Idea: Find the Balance Between Too Much, Too Little Customer Communications
Many years ago, we worked with a client who was convinced his company communicated with its customers too much. He felt the company had too many siloed departments that didn’t coordinate their schedules of sending physical mail and email. “If a customer belongs to all of our loyalty programs, gets all of our catalogs and mailings, they can receive 50 mailings a year,” he would say, although the number was never the same.
As one of our tasks was to help streamline the company’s customer communications, we set out to find a “solution” to this problem. Expecting to discover outraged customers unsubscribing from email lists and asking to be removed from catalog mailings, instead we discovered the company had a higher than average open rate on email and a lower than average unsubscribe rate. Moreover, the frequency of mailings was triggered by what marketers today call “engagement.” In other words, the company wasn’t bombarding the customers with spam or promotions; rather, it was responding to customer actions that indicated he or she wanted to form a closer relationship.
While we did find ways to streamline, better package and coordinate the company’s mailings, we also encouraged the client to rethink his perception of a good-old advertising metric: frequency. If you are spamming someone, once is too much. If you are delivering content the customer has requested and has control over when and how it is delivered, the customer wants everything you can send (and probably is requesting the same amount from other sources).
How much is too much is one of those questions that only customers can answer. You make educated guesses, test and experiment, but in the end, it will be up to the recipients to determine whether they want a trickle or a fire hose of content from you.
Unless your mailings are generating a flood of complaints, you’re probably not communicating too much. Indeed, think about the most recognizable brands in the world. Imagine someone at Nike being concerned that customers see the swoosh too much. You would never hear them say, “You know, if a runner takes up bicycling, they will see our ads 25 percent more times, so maybe we should cut back on the use of the swoosh.”
Lesson for marketers: What works when communicating with customers is always determined by the customer. Unfortunately, the universal do’s and don’ts regarding email and direct mail are often not applicable to every situation (B-to-B rules are different from alumni relations practices, for example). Whenever possible, provide a means to show a customer what they are being sent and to allow them to turn the volume up or down.
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