Frequency is a question that plagues all levels of marketing. How often do we send a message to a prospect before effectiveness begins to diminish? How often does a customer have to buy before they become loyal? How often do we reach out to an existing customer before customer service becomes good old fashioned stalking?
Frequency is supposed to be determined by the math. Through controlled testing we're supposed to arrive at an optimal number of connections that deliver a peak in the bell curve of desired response. Albeit, most of the time marketers just sit around in a room and guess using the "focus-group-of-one" principal of, "What would I like?" But still, there are formulas out there and they work.
Trouble is, does determining frequency based purely on the math leave a lot of opportunity on the table?
The Intangible of Relationship
Once again marketers would do well to pay attention to something that sale executives have always known instinctively: Relationship lengthens the bell curve.
A sales person knows that the frequency you can communicate with someone goes up the deeper the relationship you have with them. If you know their kids names and they are sharing what their summer vacation plans are, you might be able to drop a line every couple days. You're friends. The relationship is genuine. So there's no reason not to have higher frequency of contact.
However, if the prospect or customer is stony or saying, "I'll think about it," you have to carefully space out communications. In this case, more frequent communications can get quickly annoying and you'll lose the ability to build that deeper relationship.
Now there are certainly mathematical indicators that could help us understand frequency in these situations, but in the end math can't tell the full story. There is an intangible at play here. There is unquantifiable intuition at work when it comes to relationships and relationship building.
So my question is, are we short-changing our potential ROI and marketing to too small of an audience when we don't invest in relationship-building first?
More Than Social Marketing
This is the part where most people trot out their social marketing evangelism. I'm not going to do that. Because if you read my blog recently you know I'm beginning to believe there isn't any such thing. Social is a media, not a tactic. So saying "social marketing" is like saying "TV marketing" without specifying whether we're launching a brand campaign, an infomercial or going for a product placement on The Today Show. What I'm saying instead is that by any means necessary, including through the use of social media, we need to be cultivating better lead strategies.
Let's take the example of Kmart. Long before the Rain Man uttered the iconic words "Kmart sucks," I despised this store. It represented a childhood of being forced to go there with my parents to endure flickering fluorescent lighting and endless racks of junk. Even today when I know that they hold some of the best deals on video games, I still won't shop there.
Then along comes their KmartGamer Twitter account. It's not there to convince me Kmart doesn't suck. (Well, it probably is, but they don't say that.) Nor is it just there to spew an RSS feed of sale information. It's there to engage gamers in conversation about games. They are running chat sessions, they are talking about PAX (don't worry, it's a gamer thing) and they generally show interest and commonality with gamers.
No amount of marketing before this would have ever convinced me to step foot in a Kmart. That's how damaged their reputation was with me. Now, however, I might consider it. Maybe. I'm not committing to anything here. But you get my point. Purely by the numbers I was out of the demo. In a blanket, untargeted mailing I would have thrown out every piece of mail. But now, Kmart's audience just widened a tiny bit. That mailer wouldn't be thrown out. I might actually look at what they have to offer.
Now imagine further, if Kmart invested in a mailing that didn't try to sell me anything right away. Imagine if they reached out for a local gaming tournament. Or maybe they just sent me an email inviting me to write a post about my favorite game on a gamer blog. What if they made me a founding member of a Gamer Klub? What they would really be doing is making me even more ready to read their solicitations.
My point is that relationship building, built into every aspect of a marketer's strategy, opens up the audience for greater possibilities. It may cost more and deliver less results upfront, but over time it creates greater ROI than simply going by modeling and targeting existing buyer or simply competing on price.
Building Both Sales And Potential Sales
I openly admit that you can succeed just from going by the numbers. If you know that "x" audience will see an ad and "y" will be impressed and "z" will respond to an offer you send, then you know how much to spend and what results you will get from your marketing campaign. And while most marketers would love to raise that "x" number (Who wouldn't love a bigger budget?) and spend most of their time worrying about that "z" number, the "y" number is where real magic can happen. That's because "y" indicates what people think about you and how willing they are to even listen to your offer in the first place.
We covered an interesting story on this week's BeanCast about how PR shops are winning against digital shops for digital work. The article we were referring to for our discussion credited social expertise as the reason for this shift. After all, clients are looking for digital plans that embrace the social spectrum. But the panel saw it slightly different.
Ultimately the focus of digital is moving from campaigns to ongoing communication strategies. It's my belief the reason for this comes down to everything I've said here in this post. A campaign gets you a sale. A communication plan buys you a sale and a relationship. And a relationship can buy you even more future sales by creating a customer who is more receptive to messaging. Just like the salesperson who knows her customer's kids by name, you have their trust and their ear.
This long term view of marketing makes a lot of sense to me. How about you?