Is Scale A Factor In Successful Email Marketing?

I've been on a Greek island for the past three weeks, with little access to email, mobile or the Internet in general. Once you wean yourself off grabbing the laptop in the morning as you grab a coffee, you begin to see the simple ways businesses market and build relationships with their customers. Now, I don't intend to hold our U.S. standards to that of a very intimate Greek Island view, but I do think the principles of great customer relationships don't change, while your tactics and intimacy do as you scale your business.

We live in a multiplex world where we are continually exposed to media stimuli (advertising). In Greece, it's in other forms: crude signs, in-your-face point-of-sale, television commercials that are a riot. SMS messaging has grown to be quite interruptive; I just found out I won 850,000 euros via a text message on my cell phone.

In the States, everything is large-scale. It didn't dawn on me why, until I sat with a group of locals and we were discussing our careers in general. I mentioned some of the clients I work with, the size of their databases, and the business problems we are faced with. Many in the group just sat there listening, scratching their heads, and I wondered why. They were fairly influential people in their communities, with their own businesses, so why were they confused or skeptical of some of the things were doing with search, media, email, CRM in general?



I realized this: It's all about scale! This is an island of 1 million tourists a year, with 250,000 inhabitants that are a mix of many nationalities. They market their businesses in many countries (many tourists come from England, Spain, Germany and Scandinavia). When I speak about a database of 5 million customers, they have little context to the problems that arise from 5 million vs. 5 thousand.

In their world, customer relationships are very personal, their services are very closely scrutinized. and some of the mass marketing activities that don't identify with a single view of a customer are hard for them to grasp. It wasn't that it was too complex an undertaking to think about lifecycle marketing or advanced targeting or response modeling, it was all about scale. It all began and ended with the customer experience and word of mouth.

As you can imagine, the questions persisted as to why you'd do segmentation, what value it really brought, but what was so interesting was their general lack of focus on a channel, more so on the experience and service.

It's refreshing to see people with real businesses and customers they touch day in and day out think about the customer experience on such a small scale. They all seem to think alike, whether they are operating a hotel, a restaurant or a car rental place, or renting out watercraft. It makes me wonder if we have made our corporate marketing worlds too complex for our own good. Have we created disparate operating groups, split our vision and operating scale to a point where we are swimming upstream?

As I sat in this relatively skewed focus group of locals and asked some basic questions about how they viewed their customers and how they were trying to develop relationships with them, it became abundantly clear that marketing and promotion can't outweigh the connection and customer experience. And as scale increases, so does this imbalance between the activities.

Think about it. How close a relationship do you feel you have with your favorite restaurant? In Greece, it's amazingly intimate. Life revolves around relationships, the connection with the dry cleaner, caterer, retail shop, maintaining a community connection that is fostered at all points of the customer experience. While businesses want repeat customers, there are no fishbowls on the counter asking for business cards or email addresses. Instead, they rely on great experiences at the time of purchase. They ask simple questions to determine customer satisfaction and they deal with bad experiences with the kind of personal attention I haven't seen in a long time.

Whether your business is large or small scale, the core of success is the same: great experiences. Build relationships through the experiences and support the route your customers take to get through these experiences.

4 comments about "Is Scale A Factor In Successful Email Marketing?".
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  1. Susan Roane from The RoAne Group, July 20, 2009 at 12:43 p.m.

    Life does revolve around relationships here as well as in Greece. For reasons that make no sense to me, and are addressed so articulately in this post, many people have forgotten that real connections are fostered by the personal touch; not an internet facsimile thereof.
    Disclaimer: Fireside published my book: Face to Face: How To Relclaim the PERSONAL Touch in a Digital World.
    Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 20, 2009 at 5:57 p.m.

    Note: I was in Greece for 3 weeks this past spring.

    Most people do not realize Greece did not become Greece as we know it until the 1920's when it became independent from the Ottoman Empire. Still, it was a country invaded by outside forces until much later. History brings us to where we are. Greece is also one of the most supertitious cultures with the Greek Orthodox religion as part of the governmental society. Their traditions are highly immersed with ancient pagan beginnings. (We had a great guide who is a Greek island resident.) American concepts of social cannot be compared to Greece or any much smaller country with a more intimate sense of community. (89% of the time, you are going either up or down, too, so you need pit stops.) You are right - the revolving door of purchasing habits will continue if we continue to spend so much time looking at a little box without respect to the people to whom we face we miss the loyaty factors - the it costs more to retain customers than to gain customers. And congrats! You are a millionaire.

  3. Robert Miller from The List, July 21, 2009 at 2:46 p.m.

    One thought that came to my mind while reading this post was the link between the quality of service received and the level of ownership from the specific provider (by 'the specific provider' I mean the person that you are actually in contact with when receiving the service). I'm willing to wager that a very high percentage, if not all, of these businesses were family owned and operated with the staff being largely comprised of family members or close family friends. This type of staffing would obviously be very hard to implement in a national chain in America with hundreds, if not thousands, of different employees. To me, the key factor for success in any service industry is figuring out how to pass the feeling of ownership and accountability to every employee as much as possible. Small business owners have much more to lose if they provide their customers with a poor experience than does the waiter at a local restaurant. While the waiter may be thinking about a lost tip, the owner is thinking of the lifetime value of each of their customers. The trick is getting all employees to see how they affect the organization, no matter how large or small, and to see how valuable they are to the overall success.

  4. david Baker from RedPill, July 22, 2009 at 9:06 a.m.

    Actually, in this little country, most of the workforce are highly unskilled and imported... Cyprus is different from Greece as it is split (North-Turkish and South-Predominately Greek)_,but it has alot of british influence given it used to be a british colony.... so it offers some useful examples of catering to a very high traffic tourist economy, catered by import workers....

    The net of what motivates me is the question of marketing relationships and how we view them in the States vs smaller, more intimate environments and can we force some of this thinking into large scale programs?

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