Don't Confuse Your Personal Experience With Good Strategy

I'll never forget a conversation I had with my graduate advisor my first semester as a sociology grad student. I had scheduled a meeting to discuss my first big research project with him and made the comment, "Well in my experience..."

He stopped me mid-sentence, his eyes got large, and he took a deep breath. "Listen to me," he said. "Your personal experience is irrelevant here. You are not a representative sample."

Sasha Pasulka published a brilliant post on Seattle 2.0 recently explaining how she learned this lesson firsthand. As she Tweeted about her plans to launch a new email newsletter, she was mocked by a friend who replied, "Welcome to 2003!" Despite her skepticism that her readers would voluntarily provide their email addresses, people signed up "in droves."

Her conclusion, "I should have done this years ago. I did not, because I was thinking like me, and not like my market."

We Marketers are Freaks of Nature

My eyes were really opened when I talked to a friend who runs a website for ranch and farm real estate brokers. He recently told me that every time he sends an email to his customers, his fax machine goes nuts with responses.

Talking to my colleagues in email marketing, it would be easy to believe average folk spend the majority of their waking hours online or heads down on a smartphone, receive a couple hundred emails a day, understand Can-SPAM, has read privacy policies, are concerned about "inbox overload," and are shifting their interactions with companies to Facebook and Twitter because these channels give them more control.

They aren't. Instead, the majority of consumers:

1)   Check their email once or twice a day and fit this in around other priorities.

2)   Receive 25 or fewer email messages a day.

3)   Believe that if a company HAS a privacy policy, that it can't share their personal email address with other companies.

4)   Think email is the most manageable, least intrusive way for companies to engage with them online.

5)   Believe they know how to avoid being scammed in email, but don't understand all of the risks involved on social networks.

‘Layered' Interactions via Facebook and Twitter

Awareness of my skewed perception is particularly important when thinking about how to integrate of email and social media. Consumers use different email, Facebook, and Twitter differently. They believe these channels have different strengths and weaknesses.

When developing integrated strategies, it is our job to leverage these strengths and weaknesses to promote our brands:

Email: Consumers believe email is the best source for information that is personal and tailored to their individual interests. They turn to email when they are looking for detailed information from companies they trust or when they want to get exclusive deals or promotions.

Facebook: Consumers engage with brands on Facebook for the entertainment value. Yes, they can learn, and sometimes they can find deals, but most importantly, they can get these things while having FUN and sharing the experience with their friends. Together, these things make Facebook an ideal viral channel.

Twitter: The 140-character limit forces brevity. Consumers appreciate this because it forces brands (and friends alike) to get to the point. However, the most notable thing about Twitter is that is provides unprecedented ACCESS to the personalities behind the brand. If they like the people behind the brand, they are more likely to support it.

When consumers engage with brands on Facebook or Twitter, this typically represents a new layer of engagement, which consumers don't isolate to social media. Overall, more than 90% of consumers who are  Facebook fans are also email subscribers, according to our research. And approximately three-quarters of those who follow a company on Twitter are also email subscribers.

True, the way consumers communicate with brands is changing, but the changes represent deeper and richer engagement with brands through the addition of social media. Consumers still want what they have always gotten from brands (for example, updates on new products, information and, yes, discounts) and most tend to believe email is a good way to get these messages. They just want more.

Tags: email
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3 comments about "Don't Confuse Your Personal Experience With Good Strategy".
  1. Alex Demers from DeMers Programming , July 21, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    Excellent breakdown of the strengths of each tool from the consumers' POV.

  2. John Fredette from Alcatel-Lucent , July 21, 2010 at 5:14 p.m.

    I got a thick piece of mail from a company I had dealt with in the past today. It contained pages of inventory of a product line I had expressed interest in in the past. My initial reaction was why waste the effort to send me paper documentation I could find on line. But the document only contained products of interest to me and it included reference photos that I found useful. I saved the document. Junk mail lives! An email to me, even a personalized one would not have had the same impact. The old mediums can beat newer ones if the combination of message and recipeint is on target.

  3. Ira Kalb from Kalb & Associates , July 21, 2010 at 9 p.m.

    You touched on a common problem, and I very much appreciate your article. Too many problems are the result of people thinking that the market thinks the way they do. I call that inside-out thinking. Good marketers think outside-in. Thanks again for your comments.