Build Permission With Spiral Customer Focus

Introducing spiral marketing, an approach that builds a perpetual relationship with customers.

Permission marketing involves a focused effort to turn monologues into dialogues, but frankly, it’s not enough by itself to make every product a winner.

But spiral marketing is. At Yahoo, we call it FMO (Fusion Marketing Online), but the idea is pretty broad: After the initial contact, after the first touch, you need a plan to take the prospect on a journey. Smart marketers have to lay out a suite of messages that make it easier to turn a stranger into a friend and a friend into a customer.

A spiral marketer knows that a media footprint is the first all-important step. Without the trust that an omnipresent brand brings, it’s awfully difficult to get into the first loop of the spiral. Take a look at the folks who are winning online. Almost every one of them has made the big investment in a widespread media footprint that touches millions of potential customers.

Once you’ve got that foundation, you can use targeted ads, special offers, coupons, discounts, sweepstakes or other promotional media to get the consumer to opt in. After that, you’ve reached the golden moment. This is where you either take the consumer a step farther into your world (and you into theirs) or lose their interest and permission entirely.

It’s here that you can integrate data mining, e-commerce, targeting, unique offers, multimedia and all manner of Web tricks to continue the dialogue. It’s here that you determine what the consumer really wants and make sure you offer them the right thing at the right time.

The airlines are starting to get the hang of this in the offline world. If you’re a frequent flier, you get a special phone number to call. If you’re a member of the airline club, you might get pitched vacations or other offers. They’re trying to treat different customers differently, and more important, trying to organize communication so the right messages go to the right people.

You’ve got the prospect on a spiral. Now you’re a few layers in. You’re giving them the messages they want, when they want them, and offering them the content they demand.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a first sale. A trial. Now the spiral continues. The goal is to keep the consumer in orbit, selling them more and more and more, and eventually broadening the variety of what they purchase from you and the amount of permission you have to sell it to them.

This means you can’t put exactly the same ad in front of everyone, all the time. It means you have to figure out which methods to use in your online messaging, and deliver the right message to the right person.

One of the keys to spiral marketing is that you get more bang for your buck when you centralize your messaging. If you’re touching 100 people each for the first time, you won’t do nearly as well as you will with a focused, organized, fused campaign that touches 20 of the right people with five of the right messages.

You can test your approach right now. View your advertising as a potential customer might. Does every interaction treat the prospect as a first-time visitor, a stranger? Or is there a human or computer-element that recognizes who’s who and what that person wants?

A lot of marketers coming online are taking a look at the media options out there and buying shallow but wide. Once you can view the world through the lens of spiral marketing, you’ll see you need that wide footprint. But then you want to organize it and augment it with the depth that consumers demand.

So, marketing isn’t flat any more. It’s a fused nexus made up of a wide variety of tactics, all designed to take consumers through a spiral and maximize their lifetime value.

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