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Are you committing the cardinal sin of modern marketing?

Are you committing the cardinal sin of modern marketing?

March 16, 2012 by Grant Leboff

Irrelevant in the dictionaryEnvy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath — these are what we commonly think of as the seven deadly sins. However, in marketing today, there is another sin being committed by companies the world over. This offence creates so much dissatisfaction for prospects and customers alike, the punishment for committing such a crime is becoming increasingly severe.

This deadliest of marketing sins is — irrelevance.

There was a time when we all regularly received irrelevant communications. This is because there were very few companies who knew the timing of a purchase. For example, a car insurance company may be able to ascertain when your car insurance was due for renewal based on an enquiry from the previous year. However, how would a training provider know you were looking for training, an accountant know you were looking for a change or a watch manufacturer appreciate that you were currently saving for this luxury purchase?

Marketing guesswork

Most companies would have no reasonable way of knowing who was interested in their products or services. It is because of this that companies focused very much on the demography of their clientele. If you had no idea who was specifically interested in buying your product or service, at least you could target the “most likely” group of people. The result of this is “business owners” would receive messages about an accountancy service even though they were delighted with their current supplier. Meanwhile, HR directors would receive training catalogues even though they were not currently purchasing training, and people living in affluent areas would receive communications about a new luxury watch although they had no current desire to make a purchase.

However, we all put up with these irrelevant communications for one good reason. In a world before the internet, where we had relatively little access to information, it was often marketing that informed us of what was going on in the world. The value exchange was clear. We would often find out about interesting developments in products and services that we may have not discovered in any other way. In turn, however, we would have to put up with irrelevant messages which we could ignore if we wished. For most, the exchange was worthwhile.

Widespread access to information

Today, however, the value of being interrupted by these marketing messages has all but disappeared. The internet, combined with the ubiquity of modern communication devices, means that we can now access all the information we require wherever we are in the world. Consequently, we no longer want to be interrupted by communications when a company feels like shouting at us. Today, we will go and find the information we require at our time of choosing.

Of course, if a company were to send a direct mail about their new carpet cleaning service at the very moment we were thinking of having our carpets cleaned, then we may appreciate the communication. The problem for most companies is, in order to get the timing right for one customer, they have to send a mass mail out which annoys another 5,000 potential clients. Of course, when we do require a carpet cleaning service, between our networks and the web we are assured that we will be able to access all the information we require to make an informed buying decision.

The point of many digital platforms such as websites, blogs and social networks is not that companies can shout at individuals in lots of new irritating ways. Rather, it is that when people are interested in what you do, they can access your marketing at any time of the day or night. This is when it is both convenient and more importantly relevant for them.

Customers have been empowered. The most effective companies are the ones that understand this new paradigm and leverage it to involve customers in what they do. The cardinal sin committed by the businesses that don’t understand this, is to shout at prospects with irrelevant messages. 

For customers and prospects alike, receiving irrelevant communications from any quarter is irritating and will leave a bad taste in the mouth. Consequently this sin is one that will be increasingly unforgiven by consumers who will vote with their wallets and no longer engage with that business.

Grant LeBoff is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and CEO of the Sticky Marketing Club.

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