Working in loyalty and IT for almost 20 years you see a lot of change in customer communication requirements. The telex faded away, replaced by the more flexible and accessible fax - which then itself faded away even quicker. Phone numbers changed so that it was no longer unusual for customers to have two or more. Email addresses appeared and everyone clambered to update their systems to begin capturing these.
As more channels appeared and these became cheaper to use, Robinson Lists or preference services started to spring up to control over zealous marketers. FPS (Fax Preference Service), MPS (Mailing Preference Service) and TPS (Telephone Preference Service)/Do Not Call Registry all purported to give consumers control over unsolicited contact. Opt-outs became a standard part of campaign communications as marketing departments were forced to play nicely and now customers are being given Do Not Track support within the web channel.
But recently there has been another evolution which is a lot more interesting.
As social channels emerge, the balance of power in communications has shifted.
Consumers can now turn off communications from a brand at will - essentially disconnecting their ability to even make contact. Within Facebook for example, a customer has to explicitly enable a brand to communicate with it either through application preferences or by "liking" the brand. Either way, if communications become too much, the customer can simply opt out of these by choosing to hide the individual story or to hide all stories from that brand. If the customer wants to revoke their relationship completely, they can simply "Unlike" the brand directly.
This means, in order for a brand to post messages on a customer's Facebook wall, the brand has to have established trust between them and the customer's Facebook account and to have maintained this trust with useful, relevant content.
Irrelevancy is simply a click away.
Imagine how this would work with established channels today.
- A company or friend could only phone you if you had "Liked" them via the phone company
- A company or friend could only mail you if you had "Liked" them via the Post Office
Sounds a little far fetched? Well some people are talking about this not just for social channels but for more above the line channels such as digitial advertising. In an AdAge Digital article, Judy Shapiro says:-
"We can begin to design new types of media inventory -- call them 'trust ads' -- based on consumer choices: an opt-in/ pull marketing paradigm. This would include platforms where people have powerful tools to pick which brands they want in their digital lives" going on to say "It's time to pivot the [..] debate into a practical discussion of how marketing-technology platforms (free or paid) can support the urgent, emerging need for trust-marketing innovation."
This is wise as consumers favour channels they can control.
In a recent Epsilon study it was reported that 42% of consumers state they like email because it gives them control over whether they receive it or not. However the same study then went on to say that 65% of consumers feel they get too much email and 75% admit to simply "getting a lot of emails that they don't open".
It would appear the balance of control is lacking even here.
As consumer communications move to new channels where it is easier to simply switch the message off, it's going to be increasingly difficult to simply rely on the "spray and pray" model to marketing. Instead, marketing is going to need to become more relevant, more targeted and quite simply more interesting for it to gain time within a consumers limited attention.
Loyalty programmes provide the ability to be relevant, giving you insight into consumer purchase habits and social connections. However you'll need to actually use this information wisely to become relevant otherwise you'll quite literally be talking to the (down-turned) hand because the customer will no longer be listening.