Making Messages Matter

  |  August 9, 2001   |  Comments

The Internet has been positioned as a platform that will truly enable a one-to-one relationship between vendor/supplier and customer. Imagine if a marketer could truly understand the needs of his or her customer base...

"You want to go where everybody knows your name." The theme song from "Cheers," the popular sitcom of the ’80s, held great wisdom. Think of all the bars in Boston -- but a group of regulars always made their way to that watering hole because the bartenders treated them like family. In fact, Sam and Woody knew more about the regulars than just their names. They knew about their lives.

Promises Unfulfilled

Similar to the mahogany bar at Cheers, the Internet has been positioned as a platform that will truly enable a one-to-one relationship between vendor/supplier and customer. Imagine if a marketer could truly understand the needs of his or her customer base on an individual level and describe his or her value proposition in specific terms to every prospective customer. Imagine, again, if that connection could be made effectively and cost-efficiently through the delivery of interactive messages. It would be as if individual face-to-face sales calls were being made, resulting in a huge paradigm shift in message delivery. As my kids would say, "Are we there yet?" Well...

The Evolution Continues

Early interactive marketers set up storefronts in the form of Web sites aimed at attracting prospective buyers with content or transactional opportunities tailored to their specific needs. The hope was that those in need would happen upon the Web site while they were surfing; and surfers would be so engaged once they visited, that they would bookmark the location and return when the need arose again. Marketers in search of an increased customer base took to advertising heavily, both online and offline, to drive customer acquisition. Sadly for many, however, these efforts did little or nothing to retain customers or prospects.

Enter email and database marketing, the latest evolutionary step in the interactive media deployment arsenal. There is little doubt that permission-based email messaging holds great promise on delivering true one-to-one messaging. Yet, in a media and marketing world that looks for quick fixes and simple solutions, there is a danger lurking in the current stage of email communications. Truly effective email is based on relevance, not reach. Lately, it seems that marketers are destined to make the same mistake in using this media as they have with others. We hear of message deployment described as "blasting" against a universe of customers. Have we learned nothing from the evolution of mass media in the last 10 years?

Consumers have become much more selective in the way they receive messaging. Our world blasts messages at them at every potential intersection. Whether you’re at home, in an elevator, in a public restroom, on a street, or at a sporting event, some marketer is gunning for you. The result of all this spamming has been a heightened level of selectivity and filtering of messages by the consumer. How many direct mail solicitations or catalogs have you thrown out without opening?

Relevance Matters

Marketers must not be lazy about their message delivery. Email delivery engines that are optimized to provide a high degree of segmentation and profiling variables must be leveraged to sculpt the appropriate customer segments and targets within your customer database. These segments can group customers by interests, buying patterns, transactional histories, or any other combination of attributes. They allow the marketer to take a 360-degree view of customers, leveraging all customer touch points to build relevance.

Careful consideration must be paid to crafting messages to the individual. The promise of developing a true one-to-one relationship can be measured only through building relevant messaging to a willing recipient over time. In short, message relevance builds response, retention, and overall return on investment (ROI).

The Messaging Cycle

Think strategically. You’ve worked hard to develop the perfect "first" message to a prospective customer. Now it’s time to map out your communications plan. Think about triggering the follow-up messages based on your initial effort. What is the appropriate response for those who didn’t respond? For those who did respond but didn’t purchase? For those who did respond and did purchase?

Batch-and-blast marketers who wait to assess the effectiveness of the medium only after all the data on all the customers is calculated will lose their competitive advantage and repeat mistakes of the past. Customer retention is a real-time endeavor. Delays in customer response or performance are deadly to retaining the customer. You must be planning the ongoing dialogue from the moment you initiate an acquisition or retention marketing effort. If you don’t have someone in your organization focused on this right now, hire someone today.

Some argue that with the costs of e-messaging delivery in the fractions of pennies, all of this work is time consuming and unnecessary. In rare cases, bulk messaging will yield the response seen in other mass media; however, while blasting away at your audience may get you some notice today, it won’t help build your competitive advantage tomorrow. Over the long haul, consumers will buy from those who take the time to deliver to them relevant communication, whether it’s information, offers, promotions, or advice. Today’s marketing should be focused on building lifetime value based on relevance, not reach!

It’s time to review the available tools from a select group of email communications companies to design contextual messaging delivery that’s truly relevant and meaningful. No third-party customer list or mass mailing efficiency will ever compare to knowing your customer better than the competition. Remember that relevance builds response, retention, and ROI. Don’t just take it from me... ask Cliff Claven. Cheers!

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Al DiGuido

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, 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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