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Smart Marketing: The Customer Conversation

Can we all agree that there is something to what we call the customer "relationship," something that has a lot to do with revenue and profitability? Let me see a show of hands.

By relationship, I think we mean a connection between the marketer and the customer. Not the gooey-kind-of-relationship stuff, but a connection that is defined by, and measured by, the creation of a pattern of preferential repurchase.

So if we want to improve the relationship, vis a vis its measurement, we would naturally do everything we could to increase the preference that drives the repurchase, both by offering more value and removing obstacles. Thus, I will posit, communication—you know, like an exchange of ideas—could be a very powerful tool. Say, Mr. Customer, how do you define value, and do you see or experience any roadblocks to the value? Sort of like a conversation.

Still with me? Here's how I, as a customer of many companies, generally experience the conversation:

I am bombarded by high-decibel, irrelevant marketing messages at every turn. My guess is that maybe 1 percent of it is interesting. Maybe 1 percent of those are relevant and compelling. I have three choices:

1. I can buy.

2. I can do nothing (sort of like being numb).

3. I can opt-out.

Marketing is stuck in broadcast mode. Listening to the individual customer does not seem to be a priority. This is unfortunate (and a general waste of time) because I, as a customer, would be happy to share my preferences with selected marketers. Which is probably pretty reliable information and would save a lot of time and effort on everyone's part. Here's what I'd like to tell them:

Who I am. Remember, I am volunteering this information, so I am opting in (which is infinitely more effective for any marketer). I am convinced that this is the place for me, so I'm not afraid to tell you things that will help you to serve me better—within reason and as they apply to your product or service. I'll tell you demographics and psychographics if I am convinced of the relevance, so why guess?

By the way, I am categorically not opting-in to receive miscellaneous offers and promotions from your marketing partners and affiliates. That would fracture our bond of trust, and once that goes, I'm gone like a cool breeze.

Exactly where I see the most value in your product or service. The greater the value, the greater the satisfaction, which is a key driver of preferential repurchase. A good example is barnesandnoble.com. If I opt-in, they ask me my authors I like best, and will be happy to notify me when the next Michael Chabon (my selection) comes out. That sounds like a good deal to me.

Aside: I was once going over a data dictionary with a client. "Wow," I said, "you've got a field called 'future purchase plans.' That's really terrific. How do you know? Where does this information come from?"

My client replied that they, too, thought it was a terrific idea…but they couldn't develop reliable information, so they populate it with the customer's last purchase. No new information is no improvement.

How I'd like to hear about that value: my media and frequency preferences. While the specter of putting the customer in charge of media selection and deployment strikes fear, look at it this way—if a person is averse to a specific medium, you can sing all day everyday and they'll never tap a foot. And if you continue the tune, presto! You get something like the National Do Not Sing Registry.

Conversing with your customer creates a much more efficient system, delivering messages that arrive with the expectation of value, as well as eliminating mountains of waste for both the marketer and the customer.

Sounds like profitability to me. Think about it, please.

Scott Hornstein is the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing" and president of Hornstein Associates in Redding, CT. He can be contacted at scott@hornsteinassociates.com.