So, why does it go so wrong so often? Why don't the objects of our affection return our calls? It doesn't take Abigail Van Buren to diagnose that marketers suffer from the same problem so common to jilted suitors: You cannot build a relationship with someone else by only caring and talking about yourself.
It's not hard to see how toxic the relationship has grown between consumers and we marketers. For example, we fill their evenings with quality televised entertainment for free! And what do we get in return? Consumers are rushing in droves to use DVRs and zap the ads that make "Lost" and "Dancing with the Stars" available at no cost. According to Nielsen, as of March 2009, 30.6 percent of households have a DVR, up significantly from just 12.3 percent in January 2007. And because of ad skipping by DVR viewers, the DVR Research Institute predicts that 16 to 18 percent of all ads may be skipped within two years.
The situation is no different online as in traditional media. Sites like CNN and NYTimes.com provide the whole world of news absolutely free; all it costs the consumers is a little time and attention to the blinking ads that accompany that valuable and desired content. But what do those ungrateful consumers do in return? Make Adblock Plus the most popular Firefox plugin, downloaded almost three-quarters of a million times each week!
At least you'd think opt-in email would provide some refuge for beleaguered marketers seeking true love from consumers; after all, email subscribers are people who've told us they want to hear from us. Alas, the story is no different with permission email. According to eMarketer, the open rates for marketing emails dropped to a mere 12.5 percent in the second half of 2008, down from 14 percent a year earlier. Just one in eight marketing messages are opened, and that is by people who want to hear from us!
It's time for marketers to do some soul searching and evaluate why consumers just aren't that into us. Like a date that won't stop looking at himself or herself in the mirror and can't stop talking about themselves, marketers are too often making brands annoyances rather than increasing their appeal to consumers. If we want to earn consumer's love and long-term commitment, we're just going to have to start focusing on their needs and wants.
Last year, Experience: The Blog introduced the Experiential Marketing Continuum, a model for considering (in admittedly broad terms) the way consumers perceive different media as desirable, merely welcome, or very unwelcome.
Some marketing media are considered so heinous and aggravating that consumer seek legal remedies, such as the CAN-SPAM act to combat spam and the "Do Not Call" registry to prevent telemarketing. Other forms of marketing are welcome--they don't foster either a great of consumer engagement or spite.
On the far right of the continuum are marketing tactics and media that--when done right--consumers not only welcome but want. They seek out, return to, willingly give up their time to engage with, and even talk about and distribute these forms of marketing. Desired tactics aren't subject to software filters or skipping because consumers are left in control and view these forms of marketing as entertaining, helpful, or beneficial. These tactics build not just loyalty, awareness and purchase intent, but also foster influence--the holy grail of marketing in a highly-connected and social world.
Marketers cannot give up every form of marketing that cause consumer gripes any more than people in long-term relationships can alter themselves to resolve every one of their spouse's quibbles. But the key to a successful marriage--for brands and consumers just like for life partners--is to listen, understand, and build trust and affection by emphasizing the desired over the unwelcome.
Or, if you don't like the dating metaphor, think of it this way: In a world where 18% of your television ads are skipped, 89% of your emails aren't opened, and 5 to 15% of your banner ads aren't downloaded, do you want to invest more in those marketing channels or would you prefer to be engaging in one-to-one and value-added strategies that earn 100% of consumer respect, trust, and attention?