Monday, March 1, 2010

When No-Boundaries Marketing is a Bad Thing

The Internet has redefined customer relationships, but not always in a good way.

The Internet has broken down many of the barriers between businesses and their customers.

Because of the Internet, it’s much easier to find, reach, and target the people most likely to buy your product – even if you don’t have a huge marketing budget. Because of the Internet, businesses can think creatively about expanding the boundaries of their businesses – opening them up to make them more accessible to customers.

However, as the technical boundaries between businesses and their customers have changed, so have the behavioral boundaries – and not always in a good way.

Perhaps emboldened with more-direct, conversational access to customers, some businesses seem to have forgotten who they are talking to. The result is marketing behavior that throws up new walls between the business and its customers.

Here are three examples:

The Buddy: The Buddy Marketer talks to prospects and customers as if they were his friends from the office or the bar. He calls you by your first name on the first call or contact. He sprinkles his marketing copy with intrusive, self-absorbed patter. He assumes a level of familiarity and informality that he hasn’t earned. He often only has one name, usually something like “Chad” or “Justin” or “Nicki.” The Buddy appears more concerned with being “cool” than solving your problem and earning your trust. I don’t know about you, but even if the product offer is exceptional, I’m hesitant to buy from this marketer because of his cavalier attitude. I figure, if he’s this bad and un-businesslike before he gets my money, he’ll devolve into a total slob after he gets my money.

The Buddy Marketer isn’t strictly an online phenomenon, nor is he damaging only in business-to-business marketing.

Here’s a real-life business-to-consumer marketing example. A financial advisor at a multi-billion-dollar investment firm – someone covering for my regular advisor – called to apprise me that a corporate bond had matured. “Good thing that p___ of s____ matured, eh?” he chortled. Did he forget that his company sold me the p___ of s____ in the first place? But in his attempt to appear cool and to Buddy me, he irrevocably damaged his company’s reputation. (And yes, I moved my investment account.)

And then there’s today’s universal greeting for restaurant patrons: “How are you guys doing today?” For many consumers, a big part of the experience of dining out is being served and being catered to, by someone who knows how to do it – certainly not a Buddy.

The Autocrat: The Autocrat is presumptive. He tells you what to do, with stern words usually punctuated by today’s most-overused punctuation mark, the exclamation point. “Call me at your earliest convenience!” “Get back to me as soon as you get this email!” His emails, phone calls and direct-response letters smack of self-absorption (me, me, me) and disrespect for my time. Why would I ever give this person any of my business? [Added 3/2/2010] Case in point: I received a voicemail today marked "urgent." It was from my Staples "account manager," who was "just checking in."

And then there’s the top technology publisher whose high-powered and deep-lunged telemarketers sign you up for tomorrow’s webinar before you can get a word in edgewise. I am sure that this technique helps them “stuff” the seminar with prospects for the advertisers, but how effective can this be if many prospects have no interest and don’t show up? I made the mistake of giving them my email address – now they are controlling my time. Not good.

The Goofball: The Goofball tries to amuse and defuse by acting like a child. “Oops!” in the header of an email, or as an explanation for a 404 error on a web-site page, isn’t cute – it’s annoying. It undermines my confidence in your company or your brand. Incompetence and errors in business aren’t laughing matters to most customers. A simple “we’re sorry” is more reassuring.

At the root of all three of these problems is lack of empathy for the customer – and a lack of appreciation for what makes a good customer relationship: honesty, integrity and trust.

Great marketers keep the customer in their minds during every interaction and transaction. They define how they want to treat customers, and weave it into the marketing of their products – from advertising and social media, to how employees behave on the phone or in the store.

Creating detailed buyer personas – or even tacking a photo of your best customer to your computer monitor – can be powerful, evocative reminders.

The Internet makes it easier and more inexpensive than ever to understand the changing marketing boundaries that customers appreciate. Customer satisfaction surveys, informal temperature-taking on social media, or just plain talking to customers are all within your reach. Use them.

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