Is honesty always the best policy?

Depending on your point of view, Top Gear host and Sunday Times bestselling author Jeremy Clarkson is either speaking honestly or offensively striking at your fundamental beliefs.



What he did achieve this week was to put discussion of the public sector strikes over pension reform right at the heart of the news agenda – and as the first question on the BBC’s Question Time. Though he was claiming to extol ‘balance’, he rather hinted at his distaste for the strikes, at a time when everyone in the economy is being forced to make sacrifices. In that moment, he was being honest, and because people didn’t like it, his contract with the BBC is now apparently at risk.

Apply this thought process to business. Does it pay to be honest? In an extreme case for not, Gerald Ratner derided his own jewellery only for the company to go to the wall.

Interestingly, Seth Godin wrote a seminal text a decade or more ago called All Marketers are Liars which amongst other things laid the foundations for value-based story telling in marketing rather than seductive feature laiden selling. Who are the modern proponents of this approach and what can we learn?

Name some brands that are held in high regard for being honest. Innocent? Virgin? Dove? Apple? Zappos? Why?

And name some that perhaps aren’t. British Gas? BT? Sky? United Utilities? Comet? Again why?

The point I’m trying to make is that I think there is a place for honesty in marketing. Not enough companies strip themselves bare and deliver it. Too much talk about total integrated streamlined efficient solutions. Too much broadcast, too little engagement.

Honesty has to be sincere, genuine and prevalent through all levels of the business, embodied in all employees, and present at every customer touchpoint. Brands that spend thousands (even millions) of pounds convincing customers how great they are, only to deliver late, install incorrectly and then take days to put things right (Comet this very week), can’t claim reliability and service as a virtue.

So, is your business writing cheques that your people and processes can’t deliver on? What can you change to better reflect your strengths and customer value?

Marketing Metrics 8: Email marketing

I read some statistics in preparing this blog that suggested 90 trillion emails were sent in 2009, and approximately 86% of them were spam. (Pingdom). Bad day in the office for the guy counting, but it is a staggering number if it’s even remotely correct.

If you have a glass half empty outlook, that’s going to put you right off email marketing. But if you’re a glass half full person, these numbers imply rather a lot were still well targeted and well propositioned to recipients interested in what they had to say.

Email remains a great way to make and stay in touch with a range of audiences and it can provide powerful insight into how your brand is perceived, the messages you want to convey, and the design and offers you make – if you take the time to assess the data.

Determining whether you use your email for acqusition, retention or relationship marketing will determine what you say, to who, how and when. This drives your metrics. There are lots of things that can be monitored and measured when it comes to email marketing (open, bounce rate, unsubscribes, time of day, number of unique clicks, number of repeat clicks, number of forwards) but there is only one metric that matters. You want click-through to your website. That’s where the engagement truly starts. Don’t get caught up in the numbers.

This isn’t an email masterclass (though there may be one in 2011), but if you want traffic generated from email click through, consider the following:

1. Audience need – we’ve moved away from monthly and quarterly broadcast communications and can now easily deliver bespoke content for different segmented lists. Sending the same communication to customers and prospects is plain lazy.

2. Design – the email needs to work without images, have a solid spam-filter friendly title, be sent from a reputable email address (not ‘donotreply’), contain an ‘if you can’t see this, click here’ link and an ‘unsubscribe’ button.

3. Message – different audiences are after different things and the content and tone should be tailored accordingly

4. Automation – the best emails are event triggered, whether by a transaction, a shipment or delivery update, an update on stock or a new price/offer, an anniversary or an abandoned basket. Amazon are the gold standard in internet business cross-sell and up-sell, but any business can adopt elements if considered.

A case study

I get regular emails from the shirt maker TM Lewin. Well I did until I unsubscribed. I like their shirts and the way they have used digital channels to promote their products (interesting YouTube channel). But they essentially make the same ‘4 shirts for £100/£90’ and ‘suit for £179’ offer on a weekly basis. And despite creative changes, this has been pumped out to their database (and me) for over a year.

I queried it with them on Twitter saying when you offer product at the same price consistently, it isn’t an offer anymore. They weren’t interested in taking honest and constructive customer feedback, saying it was working fine for now and they weren’t planning on changing it.

Which is fine, but that lack of regard for my transactional history and needs means my next shirt will probably come from Charles Tyrwhitt and for now TM Lewin have lost me to an untargeted, lazy and short term broadcast email strategy.

Image Keyzo

It’s the thought that counts

Well targeted professional and personal communication has died a death thanks to the rise of the digital age.

Sure, on one hand, the Internet provides powerful scope, scale, immediacy and the ability to broadcast to thousands of people.

But sometimes in being too quick to embrace technology we’re missing out on generating the simple pleasures and that means we’re probably not engaging as well as we could be.

Receiving a greeting card or letter in the mail remains one of the most powerful forms of communication available, but businesses remain immune or incapable of learning and applying this to their contact stratgies.

You have key customers, top clients and important partners. But do you know when their birthday is? Their wedding anniversary? Their job anniversary? Their children’s birthdays? Their favourite sport and sports team?

Building truly unique everyday communications around things that are important to them will elevate you from supplier to partner status and develop a long term and profitable business relationship.

People do business with people and there has to be chemistry for it to work. Be the one who has the thought that counts.