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

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.


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