When I go with the flow and throw out the proverbial "we want to develop a dialogue with the customer," is it really a dialogue I mean? Are we really communicating with the customer -- or just throwing spaghetti against the wall hoping it sticks?
Aside from in-person connections and synchronous exchanges, we really don't communicate with the customer. We interpret response to stimuli! As poorly as most online surveys are constructed, I'd question whether that is really a form of communication.
In the marketing and digital world we change the definition of both dialogue and communication to some degree. For instance, an online poll is a way of gathering feedback on a particular single or cumulative experience. But is it a dialogue? Is a welcome email series a dialogue?
Think about the brands you are most loyal to. It may be Starbucks, because you are the nut, like me, that spends far too much on $4 lattes twice a day. It may be the dry cleaner to whom you trust your third most important asset: clothes. House and cars usually precede this. It may be the Lexus or BMW. It may be the chain restaurant like Macaroni Grill where there is no denying the consistency you'll receive each time you visit. Or better yet, if you are a traveler like me, the airline, hotel or car rental company where you live 30% of your life.
When was the last BMW ad you recall on a Web site? Or email you've opened from your local dealership? How many direct connections can you recall with your most engaged brands? Loyalty is a funny thing, driven by habits. In order to replace loyalty to a brand, you must break a habit and form a new habit. It doesn't happen overnight, unless there is a great deal of motivation driving this change. And brand dialogues connect these experiences with these core values.
The most impressive brands make connections through many forms of stimuli and reinforce experiences through many media, email included. I now receive an email communication from my dry cleaner asking me if I was satisfied with their service after they drop off my clothes each week. It doesn't include a coupon. Yes, I pay $6 to starch and press a shirt in California.
I receive continual communications from BMW from all points, including the dealership asking me to assess my experience when I bring in my car for service. Ironically, they do this as a performance assessment for their service agents, usually preceded with a call from the agent asking me to give him/her a high ranking as her bonus is dependent on this rating. But I also receive local promotions and test drive events. Since my lease is up for renewal in a few months, I've seen a dramatic increase in communications from BMW marketing and my local dealer/salesperson.
The key to these connections, my loyalty and purchase persistence is: each brand provides continuity to the experience through many channels. While I might survive on just the dining experience at a hotel and the value of the 900,000 miles I have with American Airlines, it's digital communications that keep me close to the brands I most covet.
Now, look in your inbox -- and more importantly- at the products and services you buy -- and assess how you are using digital dialogues to build continuity with your customers. Do you regularly check their pulse? Do you use key experiences to trigger a reason to communicate? Do you reinforce buying experiences? Do you choose lifestage and other critical consumer events to stay in front of the customer? Is your brand goal and customer experience symmetrical?
As I've said many times, email will inform, educate and inspire. It will help you build social connections through brands and experiences, it will entice consumers to buy something -- possibly more often than they normally would have without this stimuli.
Key to great dialogues is a commitment to the small things without losing sight of the customer. Far too many times, we, as marketers, lose sight of this connection and the value we bring through asynchronous channels like email. Your customer isn't an "@" sign.