Perception Is Reality, and Other Marketing Truisms
Recently, I changed up The Daily Egg’s newsletter, taking it from daily to weekly.
To some that may look like an arbitrary decision based on personal choice. To others it may appear to be a reaction to a few complainers.
But random as it may look, there’s actually a lot of thought that goes into decisions like that. It’s not just about appeasing the masses or personal preference. It’s actually about PR, marketing and conversion rate, all rolled into one.
A few of you emailed to ask why these changes were made. So I thought, today, we’d review the thought process that went into the decision… and give you some feedback on whether it worked.
So why change your email frequency?
First of all, frequency isn’t really about frequency
For astute marketers, the size and frequency of any marketing campaign is a strategic decision. One that doesn’t come lightly.
For instance, when it comes to email frequency, there’s no hard and fast rule. Is it better to show up in people’s inbox every day, three times a week, or only once a week? Ultimately, it depends on your followers and what they want from you.
Make too few touches, and people feel disconnected from your brand.
Show up too often, especially without delivering value, and readers lose interest. Which could lead to complaints and unsubscribes.
So what do you do when that happens? Do you immediately change your email frequency?
No. You evaluate why you’re getting complaints.
Your job isn’t to appease complainers. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them either. Complainers can help you understand how people perceive your brand.
That’s important because your brand is your most valuable asset, one that needs protection and nurturing.
About 100 years ago, John Stuart, then Chairman of Quaker, confirmed that a popular brand adds more value that your hard assets.
“If this business were split up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trade marks, and I would fare better than you.”
For more evidence, look at this table, which shows the relative value of some of the top global brands in 2012:
That being the case, your job as marketer is to increase the value of your brand while also attracting and engaging your ideal customers. Every decision you make is weighed according to its ability to do that.
Never adopt a tactic just because the gurus recommend it. Start with your business objectives, and then build a plan that will help you achieve them.
Make sure engagement is part of your plan. Loyal followers add a viral element to your marketing, which helps you get more customers with less effort.
Perception is reality
Smart marketers understand this. They know that creating the wrong impression can hurt your brand. Like these marketing mishaps did:
- American Apparel’s “Sandy Sale.” If it looks like you’re seeking profit from a natural disaster, people think you don’t care.
- Abercrombie & Fitch’s ultra-targeted marketing. If your CEO says he only wants attractive, cool people buying your products, you may lose some of those attractive, cool customers.
Here’s just a sampling of the backlash you can generate:
— Heather Clouse (@THEREALHEATHERC) May 8, 2013
— Cynthia Boaz (@cynthiaboaz) May 8, 2013
At all costs you need to create the right impression about your brand — whether you’re only interested in making a dollar (at any cost) or genuinely care about your customers.
How do you do that? Your style of marketing… the choices you give customers… and your concern for their well-being.
A negative perception can cost you sales and drives off potential customers. It sullies your brand image.
So there’s a degree to which your brand image and the value of your business are one and the same thing.
The only way to know how your brand is perceived is to talk to your customers. Look for ways to get customer feedback, such as through surveys or one-on-one conversations.
Whenever appropriate, invite responses. If people know it’s okay to communicate with you, you’ll get more customer emails, phone calls, and comments.
Negative perception does need to be addressed
In recent years, you’ve heard a lot about relationship marketing. It’s nothing new. It’s really just a mix of marketing and PR to build loyalty and improve brand perception — something we should all be doing all the time.
Crisis management and social strategy, together, can help you connect with customers and stay on top of brand sentiment.
As a case study, consider American Airlines.
On April 16, its reservation system suffered a system outage. As you can image, tweets were flying. But rather than sitting back and watching the meltdown, the airline’s social media team stepped up, offering specific information to help customers know what to expect.
By joining the conversation, it was able to provide real-time customer service that kept people happy (or as happy as could be expected under the circumstances).
