Just Who’s in Control Here?

Not long ago, media outlets and advertisers exercised almost complete control over TV, radio, magazine, and newspaper content. Before the birth of the remote, consumers were too lazy to get off the couch to change the channel (and there weren’t many of them back then). So they watched programs and ads they may not have had much interest in.

With the advent of the remote control, television began to change. Channel surfing was born. People took control of their TV viewing by flicking through channels to change programs and/or avoid commercials. We’ve gotten so good at it, it only takes a second as we surf to make a stop-or-keep-going decision. Children can comprehend what’s going on in a tenth of a second!

The remote control was the first step shifting control to the consumer. The big shift today is, of course, the Web and email.

You can get news via email and the Web. So if that’s what you prefer, you don’t have to get news from TV, radio, or newspapers.

You can download music, create custom compilations, and play them on personal devices, eliminating the need to listen to music on the radio or commercial CDs.

If you need to research a topic, there are zillions of quality Web pages containing detailed information at your fingertips.

PVRs mean you can skip commercials altogether, plus watch TV when you want to, not when they want you to.

On-demand movies means you can skip the previews, if you desire.

You can watch TV, order products, and take online polls simultaneously.

You can comparison shop hundreds of sites in seconds.

You can block email ad messages, with or without your ISP’s help.

And so on. From where I sit, increasingly more consumers are now in total control of their information, programming, and advertising. They view what they want, when they want. This isn’t just an opinion, the stats back it up. According to Forrester Research:

  • 60 million Americans have signed up for the Do-Not-Call Registry.

  • 54 million online households have spam blockers.
  • 20 percent have advertising blockers.
  • PVR households skip 59 percent of commercials — and PVR penetration is expected to grow to over 25 million homes.

In a very short time, consumers have embraced email and the Web and learned how to use them to get what they want — and to cut out what they don’t. Now, they’re applying this learning to television. For consumers, this is great power. For marketers, it’s a huge problem.

In fact, in a Media Kitchen/InsightExpress survey of U.S. adults who own at least two tech devices, a large percentage said they purchased those devices to gain control over their media content. By definition, that includes advertising. The numbers are:

  • PVR: 79 percent

  • Digital TV programming: 77 percent
  • PDA/Blackberry: 74 percent
  • High-speed Internet: 70 percent
  • MP3: 58 percent
  • Satellite radio: 56 percent
  • Cell phones with Internet: 40 percent

So what are the implications for email marketers?

Give consumers even more control.

As time marches on and technologies keep emerging, consumers will continue to assume more control. Marketers don’t have much choice. There’s no better way to stay ahead of the curve than to go where consumers are going.

Imagine an email marketing message that includes these phrases:

  • We’re not going to bother you any more!

  • If you want to hear from us, say so!
  • We really, really, really respect your privacy!
  • When you’re ready to buy something, only then will we send you an offer!
  • If you want us to remind you when you’re going to run out of something, we will. But if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

Many in the industry are starting to believe this is the only way to go. The more anonymity and control you give people, the more likely they are to do business with you, not the loudmouth who won’t stop bombarding their inboxes.

One of the best ways to achieve this is with a preference center. Create a personalized Web page where consumers specify what information they want from you, how often, and in what format. If you’re a book reseller, you might have hundreds of choices, like these:

  • New fiction books

  • New books by Stephen King
  • New nonfiction books
  • New travel books
  • New romance novels
  • New history books
  • Sale notices
  • News about Danielle Steele
  • What’s up with John Grisham
  • Used college textbooks sale

And so on. Now, instead of customers saying, “Take me off every list,” they can choose which lists they want to be on. If I’m an avid James Patterson fan, I’ll be thrilled to get news of his new books by email. If I have absolutely no interest in cooking titles, I won’t want those emails. You’ll only aggravate me if you keep sending them.

How simple is this? Give people more control, and they’ll tell you what they want from you. Apply the book example to your own business.

Keep reading.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Strategies is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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