Social Responsibility New Trend — Marketers Need to Prepare

Social responsibility is the new trend, and marketers need to prepare. I will confess that until recently, the North Star of my professional journey has been growing shareholder value.

Social responsibility is the new trend, and marketers need to prepare. I will confess that until recently, the North Star of my professional journey has been growing shareholder value. On the positive, this prime directive has allowed strange bedfellows to conduct business across ideological, racial, and political lines. In many cases, the drive to grow shareholder returns has broken barriers where cultural change was still trailing. It has also simplified objectives and brought clarity in critical business decisions.

But there seem to be some noticeable cracks developing in the shareholder value model. After all, what good is wealth in a world with growing income disparity (revolution, anyone?), polluted oceans, record heat waves and social isolation? The more we read about current events; the more doomsday prepping seems like a sane activity.

Recently, the Business Roundtable, a grouping of 192 large company CEOs declared that business should take a broader view of who they serve, beyond customers and shareholders, and include employees, suppliers and the communities they operate in. (Before you get overly excited, comrade, let’s not forget that CEO compensation is still primarily liked to profitable growth and stock value.) Nevertheless, businesses are starting to make changes.

Marriott, along with other large hotel chains, is announcing a transition away from single-use plastic toiletry bottles. We have also seen employee pay or benefits increases at Amazon, Walmart, and Target. There are also companies, like Nike and Patagonia, who are taking social stands in very visible ways. For some companies, social responsibility has been a part of their DNA for any years; for others, it is now becoming an existential imperative.

As a result, the statement from the Business Roundtable is not visionary thinking; rather, it is an acceptance of growing consumer discontent. There is a change in the zeitgeist, driven by consumers and citizens, against business as usual.

As marketers, this might feel liberating. We can finally be free of the oppressive “bean counters” who lorded the principle of shareholder value over every creative idea. No, no, we can’t. The marketer’s job has actually gotten harder and even more metrics-based.

While calculating metrics, such as cost per click, costs per conversion have become routine for most marketers, the measurement of marketing and experience decisions will become more complex. Take the simple example of eliminating plastic shampoo bottles in hotels. The ROI of this decision is not just about plastic bottle costs. For some hotel brands, toiletries are an important touchpoint in delivering a premium experience.

  • Does a bulk shampoo dispenser convey the same premium experience?
  • Are there better alternatives and what are their costs?
  • How will it impact brand positioning?
  • Does the average consumer understand the change, and will they see it as a benefit or a loss?

The recommendation from the Business Roundtable will require a business to think more holistically about how they derive profitable growth, but the drive for profitability is not going away. Marketers will now need to speak for more than just the customer and justify the costs of making socially responsible decisions. In some cases, the customer will not be a direct beneficiary of business decisions. Rather, they will be a partner who is asked to pay more or get less in the interest of the “greater good.”

The “easy” news is that customers are asking for these changes. The “tough” news is that profits still matter, and balancing that with the needs of customers and the society at large will be a more complex equation.

Nurture Your Subscribers to Higher ROI in 2010

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

The inbox is essential in 2010, but it’s also fiercely competitive. Social networks drive their businesses through the inbox, and more and more marketers are sending more and more promotions. Your message must stand out amid this noise.

Sending the same message to everyone is the opposite of nurture — it’s numbing. It has the opposite effect, driving disengagement and dissatisfaction. Too much email in short time periods will not only depress response, it’ll increase complaints (counted by ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail) every time someone clicks the “Report Spam” button. Even a small number of complaints will prevent your messages from reaching subscriber inboxes — all your subscribers, not just those who complained.

It’s painful enough imagining the slow death of your email response rates when subscribers are bored week after week. Even worse, imagine the drop in revenue if all your messages are blocked by Yahoo due to high complaints. Ouch! It’s worth taking the time to nurture instead.

The ideal is to offer subscribers what they need before they realize they need it. Luckily, you can get pretty far even without deep resources. Test a few of the following “baby step” ideas now; then integrate the hardest-working into your ongoing calendar this year. Since not all subscribers have the same value, focus on those with the highest potential.

1. Educate prospects. Many marketers have both prospects and customers on their house lists, each receiving the same promotions. Probably neither are inspired by something watered down for the masses. Never assume prospects know anything about your content, editorial personalities, products or benefits. Consider a series of messages or offers that move prospects through the sales pipeline.

2. Treat customers better. Email is a great way to treat your best customers special. Certainly VIPs are easy to find and celebrate, but also take that same approach down the line. Identify your cusp customers, and invite them to participate at higher levels while showing them the benefit of doing so. Every once in a while, just thank your customers. You’ll be surprised at the response you get.

3. Listen. Let subscribers tell you what they need through their actions. Even if you can’t overlay behavior and demographic data, use the data you have. Customize transactional emails based on purchase. After a click, trigger a context-specific email with content recommendations — which could be sponsored advertorial — or premium services. Replace static landing pages with deeper microsites focused on particular topics to capture more page views or present more detailed offers when prospects are “in market.”

4. Test subject lines. Many campaigns go out without any optimization testing. Yet even simple A/B testing of subject lines can improve response by 5 percent or more.

5. Customize by age. Watch response by vintage (the length of time the subscriber has been on the file), and determine when subscribers go “inactive” — defined as no open, click or conversion/response activity in the past three months.

Quickly send out a “win-back” campaign to those who may be on the verge of going inactive. Don’t wait two years to send a win-back. Once subscribers start ignoring your emails, it’s difficult to re-engage them.

Audit your past 90 days for a “nurture appeal.” Are you blasting or engaging? Broadcasting or customizing? Talking or listening? You’ll likely find a number of points of vulnerability where you’re not optimizing your nurture potential. The payoff is real: Satisfied customers click more, buy more, and engage frequently with advertising and offers.

Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.