Is it OK to use your customer lists for other purposes?

email Overload

Every summer I hire a company to spray my yard with poison so as to fend off mosquitoes. In the winter I don’t use this service, so imagine my surprise when I received an email from them in the middle of February. My original thought was they were offering reaaallly early bird discounts. But no, it turns out they’re hiring.

I found it very strange (and a bit annoying) that I got an email advertising job openings from my mosquito poison vendor. It turns out that my neighbor, who also uses the service, got an email as well. I think its safe to assume that they emailed their whole customer list just in case any of us were looking for a new vocation as an insect hit(wo)man. I have a point (I swear) and here it is: 

Is it OK for business to use their customer list for purposes other than communicating things related to their customer relationship? My initial reaction was: No way! That’s not cool. 

But as I think about it more I realize that in B2B we do this all the time. We might not try to recruit employees (I hope not, anyway), but we definitely seem to assume that once someone’s email address becomes known to us, it’s fair game for whatever we want to bombard their inbox with.

Think about it. What do our customer get from us?

  • Welcome to our customer community
  • Pay your bill
  • Get to know your account manager
  • Your account manager has changed
  • Your customer newsletter
  • Your industry newsletter
  • Do you want to renew your service?
  • Do you want to buy more services from us?
  • Do you have anyone you want to refer to us (for rewards, of course)?
  • Are you willing to give us a reference?
  • Read our blog
  • Read our whitepaper
  • Attend our webinar
  • Attend our event
  • Are you going to the XXX Industry event? If so, visit our booth!
  • Are you satisfied with your service? Take our survey!
  • We have a new service – read all about it. Want to buy it?
  • We just released a new press release about ourselves. Want to read it?

…and I’m sure that list goes on.

How do we ensure that our customers get the information they need from us and want from us. And not the stuff they don’t need or want. We think all the stuff above is important. But is one more important than the other? How do we make sure the important things don’t get lost in the less important things? Do we need to say everything to everyone?

I have many more questions than answers. I don’t think there is one right answer, but I do think that the customer experience matters above all. Marketers – focus first on delivering a fantastic customer experience, and secondly on all that other shit. We all have goals to reach, but none of them matter without the customer, so find a way to put them first.

3 Tips for One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing

If you saw this title and thought to yourself “ooOoo that sounds great! How do I do that?” then I have two things to say to you:

1. You will find this post disappointing because this is not an instruction guide for mediocre marketers, but I highly suggest you read on

2. To quote one of my favorite Disney movie characters,“BAD LLAMA!” You should never be excited at the prospect of One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing. That strategy is for losers. And if you disagree then I suggest you cry on the inside like a winner. (Ok, just kidding…but bonus points if you can name that movie).

I did promise to offer 3 tips for those interested in doing One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing, and here they are:

  1. Don’t do it.
  2. Don’t even think about it.
  3. If you’re doing it, or thinking about it….stop.

Unless you sell to a completely homogenous group of identical robots void of independent thought….If this is your buyer, by all means carry on.

For the rest of you, here is a word cloud that explains just a handful of reasons why One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing doesn’t work:*

Some of the words listed above are not only reasons why not to do One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing, but they are better, more strategic alternatives. The reason they’re both is because of that pesky word up there that says “competition.

I guarantee your competitors are using technology to execute personalized, targeted marketing programs. And if they are, and you’re not, they’re better than you. As a marketer, that’s not acceptable. We marketers must be better than our competition, just as the businesses we serve and the products we market must be.

