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How did digital marketing become so awkward?


Mike Fantis on how meaningful, two-way conversations can strengthen customer relationships and trust.

20th Oct 2023

Ever get drawn into a ‘conversation’ with a salesperson who’s clearly desperate to seal the deal? The one who stands a little too close or uses high-pressure tactics to try and force you into a quick sale? It’s awkward... especially if the other party is oblivious to (or ignores) the social cues you’re dropping.

Sadly, many marketers fail to ‘get the hint’ from their online audiences, too, particularly when it comes to CRM and email marketing. This needs to change, and fast, if we consider that companies lose 10% of their annual revenue due to poor-quality CRM. But what’s the solution?

I believe there’s still time for the industry to repair damaged customer relations… as long as we start having meaningful conversations and refocus on what customers really want and need. 

The socially awkward elephant in the room: What’s wrong with current digital strategies?

The root of the problem lies in the fact that many digital marketing strategies are built on one-way conversations that don't provide any real value to customers. Let’s take email marketing as an example. 

All too often, emails are sent en masse with unimaginative emoji-riddled subject lines such as "We miss you :( !". This subject line may be relevant to a loyal customer who hasn’t purchased in the last few months, but is it applicable to the husband who bought his wife a one-off anniversary gift? Not really.

The approach would be different if CMOs had to validate the success of email campaigns to obtain budget approval from CFOs. Then marketers would certainly take a more deliberate and considered approach when targeting their emails rather than blindly blasting messages out. But that’s not the case. Without clear costs tied to each email sent, there's currently little incentive for marketers to carefully select recipients or to tailor their message better.

Do you know enough about your customer base to categorise them in ways that enable worthwhile two-way relationships?

That all may seem obvious, but it's still surprising just how general, irrelevant and ill-thought-through email marketing execution can be. And to keep things simple, it boils down to segmentation. Do you know enough about your customer base to categorise them in ways that enable worthwhile two-way relationships?

If the answer is no, it’s time to start asking the right questions.

To ask or not to ask, that is the question

Simply gathering email addresses via newsletter signups or quid pro quo exchange of an email address for a discount code isn’t enough. To truly understand customers and ask the right questions, brands should look at initiating conversations and gathering information across multiple touchpoints—both digital and physical—throughout the customer journey.

Marketers should map the customer journey and determine the best touchpoints for engagement. This enables proactive data collection across channels, including owned (website, stores), paid (ads, email) and earned (reviews, social media). Stitching these data fragments together provides a 360-degree customer view that fuels interactions that are actually meaningful.

With a strategic approach, marketers are better equipped to take control of the narrative, ask pertinent questions at the right times, and gather the information needed to build and nurture strong customer relationships

It’s time to cut out the creepiness: You wouldn’t do this stuff offline!

Would you stalk someone around a shop, then turn up at their house shouting about your products? Of course not! Yet brands digitally stalk people online all the time.

A lot needs to change if digital marketing is going to win back consumer trust.

Have some digital decorum. The virtual world may feel different, but basic manners remain the same. So, where do we start? A lot needs to change if digital marketing is going to win back consumer trust - and the industry must broaden its definition of success. It’s about expanding the scope of KPIs from being purely sales-driven to relationship-driven (how many unsubscribes are you getting etc). That means rebuilding customer relationships around a clear value exchange.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Two-way, thoughtful communication - consumers expect brands to understand their needs and preferences to deliver tailored products, services and recommendations.
  2. Connect with customers on an emotional level through storytelling and more than just a transactional relationship.
  3. Build on one connection at scale through segmentation and personalisation. (I’m sure some of the many new and shiny AI tools on the market can help deliver this at scale!) 

The solution lies in remembering you're interacting with human beings,  not faceless demographics. Your customers want to be seen, heard and cared about - and they want brands to add value.

This will require effort. But spending more time crafting relevant, personalised content that brings real value to the individual presents an opportunity, too. The brands that evolve to create true digital conversations will forge lasting, trusting relationships.  

By starting to have genuinely valuable human-to-human interactions at scale, digital marketing can move past being awkward, annoying and creepy. The time for brands to have that conversation is now.

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