a Georgia Tech-based startup accelerator program. Jenkins is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio and resides in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood with his wife and three children.

Follow and connect with Simms on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, The BrightWave Blog, and his book websites at NewInboxBook.com and SimmsJenkins.com.

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