Does Your Marketing Push Customers Away...?

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As marketers, we tend to measure the positive impact of our marketing. The numbers of customers, for example, who redeem coupons from an email, follow us on social media, or click-thru a digital ad. The impact on the rest of the customer base is assumed to be neutral.

However, this can be a dangerous assumption. The very same marketing can also inadvertently push some customers away. 

I came to appreciate this in the early days of Tesco's Clubcard program: while the overall metrics looked incredibly healthy, with unheard of coupon redemption rates, we found that too many mailings prompted some customers to leave the program. 

And what was true then, is even more true today: surveys show that tolerance for indiscriminate mailings is at an all-time low, driven by Millennials. Not unreasonably, customers  expect the content to be tailored to their needs in return for sharing their details with the brand. If it isn't, a growing number will actively disengage, and go elsewhere.

When it comes to digital advertising, there's a similar pattern. One the hand, the ability to target has led to much improved click-thru rates for marketers. Yet on the other hand, surveys suggest that customers either don’t care about or actively dislike the use of these targeted ads, which seem to stalk them across websites and apps. And perhaps of most concern, a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that many customers actually resent the amount of information being collected on them by brands, but feel powerless to do anything about it. 

In a world where customer relationships have become an ever more valuable asset, this a dangerous place for brands to be. So as well as monitoring the positive impact of marketing, it’s prudent to put some common-sense steps in place to limit the downside. Here are three that come to mind:

1.    Measure the negatives as well as the positives of marketing activity. For example, the email unsubscribe rate should sit alongside the coupon redemption and email opening rates.

2.    Only collect the data that's need to provide customers with real value (targeted advertising is only of real value to marketers), and clearly explain to them why it's needed.

3.    Give customers more control over their relationship with the brand. For example, let them determine how often they want emails from the brand, or opt-out from the cookie policy.

However, what such steps really require is a change in mindset. If customers are viewed as passive targets, to be persuaded to buy, then the marketing will reflect that, no matter how sophisticated the tools. Unsurprisingly, it will make some customers feel targeted, and push them away. 

Instead, the marketing needs to spring from a different mindset, one of creating value for customers in their lives. Customers will at least then sense that the brand is trying to help.

In a world where customers hold more and more of the cards, this is surely a better basis for building relationships...

A version of this post was published in Supermarket News.