Mismatched Expectations

What type of loyalty or relationship do you or can you have with Kleenex® -- aside from the obvious? What about canned soup, beer, cereal, or dog food? You might find it easier to answer if I asked about your relationship with your BMW, Lexus, iPod, or cell phone. There is more involvement in these products and a longer consideration process. Think about what level of involvement you have with each of the products and services you interact with daily, and then think about how you use information to help form and sustain these buying decisions.

In the email channel, we are often so far down the line that when asked how email can help build a loyalty or relationship marketing program, it's almost a useless effort. We've all been there. The sheer fact that the channel doesn't take a king's ransom to put in place may be the reason the channel gets thrown the proverbial "pork chop." But the expectations of the brand marketer and the relative effect the email channel can have aren't always aligned in the minds of the advertiser. This is not to say email doesn't have a huge impact on helping people make decisions, or that people who engage a brand through email aren't likely to be more involved in the brand. But can email sustain itself alone or as an afterthought to overall marketing?



Email can do a lot of things for many programs, but it begins with aligning reality with results when doing communication planning. Email is content and information -- and you must match the consumer's need for information with all the things you think about as a marketer, such as consideration cycle, conversion cycle, seasonality, consumer life cycle and the relative degree of involvement a consumer will actually have with the product or brand. Some might call it a curriculum program of sorts.

In its simplest form, email can be:

- The gateway to the consumer for the brand that is blinded by the distribution network.

- The representative pulse of the industry and market representation of the consumer.

- The notification and personalized curriculum guide to the product/brand experience.

- The entertainment vehicle that bridges brand awareness to brand advocacy.

While most of us have programs in place and can't stop the wheels in motion, we should take a step back and think about what we are really trying to do, how people "consume" email, and the relative exchange. That is what makes communication "creative."

Now -- getting back to Kleenex®. While I personally have no affinity for this type of product -- I'll use whatever is available and would have no desire for email from this brand -- many who are active users of this product would differ. So, I actually found something interesting: (the history of Kleenex®). I decided to "Share it with a Friend," but found it only delivered a blank image and no link back to the site.

Aside from the fact that this program didn't deliver on the consumer expectation, the question is, what value does this type of program have on the business? Although it was tied to a larger branding initiative, did it fall short digitally? Like most, it seems to be an after-the-fact consideration -- maybe for the sheer fact that the marketer is struggling with the connection it can make through email.

So, the question looms: Are brands being proactive and creative in matching their needs to keep product and company messages in front of their customers? Are they aligning it with what the consumers really will consume through email, based on their level of involvement with the product? Most still think of our email channel as a coupon delivery or sales message, or as a notification of a new site. Email has always seemed like the right thing to do, and as we strive for relevancy in this space maybe we should put more pressure on our agencies and marketers to be accountable for the contribution and proactive nature of how email influences the brand experience. I give Kleenex® some credit for trying.

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