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Why Your Customers Are Just Not That Into You

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • What type of interactions customers like and dislike
  • Four customer interaction do's and don'ts

As marketers, we invest time and dollars to get the attention of our target audience. We launch campaigns and measure results. We craft messaging and position our offerings for strategic advantage. Why, despite all those efforts, are our customers still just not that into our brands?

We at Pitney Bowes asked 6,000 consumers across France, Germany, the UK, and the US that very question. The findings are important because a few larger marketing trends amplify the consequences of effective vs. ineffective customer communications.

First, the consumer trends:

  • Access to information: Global, social, and local information is at each consumer's fingertips, and consumers seek out the best information faster than ever before.
  • Brand transparency: consumers can check the authenticity of a brand promise faster than it takes a 60-second spot to air during the Super Bowl.
  • Cross-channel sophistication: consumers seamlessly fly between marketing channels to swiftly explore, shop, transact, or simply educate themselves.

Second, the marketing trends:

  • The days of lobbing one-sided campaigns at a target are gone. Today, interactions between brands and customers are two-way real-time conversations.
  • Customers have preferences. Marketers must use each customer's preferred channel to conduct a conversation.
  • Segment marketing has been replaced by one-to-one marketing (the dialogue goes to the consumer, then back to the brand, etc.).
  • Brands are sitting on boatloads of data about their consumers and prospects. By making each communication relevant, brands will draw consumers closer with each interaction.
  • Brands can share intelligence across channels. Conversations in the call center should inform Web interactions and even in-store conversations (and vice versa). We have the technology today to achieve cross-channel recognition and relevance.

Our survey indicated which marketing activities draw consumers closer to a brand, and which ones act as repellants. The report is titled "Why Your Customers Are Just Not That Into You" (PDF).

Consumers are clear about what they want from their business interactions, yet many of the techniques and initiatives being deployed are simply not having the intended effect. Worse, inappropriate communications often shrink a brand's pool of available prospects and customers because targets opt out of the brand conversation altogether.

Customer satisfaction surveys are deemed perfectly acceptable by 75% of survey respondents. That presents a good opportunity for brands to get to know their customers. With the insight gained from such surveys, brands can create a personalized or customized experience for each customer based on her preferences—a practice the majority of survey respondents deemed acceptable.

By identifying a customer's desires and concerns more accurately, marketers greatly reduce the number of off-target communications and save substantial marketing dollars.

The growing trend of personalizing messaging is working for brands. Some 59% of surveyed consumers said they appreciate personalization on websites, such as the greeting "Welcome, Jane." For transactional sites, especially when purchases are being made, Jane might find reassurance in seeing that the site recognizes her and her previous interactions.

Conversely, consumers clearly point to many annoying brand actions. Some outreach efforts are meant to be inviting, yet they are irritating to most consumers. Among such efforts: asking customers to support a brand's charity or ethical concerns (84%); sending offers via third parties (83%); encouraging interaction with other consumers via an online community (81%).

Do's and Don'ts of Brand Interactions With Customers

1. Personalization

Do: Amp up the level of personalization on the Web (59% positive).
Don't: Let your call center reps get too chummy on the phone (70% negative).

2. Asking the Customer for Action

Do: Conduct customer feedback surveys regularly (75% positive).
Don't: Invite consumers to create their own homepage (69% negative).

3. Frequency

Do: Send a special offer in the mail each month (74% positive).
Don't: Send weekly emails (89% negative).

4. Invitation to a Brand's Cause

Do: Keep customer forums with customer service efforts, not marketing (81% positive).
Don't: Ask the customer to support the brand's charity (84% negative).

* * *

Our survey results confirm that brands should listen to consumers before they send out communications. Every interaction must honor the interests of the customer first; only then is a relevant offer or call to action acceptable to consumers.

Each conversation between a brand and a customer is an opportunity to delight or disappoint. We're all learning how to do more of the former and less of the latter.

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Dan Kohn is vice-president of corporate marketing at Pitney Bowes, a provider of software, hardware, and services that integrate physical and digital communications channels.

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  • by Dennis D. McDonald Tue Mar 13, 2012 via web

    Short version of the above: "Assuming customers really care about what your brand represents is a mistake."

  • by Jason Emanis Tue Mar 13, 2012 via web

    Good stuff, Dan! I took a look at the linked Report and was excited to see that a customer who attends a live event is likely to tell 17 other people. That bodes well for us, because our clients work for corporate legal departments and they are pretty well restricted with what they can do, and say, online. Thanks!

  • by SRSALESPRO Tue Mar 13, 2012 via web

    Great information. The sample size is significant enough that MANY people in Marketing should read and take notice. I don't believe this is just an industry problem for companies LIKE Pitney Bowes either.

  • by Christopher Simpson Thu Mar 15, 2012 via web

    I've downloaded and read the PDF of this survey, but still have a few questions.

    (1) While it says 6,000 consumers were surveyed, was this a random sampling, or were they chosen only after determining that they were active, online users? In other words, of the 6,000 surveyed, what percentage actually used the internet either through shopping online or receiving information from companies through email?
    (2) Of those consumers who used the internet, how active were they? Was there some kind of standardisation used to weigh their responses?
    (3) How were the questions worded? What were the possible responses available?
    (4) Related to #3: in cases such as the question of personalisation, were these things that they would naturally look for, or simply things that, when suggested in the survey, they basically said, "Yeah, sure -- why not?"

    Of course there are more questions. There always are when the actual details of a survey are not made available, but with the information given here, it's quite hard to come to any conclusions -- other than those that should have been obvious from the outset:

    - Don't bombard your customers with endless emails
    - Don't ask your customers to support your favourite charities (who would have thought that was a good idea to being with?)
    - Give out the occasional special offer.

    I'm honestly not trying to denigrate the study, but neither can I really form any opinion on its worth without the kind of information that is generally given with these things.

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