Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No such thing as a Neutral Outcome

There is no way to determine with 100% accuracy where an individual buyer is in their buying process. This leads to a difficult marketing conundrum when looking at targeting marketing efforts based on a best possible approximation of where that buyer is likely to be in his or her buying process; in a broad enough population, there will always be some response to a marketing campaign, regardless of what buyer stage it was targeted at.

For example, if an end of quarter campaign is targeted at those almost ready to purchase in order to spur the maximum amount of business for that quarter, it will have its maximum effect in buyers that are found to be nearly ready to purchase, and are in the solution validation phase. However, determining the stage a buyer is in is both inexact, and prone to change rapidly with time. Therefore, there will still be some response in buyers found to be in the earlier vendor discovery phase, and there may even be a small response among buyers who are at the earliest phases of education and awareness.

An argument is often made that this means that the best option is to have as broad a pattern of communication as you can. Even at the top of the funnel, you will be able to drive some revenue, albeit small, but with the cost of an email campaign being almost zero, the return is still there. As long as unsubscribe rates are not high, the downside is minimal, so the campaign is worthwhile.

However, this argument assumes that anyone who does not respond to the offer is essentially a “neutral” outcome. They did not respond in a positive manner and move towards a purchase, they did not respond in a negative manner and unsubscribe, so their outcome must be neutral. This thinking is wrong, and leads to dangerous decision-making.

The outcome of the email campaign may indeed be neutral from the viewpoint of the marketer – no action was detected – but from the viewpoint of the prospect it was far from it. A non-response likely indicates that the prospect found nothing interesting about your message. This is a dangerous step towards that individual emotionally unsubscribing - reflexively ignoring your messages without looking to see if they are of interest.

Chances are, you only have a few opportunities to deliver an irrelevant message to a prospect before they begin to emotionally unsubscribe. Whereas they may not immediately, or ever, click on your unsubscribe link, you have essentially lost your ability to connect with that prospect. In today’s B2B marketing environment, no one can afford to lose the interest of their prospective buyers. The best way to maintain their interest is to ensure your communications are highly relevant to who they are, and more importantly to where they are in their own buying process.

One of the key goals of any marketing automation implementation is to do just that – to understand each individual’s behaviors and interests, and allow that person to be nurtured only with content of relevance to them. This approach tightens your segmentation focus to not just the demographics and firmographics of who the individual and their organization are, but also the psychographics of where they are in their buying process.

Only by eliminating the idea of a non-response being a “neutral” outcome can we understand the true cost of an irrelevant marketing communication.

*This post originally appeared as a guest post on Savvy B2B

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Anonymous said...

Fantastic insight that is way too often overlooked.

Justin Kistner said...

This same wisdom applies to social media. When brands use social channels to broadcast, it can make people tune out, or emotionally unsubscribe as you put it. Good things for companies to be mindful of.

Steven Woods said...

that's a great point that the "emotional unsubscribe" concept is as relevant in social media as it is in email. How would you suggest to measure it, given the different approaches/measurability of each social media platform?