I ran an all-day customer workshop recently with one of our customers, a rapidly growing online retailer. There were seven of us in the workshop altogether; myself, three colleagues and three key people from the customer (one technical, one commercial – the founder, in fact – and one marketing). The meeting went well and we covered a lot of ground, however one of the things that slowed us down a little early on (and I have come across this in the past) was the fact that we weren’t always talking about the same thing, even though we thought we were. Specifically, we were using certain terms (‘personalisation’, ‘data quality’, ‘inactive’ and even ‘spam’) however some assumptions had been made about what each of these terms meant.
The first reason I bring this up is that it reminded me of the importance of having a common understanding of the terms and language that we are using every day, especially in an industry such as ours where new terms are being created (and forgotten) on a rapid and ongoing basis. Using the above example to illustrate the point, we very nearly spent a substantial amount of time discussing the relative merits of the different data integrity tools on the market – those which help ensure your email data is accurate, correctly constructed, current and so on – when in fact the customer wanted to discuss how best to qualify the value of different contacts dependent on the recency and nature of their last contact. For him, ‘data quality’ was a value term, not a measure of the likely accuracy of an email address. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, but I do think it was critical that we were able to find a common understanding earlier in the conversation as it saved us all a lot of time. Another example might be personalisation, a popular term at the moment throughout our industry. I’ll bet if you ask three of your colleagues what they think personalisation means, you’ll get three different answers, even if you limit the context to email marketing. The reason why this is important is that it’s all too easy to make the assumption that everyone agrees on the definition of a term (especially one like personalisation) and a lot of time and money can subsequently be spent (wasted?) pursuing separate goals. Getting this kind of thing right up front is critical.
The second reason I think this is important is with regard to speaking your customers’ language. This mattered in the customer meeting I talked about earlier (aside from the ‘data quality’ discussion, their technical attendee talked about all email marketing campaigns as ‘spam’ as a matter of course, which took a while to get my head round!) and it is even more important when as marketers you’re communicating with your customers.
Understanding and using the kind of language that is familiar and accessible to your customers is critical to successfully growing and retaining a loyal customer base. This is even more important if your customers are based all over the world and not just for the obvious reason.
Here are just two examples of companies that I think do it well.
Selfridges is a global brand with global customers. Everything about its brand image resonates premier quality and class. They’ve been named the world’s best department store twice and they work hard to manage their online relationships in a way that complements this established reputation.
They do it well. Their emails are consistently elegant, understated and easy to navigate, just like their store. They also offer additional personalisation options to further reinforce their credentials and whilst the language is subtle, by offering next day delivery, international click and collect, complimentary returns and a gift wrap service, the overall experience is precisely the kind of thing that I would expect to appeal to a Selfridges subscriber.
2. Innocent Drinks
From the moment I signed up to the Innocent Drinks newsletter, I had a feeling I’d be in for something a little bit different. Having carefully cultivated their quirky image (all the way back to their Headquarters, Fruit Towers), they have since sought to speak to their subscribers on the same terms.
Whilst email marketers often limit themselves by focusing exclusively on incentives and ROI, Innocent has always aimed to take a different approach reading more like a collection of cool stuff a friend might send you on a Friday afternoon. Although product launches or company announcements do get mentions, you’ll also find links to models of ants’ nests, the world’s poshest treehouse, odd-shaped clouds and Labradors in tutus.
This ‘tone of voice’ helps Innocent to maintain a personality that resonates well with their customers. They take it further still by soliciting customer feedback – an oft overlooked opportunity – and better still, acting on that feedback, all of which helps them maintain a positive relationship with their subscribers (even despite some of the challenges they’ve faced in this area sincebecame a key shareholder in 2009).
To finish, the message here is simple. Whatever you do, make sure you think about the language you use more in the future than you are already doing today. You’ll save yourself a whole lot of time in the long run and if you get it right then your customers will be amongst the most loyal of all. Good luck!
Here are some other interesting articles and posts about the same subject;