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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  • Segment marketing has been replaced by one-to-one marketing (the dialogue goes to the consumer, then back to the brand, etc.).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.