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What Summer Camp Can Teach You About Meaningful Dialogues

AcxiomJuly 08, 2015

HH Summer Camp

This morning, I found myself with a great conundrum; how to get a meaningful reply (with details!) from my son.

No, I’m not crazy, I’m just the mother of an eleven year old who is just rounding out his first week of summer camp sans phone and the ability to text, which means that email and letters are the only mode of communication.  Brilliant for the king of monosyllabic answers.  How’s the food?  Good.  Do you like your cabin mates?  Yes.  What’s the best part?  I don’t know…stuff.

Knowing that letter/email writing is just above folding laundry in his mind, and knowing that going two weeks without details would kill me, I had to change my game and plot out communications in a way that will not only engage him, but make him want to give me more than a single word in response.  Not only did it require me to know my audience, it also forced me to anticipate what would get him to open up.  I wanted to hear about all the great things he was doing, and maybe even find out the names of the other kids in his cabin.  You know, all those things that parents really care about.

Let me tell you, I’ve never put that much thought into a three hundred word email. Ever.  As I hit send, I found myself thinking “This is harder than doing a product release email.”

And that’s when I realized that I had just direct marketed to my son.  Let’s review:

–          Know your audience?  Check.

–          Contact him in the venue he accesses regularly that will most likely to drive a response? Check.

–          Use data driven insights that will get him to act?  Check.

–          Dangle an offer in return for action?  Check.

It was sobering (and a little entertaining) to realize that what I advocate day in and day out applied at home, and it also made me realize that I couldn’t recall anything that reached me in the way that I’d so diligently plotted out.  With that in mind, I headed over to my personal email account of choice for opt-ins and orders.  I had a hypothesis rattling around in my head, and I wanted to use my camp message epiphany to prove it out.

Let me share with you the simple facts from my inbox as of 8:23 AM on a Monday morning:

–          23 emails received overnight

–          Every single one was promotional in nature (75/25 split of retail and service outreach)

–          Sample subject lines included: Score great tickets!  Whoa! Our Clearance Sale Just Got Bigger!  Don’t forget to back up your pictures today!

I looked at those emails with the same mindset that I had just ‘marketed’ to, specifically someone who expected to be engaged with interesting, meaningful things.  Big surprise, I came back with a resounding, monosyllabic answer of NO!

Any guess why?

Sure, the offers were rich, and potentially compelling, and when opened, there were pretty graphics that adjusted to my smart phone, but I have to tell you that every single one of them missed the point.  Each email was a monologue full of “look at me, guess what I can do, buy here!”  Not one of them took the time to say “Hey, Heather, I know that you’re busy, but you love the color orange.  Here’s a great pair of running shoes in a size 8 that will make you happy just to look at them.  And since we know you’ll love them so much, here’s free expedited shipping so they’ll be there before the weekend, which looks gorgeous!”

It’s an extreme example, but you can see where I’m going.  By consolidating info that you can identify about your consumer base, and augmenting it with 3rd party information, you can power those meaningful discussions in ways that develop and drive dialogues, and engage customers.  They’ll open your emails or click on your ads with a passionate Yes! While thinking “they know me, they really know me!”

Just think of all the different data sets available to tailor those conversations – web browsing behavior, preferences, propensities, transaction and service history, product consumption history, app engagement…the list is endless and ripe with information.  While it’s extreme to think you could create a discussion like the one I outlined above, you could leverage information collected to direct dialogues based on what you can identify about me in a way that will not only surprise and delight me as a consumer, but will guarantee a pleased reply that may start with Yes, and continue on.

At this point, you’re probably thinking “sounds great, Heather, but where do I start?”  The easiest way is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.  Think about all the different places they can interact with you:

–          Your website

–          Your mobile app

–          Promotional email (clicks, opens, permissions)

–          Text/SMS messages

–          Direct mail

–          Transactions (in store, in branch, online, with agent, etc.)

–          Usage history (time on a specific product, items downloaded)

–          Call center history (emails, phone calls, chat history)

–          Social media

That’s just the start of a list that, when transformed into a single ‘profile’ of the customer, could get you to the granularity of size 8 running shoes in bright orange, or a really great email to get an eleven year old opening up about the camp experience.  It just takes a bit of time to think about who your audience is, the data assets available to create a meaningful conversation, and the desire to get them talking so that they never stop.

Oh, and before I forget, I did get a reply to my email.  Took a few days, but I’m proud to say that I received an email with a whopping 36 words.  Long and short of it? Camp is good, I’m super busy, please send my tennis racket.

See, it worked!