Marketing: Disrupted and Simplified (Part 15)

Customers, Ignored and Ignoring

A brand’s most profitable customers end up with experiences not too dissimilar from the others. We have all experienced it. Except in airlines, hotels and some banks, there is little differentiation in how brands engage with their customers. In the pre-digital days, it was understandable because there was no way to tell one customer from the other – except if a brand had a loyalty program and therefore the points could mirror the customer spend and generate tiers for customers. But in the digital world, this is unforgivable because so much more can be done for creating customer-centric organisations. And yet, click after click, opportunities are lost. The means (acquisition, journeys, campaigns, mailers, notifications, retargeting) overwhelm the end (maximising growth with profitability).

The most profitable customers do not get differentiated experiences and hence can be tempted away, ending up as an increase in the “churn” column of the marketer. At best, there is a transaction-based loyalty program with tiers to retain them. Points are stored in a black hole and redemption is made almost impossible. At some stage, customers even forget they have some points and soon end up forgetting about loyalty also. All that still holds them back is a mix of habit and inertia.

The rest of the customers are less attached to the brand. They were in a relationship once with the brand, but the lack of friendly engagement distances them from the marketer. A little signal here, some TLC there, and who knows what love could have blossomed. But alas, it was not to be. No attempt was made to make them feel welcome, no effort was spent on asking what they liked. Instead, all they got was the same stream of messages day after day. And at some point, they stopped opening the mails, clicking on the SMSes, actioning the notifications – and no one even noticed. A performance statistic declined by a few basis points, perhaps they were the third or fourth decimal after the point.

They drift away – and guess what! They get targeted for re-acquisition after some time. They are now in the vast pool of “new customers” – meaning more money can now be spent on them to bring them back into the fold. The irony is not lost. Thinks the customer, “I was once yours. We went out for a date. I could have fallen in love. But you were too busy, with all your data and dashboards. I waited and waited for the right move and message. I kept signalling you – by not opening your messages. It didn’t matter. I left. It still didn’t matter.” And now the marketer is back to paying Google and Facebook – paying for attention that was once available for free.

And so the cycle of life continues. Acquire, lose, re-acquire, lose, re-re-acquire. A vicious spending loop in the ever-increasing new customer acquisition budget. Thinks the customer, “Only if you had taught me to not ignore you, we could have both lived together, happily ever after.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.

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