Is digital marketing technology being abused?

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Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

A recent article from Harvard Business Review entitled Three Myths about What Customers Want elicited 165 comments last month. The key conclusions of this 7,000 response survey showed:

  1. 77% of consumers don’t want to have relationships with brands
  2. Marketing interactions don’t necessarily build better customer relationships
  3. Too many marketing interactions have a negative effect on customers

Interestingly, the 23% of consumers who want relationships with brands mainly want these as they share the same values as the brand, rather than necessarily wanting to be intimate with the brand.

Here’s some of the reader comments that pertain to digital marketing: “The last thing I want is frequent emails . . . (send me) one email so I know you are out there and know what you offer is tolerable. More than that and you’re working against yourself. When you push email at me, you’re pushing me away”. “Frequency of messaging in an attempt to reach that elusive new goal of ‘engagement’ turns me off”.

“No, I don’t want a ‘relationship’ with a rental car, banana, gallon of gas, trash bag, PC antivirus software, television, automobile or the providers thereof. When marketers add to, rather than reduce, ‘cognitive overload’, I unsubscribe”. “Don’t stalk me, if I want something I’ll find you”. “I don’t want to talk with you after the transaction, it’s over. Done. Kaput”.

“Marketing people too often understand interactions with customers as an opportunity to scream their messages at them. Unfortunately too few are genuinely interested to listen what is important to the customers in context of their experience with the product or service. It is not the way to build trust in relationship.”

Some marketers have hardly shrouded themselves in glory in the way they have used digital technology. Many promotional emails are technically ‘spam’ – untargeted and lacking relevance to customer needs. In addition, the content offered is often over-hyped and lacks substance and granularity.

Sales follow-ups can be equally unfocused. For example, I often download vendor white papers and case studies. Sales call follow-ups may happen months later (when I have forgotten the content) or the next day (when I have not read the content). Either way, the sales question is often a scripted and inappropriate “do you want to buy something?” rather than evaluating my contact details and profile and routing me to a relevant Analyst Relations or Investor Relations representative for stakeholder nurturing and development.

Some vendors, such as Virgin Media and BT, alienate their own loyal customer bases by offering cheap price deals that are only available to non-customers. Others make it difficult for customers to unsubscribe, cancel a contract, or understand their pricing programmes. This is reflected in the 2012 Edelman Trust barometer research that shows consumers trust CEOs and their marketers less. Consumers trust ‘a technical expert in the company’, ‘a person like myself’ and ‘a regular employee’ much more highly.

We trust ‘someone like us’, even when we don’t know them personally – hence the importance of social media. Digitally savvy customers sense digital tricks and techniques online, and warn off friends and followers when fair play is not being followed.

Marketers need to have the discipline to use customer data in a respectful and measured way that adds value from a customer perspective. Too much digital marketing today is sales / price promotions. Early text promotions on mobile phones are going the same way – with no unsubscribe link or reply mechanism, so there’s no way out.

Marketers can use digital marketing technologies to deliver relevant, personalised and exciting digital experiences for their customers and potential customers. But this is not easy. It requires investment in people, process and the correct technology. Short-cutting this process using indiscriminate spamming and message blasting actually damages brands and results in diminishing longer-term returns from marketing investments. The customer trust is gone.

In summary, marketing needs to act in a responsible manner using the digital tools at its disposal to add value to customer experiences. The time for a ‘land grab’ for customer attention is over, and is jeapardising marketing’s own image and credibility with customers. A new enlightened approach to responsible digital marketing is required.