What if people were willing to pay you for the privilege of receiving your marketing materials?
A while back, I spoke with Laura Fitton about the idea of "useful" marketing, and we thought that, if you could actually get people to pay you for your marketing, that that would be a leading indicator of just how useful people found it.
I was reminded of this thought experiment when speaking with IBM's Yuchun Lee for this week's episode of Marketing Smarts. Yuchun believes that marketers can and should harness the power of technology to increase the relevance of their communications, with the ideal being a level of relevance that feels to the consumer like a service.
"Every email that you send to a client," he said, "shouldn't be about trying to sell and promote something. It should be about adding value. It should be about service. We call this marketing so good... it feels like a service."
A Copernican Shift
Copernicus famously revolutionized the way humans viewed the solar system by demonstrating that the sun, not Earth, was at its center.
In other words, that kind of Copernican shift encourages you to ask of every bit of marketing (your website, your emails, your Twitter and Facebook feeds, your ebooks, your infographics, your blog, etc.), "What does this do for my customer? How does this help them? How can they use this?"
Double Talk or the Way of the Future?
Putting it that way, of course, makes this idea seem reasonable. We all want to be "customer-centric" and what better way to demonstrate our commitment to this ideal than to create marketing materials that aren't "for us" but are "for them"?
That being said, though, whether we have this service mentality or not, we are, at the end of the day, really creating this stuff for own ends. The proof of that pudding is this: If "marketing as a service" made customers happy but didn't have any impact on sales, we would pull the plug, right?
For this reason, I fear that there is an air of double talk about this concept. Marketers know that people are leery of marketing and will filter out marketing messages whenever they can. Calling it a service then amounts to little more than an attempt to elude these filters by convincing people that your marketing is actually something else.
At the same time, according to Yuchun, research suggests that the use of service-type messages—highly personalized recommendations based on past purchase behavior, for example—can lift response rates and that people respond favorably to increased relevance, viewing relevant marketing as helpful (e.g., as a service) rather than intrusive promotional or marketing-y.
So, what do you think? Double talk or way of the future?
Or is your opinion more like, "If it works, who cares?"