Look to the Future by Keeping Customers in Sight

Is your company thinking about the future? When it does, is it thinking about financial goals or its users? Users think long term because they expect to be around for a long time (around 76 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Focusing long-term thinking on financial goals often makes us overemphasize short-term goals such as quarterly reports and monthly objectives. We may forget to take the long-term view for the user and, in so doing, overlook a few things in the here and now (such as the folks who are using our sites, products, and technologies).

A big example of this, and one I’ve talked about before, is customer service. If you’re not thinking long term, you don’t care if your customers are happy later as long as they buy now. This may pump up today’s results, but what about next week’s? I’ve seen companies at which one more order per customer would have offset the year’s expenses. If as much emphasis had been put on keeping customers happy as getting them there, they might have placed those extra orders. Customer service can be just like an air bag: You don’t miss it until you need it. As online marketers we should be taking the long view and working hard today to make users happy tomorrow.

Trust is a long-term relationship. Think about the proverbial used car salesman. Do you trust this guy immediately because he’s telling you, “Hey! Trust me! I’ve got a great deal for you today!”? Probably not.

Trust is something that builds over time. We must open ourselves to users’ scrutiny, tell them what we’re planning to do with their information, and allow trust to build. We can’t ask for everything upfront, expecting that users are simply wowed by our wares. As we provide more value to users, they will trust us more. It’s not something you should (or can) rush.

Traditional types of marketing, such as advertising, can benefit from a long-term outlook. Super Bowl ads are a clichi for a reason. This is a short-term strategy. Work to understand your users, then target your advertising accordingly. I think a consistent, steady approach can be quite useful. It can inform people and give them time to familiarize themselves with your offerings. I would argue that where long-term advertising shows a belief in the product and a faith that eventually consumers will “get it,” Big Bang advertising shows desperation and relies on consumers to be gullible.

If you’re able to email your users, please, take the long-term approach. Just for the sake of a quick dollar you shouldn’t alienate the very people who keep your doors open. Respect their permission. Making email opt-in is a true long-term strategy. You may get fewer emailable users in the short term, but you’ll have a greater number of interested users over the long haul. Respect their privacy. If you’re dealing with any sort of sensitive information, remember that email is an insecure medium.

You can show some honest interest in the user and provide emails with no intention of making a sale or pushing a product. Send thank-you emails when someone buys or signs up. Send information about how you’re trying to make their lives easier and better. Or, if you don’t have something worthwhile to say, send nothing, and let others send the email that breaks the camel’s back. (Jupiter Research estimates that the average user will receive 1,612 marketing emails in 2005, up from 131 last year. Won’t that be fun?)

Thinking about the long term in terms of your users may give you a future. And that’s something to look forward to.

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