Here’s what Amy O’Brien, American Airlines’ senior social media analyst, said in an interview about her response to that event:
“Brand sentiment is a very important social metric that a business can use to impact decision making across a wide variety of functions. Awareness of what drives changes in brand sentiment, either positive or negative, can be critical for decisions related to areas such as customer service, marketing and communications.” (underline mine)
People’s perception of your brand is as important a metric as your bounce rate. When complaints become commonplace, you obviously need to respond in some way.
Keep a close eye on tweets and Facebook mentions about your brand. Interact with followers, thanking them for positive mentions and offering help when negative ones surface. If you see a trend of unhappy customers, address it.
Act, don’t react
After I changed Crazy Egg’s primary newsletter to a weekly digest, someone suggested that I was rewarding complainers. I don’t agree. Addressing negative perception isn’t the same thing as reacting to complainers.
It’s more a matter of putting your customers first — above a profit agenda, above your own convenience, even above your own preferences.
Because perception is reality, if you notice a significant number of people saying something negative about your brand, you need to take it seriously. Not react, mind you. But take positive action to keep things from getting out of hand.
You need to ask questions like:
- What’s causing this negative perception?
- Are the complaints valid?
- What can you do to create a more positive user experience?
Focus on what your customers want and need. To become the go-to resource for your customers, you need to stay in tune with them.
Always test your ideas to see what resonates with customers. If you serve a wide variety of people, segment them into different customer groups so you can create personalized marketing for each segment.
Automation makes it easy for people to complain
We live in a social world. You don’t have to like it, or even understand it. But you do have to adjust.
For years now, the gurus have been telling you that you can automate everything and make a 7-figure income while relaxing on the beach.
Too much automation makes it clear that you aren’t involved in your business. If you aren’t present and if you aren’t paying attention to what’s being said about you in the social sphere, you leave room for negative comments.
Getting involved with your community is the best way to build the perception of authentic, transparent leadership.
You have to be present. You have to be invested. Otherwise, the clowns spouting complaints are the only ones talking, and people are likely to believe them.
Even if you don’t love social media, get involved. At least once a day, check the mentions of your brand in Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
While you’re at it, schedule posts to go out in the next 24 hours. Thank people for retweeting. Respond to questions. Let people know there’s a person behind the brand name.
So here’s what was happening with Crazy Egg’s brand
When I took over The Daily Egg, one of the first things I noticed were the negative comments floating around the social sphere. I saw them on Facebook, Twitter, and even email.
I don’t want to see too many of these:
— John-Henry Scherck (@JHTScherck) May 13, 2013
I’d rather see stuff like this:
— Carlo (@carlocretaro) May 2, 2013
Careful evaluation of the negative comments made it clear that people saw the brand as overly aggressive in its marketing.
On a side note, good marketing may come off as aggressive. But if you want to adopt an aggressive, in-your-face style, you also have to be present. Otherwise, you look like spam.
You need to be personal and present if you’re going to do a lot of advertising.
My evaluation revealed that there wasn’t enough choice about when and where you see the Crazy Egg name. My solution was to give some control back to you, the subscriber.
Even if it hurt traffic in the short run, I wanted to slow down the emails, making the default opt-in a weekly digest, which shouldn’t overwhelm anyone. And then I created a second opt-in for people who want a daily alert.
In other words, you get to choose. You’re empowered. And you’re more likely to be happy with the emails you see in your inbox because you set the frequency, not me.
Fortunately, this test has worked. We see far fewer complaints and a lot more praises. Unsubscribes are down, and people are opting into both email lists. Which means our hypothesis was right. People do respond favorably to choice.
The bottom line
First, there’s no one way to do this and get it right. That’s why you need to test everything you do. It really is okay to try something and then try something else to see if it works better.
Second, in a social marketplace, you need to be respectful of your followers. The more choices you give them, the more empowered they feel, the more loyal they’ll feel toward your brand.
By putting control back into visitors’ hands, you show a deeper concern for your followers than for your own profit. That’s genuine. And that’s the mindset that will build a stronger community.