It would be cruel of me to suggest what you should not do without making recommendations for what you should do instead, so…

3 Tips for NOT doing One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing

  1. Personalize the experience.
    Persona Definition + Content + Technology = Personalization
    Whether your audience is engaging out in web-land, on your website, via email or through third party partners, if you can clearly define who your audience is and what the right message is for each of them there are technologies that can find and target them. To start, try using a content matrix to map your buyer to your content. Here’s how.
    Want to know more about how personalized content targeting works? This blog does a pretty good job of explaining it.
  2. Don’t put all of your eggs in one channel basket.
    Just as one message does not suit all audiences, neither does one channel/tactic. The biggest trap marketers fall into is believing they can rely on email to reach their entire audience. This is a myth. And if you believe in it you’re probably missing a LOT of potentially great customers. No one channel can reach all, or even the majority, of your audience so you must extend your channel reach.Here’s an oldie but a goodie from Hubspot that talks more about multi-channel marketing (yes, 1 year is ‘old’ in the high-tech marketing blog world).
  3. React to your audience’s reactions (AKA Trigger Marketing)
    If you got engaged in the era of facebook and made your new relationship status ‘facebook official’ then you no doubt found yourself being presented with ads touting all manner of wedding paraphernalia. Happy coincidence? Nope. That’s smart, timely, trigger-based marketing. The web is flush with info about each and every one of us, and smart marketers use this information to trigger personalized content (ref: tip #1). It’s the same principle that Amazon and Netflix employ when they present you with those nifty suggestions that say “if you liked X, then you may like Y and Z.” You can apply this to all sorts of things, such as content consumption, to help you offer up the right message at the right time via the right channels (ref: tip #2). Here’s a good resource from Eloqua to help get you thinking about some trigger-based programs that may be of value to your business.

And finally, I leave you with this:

And old classic:

“Do not address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”
~ David Olgilvy

Combined with modern insight:

Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.
~Ian Schafer

Together these show that some marketing principles never die…they just evolve, as must we all.

* I created this lovely word cloud using a nifty web tool called Wordle.

Originally posted on LinkedIn – Feb 3, 2015

The Best Marketers are Wargs

People with the ability to enter the minds of others and perceive the world through their senses and even control their actions.

Cultures all over the world and throughout history have told stories of mythical beings, such as this, with the power to see into the minds of others and even control them:psychics, vampires, Satori, Professor X, Hera…and the list goes on.

Why is this ‘power’ so prevalent in stories of both feared and revered characters? Because it is in fact a great power to have. Just to be able to see into the minds of others can arm us with insights that allow us to influence them, serve them, attract them, delight them and even control them.

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Nowadays marketers must be customer-obsessed. And what better way to connect to our obsession than to enter their minds and understand their thoughts? We all have this power within us. Seriously, we do.

The way to realize this power is to pay attention. Listen, observe, exercise some common sense and consideration and you will be surprised how much you can learn and how well you can connect with your customer. Consider everything you do from their point of view first.

Some things to pay attention to:

  • Where are your customers? Whether its physical location, situational considerations (ie in the middle of a M&A) or spending time on niche blogs and forums. All these things matter as they can inform your message and interaction strategy
  • What are your customers doing? Are they interacting with you – why or why not? Have they been talking to sales? Have they been using the services they’ve bought from you? All of this adds context to your interaction.
  • Why are they your customer? What challenges or need do you fill? Are you fulfilling this? Could you do better? Are they happy with you? You wouldn’t try to upsell and unhappy customer would you? You might…if you didn’t know they were unhappy (whomp whomp)
  • How are they interacting with you? Do they visit your website? Do they log into their customer portal? Do they open emails? Are they unsubscribed? These may be signs they’re happy and could be a good advocate, or looking for more value and need some guidance (or an upsell), or annoyed and on the edge of being done with you.

Of course, to gain these insights you need technology and data. These are necessary tools to unlock your inner mind-reading power. If you have this, you have what you need to be a great and powerful warg – maybe even the mind controlling kind.

It takes practice, discipline, and willingness to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes and evaluate the information at your disposal.
But you’re willing to do this because you’re customer-obsessed. And you must do this because if you cannot excite and delight your customer you are doomed to fail…or at least doomed to be mediocre. And who wants to be a mediocre marketer?

For more insight into “Customer-Obsessed Marketing” check out this post by Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd: Customer-Obsessed Marketing Is Your Next Competitive Edge

Originally posted on LinkedIn – Jan 29, 2015

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