Spilled Ice Cream, Hurt Feelings, and Customer Choices

Let’s just get the first part out of the way here. Ben & Jerry’s is not eliminating e-mail marketing. Secondly, if it did, the world would go on and quite possibly the e-mail marketing industry. Of course, this noise was enough for the e-mail and social marketing space to furiously whip itself into a frenzied storm. We’ve heard and seen plenty of “e-mail is dead” headlines during the past decade, but this was a real live brand (and a beloved one at that) killing e-mail, and it was almost entirely misconstrued.

The U.K. operations of Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would be eliminating its monthly e-mail newsletter and moving its communications to Facebook and Twitter. Americans still hungry for flavored Ben & Jerry’s e-mail would not starve.

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So, before we break down the moo that rocked a thousand inboxes, let’s look at what Sean Greenwood of Ben & Jerry’s told me when we traded e-mails about this:

“Email still plays a vital role in the Ben & Jerry’s “Marketing Mix” flavor! We have a great list of fans on our Chunkmail list that we send out notes to all the time with cool offers, promotions, new flavors & more. We’re the luckiest company in the world because we have the best fans. After having actual fans suggest such powerhouse flavors like Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey and our #1 smash hit: Cherry Garcia, (all true!) who wouldn’t want to be in touch MORE with our fans. Email correspondence allows us that opportunity. Plus everyone has their favorites: even Ben and Jerry! If email as a strategic tool helps us meet the need to provide our fans with choices, you won’t see us cast it aside like an empty Boston Cream Pie pint container!”

The response to this news (accurate and not) was revealing. You had people questioning how and why you should shut down the pipeline that’s going to deliver the highest ROI (define) of any digital channel, some yelling who would buy ice cream because of an e-mail or Facebook post, and some that drank the Kool-Aid without digesting the pint of facts that were being assembled in a quick moving free-for-all digital cage match. Take this comment into consideration:

“I just sent a final goodbye email to my list, recommending they follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS.”

So, rather than pontificating about which channel is the best and wondering if Ben & Jerry’s U.K. team made a smart or short-sighted decision, I think it’s best to look at this from a different view:

  • Ask your customers what they want: Ben & Jerry’s did what many marketers dare not do. It asked its customers directly what is best for them. In this case, what are their communication preferences?
  • Give your customers what they want: The missed opportunity is not listening to these preferences. Unless 100 percent of Ben & Jerry’s audience said to replace e-mail with Twitter/Facebook, then it is failing its customers. This is not just for Ben & Jerry’s U.K. team and customers (not to mention the social media prognosticators who failed to remove their blinders), but for anyone considering eliminating an opt-in marketing channel.

Back to that comment from the person who upon reading about Ben & Jerry’s killed his e-mail list. RSS jokes aside, is it wise to close any communication avenue where your customers and prospects have expressly told you they do want you to communicate with them through this channel?

The whole e-mail vs. social fight needs to be finally put to rest and the digital savvy should plan how to combine the two for the most powerful digital communication platter that a marketer could ask for. That’s assuming they want to really combine performance, measurement, and engagement, and who wouldn’t, right?

CMOs may have a one-track mind (and what’s on that may be based on the day or the meeting), but every digital marketer needs to “get” that each communication channel is different and so are the usages of how customers approach each one. According to new research from ExactTarget, people go to meet their favorite brands in the inbox for promotions and general updates, Facebook for entertainment, and Twitter to stay connected and “in the know.”

“Consumers don’t silo their engagement with brands to a single channel, instead they tend to ‘layer’ marketing channels on top of one another to meet their different objectives,” said Morgan Stewart, principal, ExactTarget’s research and education group, in a statement. Check out their subscribers, fans, and followers report for further insight into this titillating topic.

With that in mind, should you kill a channel or bring a cut and paste messaging strategy to the table for your best advocates? Or do you listen, learn, and provide relevant and valuable messaging to each customer touch point?

Chime in here to tell me what you think, who is doing this well, and if you would eliminate one channel for another?

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