The rise of the email, internet and mobile computing has changed the landscape for how traditional retailers and other companies communicate with their customers. Corporate communications is unknowingly creating enormous winners and losers, as the firms who adeptly figure out what their customers want, win. Those who fail to do so risk losing market share, revenues, and profits. In the retail sector, its hugely important in terms of capturing market share, converting first time shoppers into loyal repeat customers, and growing the digital online half of their businesses.
I have noticed a distinct schism between traditional companies and a few online tech firms and the shops that get it right as they all try to reach the broader consumer universe and most especially the under 30-age cohort.
Some firms seem to have this down to a science – think Amazon.com or Apple – while others struggle with it.
But first, a quick story: We are considering adding a screened in porch to our home (it’s the only thing we miss about the prior shack). Not an easy fit on a contemporary house, and a temporary aluminum and canvas Gazebo might help out – try on a few locations for size, see how it fits into the yard, test sizes, shapes, etc. We saw a nice one at Lowes, reasonably priced, more or less the right-size, and well made. They don’t stock it in the store, and so they had me order it online.
Hey, no problem . . . Set up an online account, with credit card info, email address, delivery date, etc. It arrives when they said it would, took the missus and me a few hours on a beautiful afternoon to set up, looks and feels great, no muss no fuss.
Then the emails started coming.
Every day, a different pitch for a different outdoor product arrived. As a consumer, I found it annoying and intrusive. But as a corporate observer, I was fascinated. Hey, I know who Lowes is and what they sell. But dude, all I did was order something from you. You are like the new friend who tries way too hard — its a bad look, and makes me want to run in the other direction.
If you were a blind date, I would be getting a restraining order.
No matter: I tried to reduce the email frequency to weekly or monthly, but its not an option. Then I try to unsubscribe from all Lowes emails. That did not work either. Amazingly, the only thing that could slow the email parade was canceling the online account completely. That was what it took to stop the relentless flow of marketing.
Think about what a tremendous lost opportunity this would be for any company: You have a customer, who is willing to drop$500 on some bullshit geegaw, along with all of their personal address, phone number, email and credit card info – and you so totally annoy them that they tell you to fuck off. Don’t contact me again, and delete all of my personal information, buh-bye.
Is that was what the head of Lowes’ digital marketing had in mind when they set up their email program? Do they even have a head of digital marketing?
I may have been annoyed as a consumer but I was simultaneously fascinated as an investor and corporate observer.
Anecdotally, I know I am not alone in finding this aggressive marketing intrusive. Hey, I ordered a tent, I wasn’t looking for a new BFF. But it made me wonder how many billions of dollars are being lost due to C level executives not understanding their client audience. Too bad the SEC does not require companies to detail on their 10ks “Here’s how much money we lost due to being boneheads.”
When we look at the companies who do email marketing right, we see a very different relationship between the customer and the company. Want to take a guess as to how much market share is being captured by the companies who get this right? Look at shops like Amazon.com and Apple. They both have been destroying their competition, capturing repeat customers and increasing their market share at the expense of old school companies like Wal-Mart, and Samsung.
Consider Ticketmaster, a company that is widely despised by its customers for its monopoly market share and high user fees. That’s not my biggest beef with them, its how utterly brain dead their email marketing is.
Many of the ticketing services offer you an opportunity to sign up to track artists, bands, comedians, etc. I have about 40 on my list with Ticketmaster. I live in New York, and almost exclusively go to shows in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk Counties). So WTF are the marketing geniuses thinking when sending me show announcements in California, Minnesota, and as far away as Hawaii? That’s 4,918 miles away from where I live!
Keep in mind, Ticketmaster knows:
My home address
My credit card info
Every show I’ve bought tickets to through them
Where those shows are.
There is absolutely nothing in any of that information that suggests I am buying tickets outside of my local area. My solution was to unsubscribe to their email list, and re-subscribe to each individual artists email marketing list. And that’s going to lead to lost business for them, as I will find out about shows that they are not selling tickets to, like Paul McCartney’s Wings guitarist Laurence Juber, at the Cutting Room in NYC last month (he was awesome).
I bet none of you would be surprised if I were to tell you that not one of the musicians and comedians I subscribed to have abused me with excessive marketing. They understand what an appropriate relationship with their fan base is; somehow, corporate executives seem to not understand their relationship with their customers.
My solution to this email issue has been twofold: First, I use a small web app called Leemail – its an email forwarding program that lets you hide your actual email address from anyone you don’t want to share it with. (I erroneously assumed Loews could be trusted). The best part is, you can turn it on and off at will,and from within any email from that party. Flick a small tab to off, and that’s it. You can turn it back when you need it.
I use this with OpenTable, who also seems to believe that any temporary use of their site is an invitation to an avalanche of unwanted email. (I use them less and less because of this specifically, and I’d rather see the money go to the restaurateur). Hey, if I wanted to be relentlessly spammed by a company, I would have given professional spam shop LinkedIn my actual email address!
There is an enormous amount of business being lost – and won – based on how well or poorly companies manage their email marketing. Distinct winners and losers are emerging.
Other companies should be watching what Amazon.com and Apple do – and learning.
UPDATE: April 21, 2016 11am
Mike Barrett reminds me:
“You also forgot a huge detriment to bad email marketing. Some people won’t unsubscribe when they’re annoyed, they’ll just start marking your email as spam. When enough people at Gmail or Yahoo mark your email as spam, the web mail services will quietly start sending your email to the spam folders of all your other customers.”
UPDATE 2: April 27, 2016 9am
Kris sends us this gem from Bruce Erik Kaplan of the New Yorker: