The Power of Ask

There has been a groundswell of consumer discontent with marketers that invade social networks with interruptive promotions and shameless company plugs amid consumers’ wall posts and tweets. It’s an approach that has eroded consumer confidence and one that will ultimately prove disastrous unless marketers are willing to make social media engagement more about conversation and less about a call to action.
Statistics back up consumer unhappiness with marketers’ interruptions. A recent ExactTarget study, for instance, found that 70 percent of Facebook users who “like” at least one company on Facebook don’t believe they have given firms permission to market to them. Moreover, 40 percent of those users don’t believe marketers are welcome in social networks at all.
While several pundits have offered insights into how to organize marketing organizations to create engagement and develop conversation, I offer a different approach — one that requires no restructuring, no additional marketing spend or no daylong seminar to redefine the meaning of marketing. The solution to developing powerful online engagement is simple: ask the consumer what he or she wants and then deliver it in the channel in which permission is given.
While it may seem rudimentary, shockingly few brands go this route. Opt-in communications are surprisingly absent from many companies’ playbooks. Even fewer give consumers the opportunity to identify what they want to hear, when they want to hear it and how often they want to hear from you. Instead of asking consumers for their preferences to drive increased engagement, marketers all too often chase the wrong metric and focus on amassing Facebook fans, Twitter followers or e-mail subscribers without regard for
consumers’ preferences or interests.
The reality of making all your online communications driven entirely by permission may sound daunting, but fear not. It’s fairly easy, scalable and, in many cases, can be accomplished with a simple addition to your existing program and allows you to connect with customers across all
interactive marketing channels — e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and even mobile.
Here are three ideas to get you started:
1. Create an online customer preference center. Give customers an easy way to identify how and where they want to hear from you. Adding a simple registration form on your Web site or expanding your existing e-mail registration page to include Twitter, Facebook and text are key. Also, don’t forget to give customers a reason to hear from you. Offering exclusive discounts or early product announcements are great ways to drive increased engagement.
2. Meet customers where they are. Provide customers an easy way to join your communications when they are highly engaged — both in-store and online. Give customers the opportunity to join your communications via text message while they’re shopping in-store and entirely immersed in your brand. Doing so not only amplifies your unique brand experience, but it gives you an opportunity to extend that relationship well beyond the visit.
3. Get personal. Customers are unique and interact with brands in different ways across all interactive channels. Provide multiple ways to join your communications on Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Be sure to allow them to identify their preferences of channel, frequency and topic, and clearly identify how you will use these to shape your communications. Making communications more personalized across all channels creates an immersive brand presence that drives loyalty and increases conversion.
The explosive growth of social media and massive adoption of e-mail has changed the face of interactive marketing for good. Consumers want engagement, not marketing, and expect you to provide relevant, meaningful content across all channels. Today’s consumers are complex, but connecting with them is simple. Ask them what they want, how they want it and when they want it, and then deliver it to them. Stay engaged and experience the results of the “power of ask.”
Tim Kopp is CMO of ExactTarget. He can be reached at