Raise Your Hand If You Want To Be Talked At

I saw "Toy Story 3" (again) last weekend, and was struck by a scene in the film where one toy-character complimented another toy on his acting abilities. An odd choice of compliment, since neither had choice of expression or movement -- while their owner, a little girl, spun disjointed fantasies. 

The same is true for marketing emails. We may aspire to "conversation," lead "nurturing" or any number of euphemisms that imply an engaging back-and-forth communication between brand and customer, but the reality is, we can't handle a discussion. (Witness the large number of no-reply email addresses companies send from). And so our "conversations" are little more than a one-sided romp where we spin our stories while our customers have few options for expression.

Yet none of us really enjoy being talked at. I regularly tune out people who talk "at" me, rather than "to" me. So what is an email marketer to do?

1.     Stop pretending it's a conversation. I'm all for aspiring to stretch goals, but this goes beyond stretch and into the realm of the impossible. Just because your customers like your product and love your brand doesn't mean they want to talk to you -- any more than they want to be talked at. If we keep trying to have a conversation, we will miss out on the real opportunities to make our customers happy.



2.     Start segmenting your audience and your offers. Whenever your data allows you to target, segment, or approximate 1:1 marketing through dynamically assembled emails, do it. Whole-house offers tend to be weak because they are trying to appeal to too broad an audience. Focus on a target or segment, and the smaller audience size can help you afford a better offer -- or at least a more interesting one. 

3.     Follow up on expressed interest. When I get an email responding to something I've done on a particular company's website, I sit up and take notice. It may not be a conversation, but it is a very good reminder that this company has something specific that I'm actually interested in. It's a good idea to assume your customers lead busy lives that don't revolve around shopping. Under that assumption, a reminder that they've nosed around your content or products is a nice way of asking for more of their time while making it worth their while. These types of emails are known as Browse/Re-marketing emails and can be small annuities for your business.

4.     Make sure your offers don't insult. Customers think they can tell when your offer is supposed to be specific to them (and not a general whole-house offer). Do them the courtesy of trying to make the offer worth their time. This is best illustrated by example: for a year after Kindle 2.0 came out, I groaned every time I went to and saw "Hi, Gretchen" along with an offer for the Kindle I already owned. Doesn't have a better use for that space on its home page? Nearly everything else on that page is customized to me. It hurt my marketing sensibilities to see such large real estate squandered.  Another example: a well-known retailer keeps sending me online-only offers to get me to return to their website. The emails even feature items I've recently browsed. But their best offer so far is a paltry 10% discount, which doesn't offset their exorbitant shipping fees. I'll pass, despite the 1:1 marketing approach.

Recognizing that your customers aren't having a conversation with you is the first step toward getting them some engaging content that will make them raise their hands for better reasons -- maybe even to buy from you. 

8 comments about "Raise Your Hand If You Want To Be Talked At".
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  1. Mike May from Huge, January 24, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.

    What a refreshing perspective, and a great article. Thanks Gretchen.

  2. David Forbes from MyOwn, January 24, 2011 at 12:32 p.m.

    Nicely written and thank you for providing some sanity to the world of direct marketing via email. I only hope that marketers could begin to understand if they spent more time improving their targeting and offers in a marketing program they'd be far better off than chasing the "new" type of engaged customer. That you can not create what is not there and that metrics like engagement, frequency, recency etc. are only telling if they are naturally occurring. As a direct marketer your job is to identify those pre-disposed to purchasing your product or service and potentially pushing them to make that decision with an appropriate offer at the appropriate time. Leave the CRM initiatives for those customers that actively pursue a conversation and a connection to your brand.

  3. Susan Tull from BlueHornet Networks, January 24, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.

    Gretchen, I also appreciate your perspective here, specifically as it relates to the whole "email is a conversation" point. I agree that it "ain't necessarily so." However, I do think that marketers can greatly improve the engagement they have with customers/subscribers when they use email together with social media marketing--leveraging data from both channels to improve their relevance across both channels. Thanks for the article.

  4. Molly Griffin from Dydacomp, January 24, 2011 at 4:28 p.m.

    Good points. I think it is often harder than people think to create emails that really speak to the customer and not at them. I completely agree that I often ignore people/emails that fail to engage me. Here at Dydacomp, we have seen the value in personalized email campaigns because customers respond better when they feel like they are being engaged.

  5. Gretchen Scheiman from Alchemy Worx, January 24, 2011 at 5:01 p.m.

    @Molly, thanks for sharing the perspective from Dydacomp. Personalized emails are an excellent tool when your underlying data supports them. It's great that you've been able to take advantage of that.
    @Susan, great point - I didn't even touch on the social media connection. But that would be smart data for companies to add to their programs.
    @David, thanks for the feedback. You make very good points about making sure your programs are matched to the engagement level of your customer. It's very true that you can't force engagement.
    @Mike, thanks for the feedback!

  6. Roanne Parker, January 24, 2011 at 8:14 p.m.

    Yes! I have blogged about a part of this you mention - the no reply emails - today at, there are also links to others who feel the same way there. Enjoy, your comments welcomed there too.

  7. Bert Shlensky from stretchandcover , January 25, 2011 at 12:05 p.m.

    good points . my big complaint is that every site talks about communication and relating to their consumer .
    However , the do the best they can to avoid LIVE phone
    conversations with empowered people to solve problems . first you can't find the phone number on a web site, then you go through an endless stream of phone listings and waiting for more phone prompts . My most recent example is my cousin passed away and we were trying to pay her bills . You cannot believe how many people will only talk to the person that died and will not take no for answer .

  8. Gretchen Scheiman from Alchemy Worx, January 25, 2011 at 5:41 p.m.

    @Bert, morbid but very true. Sorry you had to deal with that experience on top of your loss.
    @Roanne, thanks for cross linking.
    @Timo, you're right - mobile will change things a bit. However, I still question whether companies will actually converse with customers, or simply do their best to engage customers where and when the customers choose to open up to that engagement.

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