Credibility Creates Lifetime Customers

Every marketer hears comments like “E-mail marketing is the hottest direct marketing vehicle today” and “E-mail is a new marketing medium.”

Yes, those statements may seem true, but they’re frightening because of what they don’t say.

Outbound e-mail isn’t marketing; it’s relationship building. When marketers send messages from the perspective of creating and building a relationship — instead of generating a sale — their messages have a higher probability of being read. In those messages, you can ask for more information. I’m not talking about product preferences or shopping habits.

When e-mail is approached purely from the perspective of generating immediate sales, the marketer loses his most valuable asset: credibility. Since gaining credibility is paramount, outbound e-mail is actually credibility marketing.

There are other fundamental differences of outbound e-mail, including:

o It’s not direct mail; it’s a personal correspondence.

o It’s not a sales pitch; it’s a conversation.

o It’s not sales; it’s psychology.

o It’s not persuasion; it’s credibility.

We’re on the threshold of being able to turn customers into exceptionally loyal clients and advocates. We’re one “yes” away from delivering exactly what our clients want. The key is to deliver the e-mail messages in the way people want to receive them.

Our databases do not contain customers; they contain potential readers. People who don’t read our messages don’t buy our products. To get them to read our messages we must approach them as readers. Once they become readers, we can begin an education process with them. Once we begin to educate them, we can get higher-quality information from them. With that information we can begin formatting our messages to appeal to each person’s specific learning style. This is where marketing meets knowledge management and psychology.

We’re on the verge of having what direct marketing has never been able to bring us — credibility.

If we send e-mail written in the same style as traditional direct marketing, we can kiss our credibility goodbye. If we employ the traditional direct mail “in-your-face” tactic, we can kiss our credibility goodbye. The Internet is not a sales medium; it’s an educational medium through which we have an opportunity to teach people about us and what we’re proud of — our products. This is our once-in-a-lifetime chance to build credibility and develop truly loyal customers.

According to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the book “Credibility,” two elements must exist simultaneously for credibility to be present:

o Honesty. In survey after survey, the most important element in the credibility mix is honesty. That means it’s the easiest to lose. As soon as you blast a sales pitch at an inopportune time, for an inappropriate product or in an inappropriate format, you’ve breached your honesty and lost your credibility. As soon as you ask questions such as, “Do you now have money in CDs or annuities?” or “What is your annual budget for office supplies?” you lose your credibility.

You can build the perception of your honesty by delivering high-quality information without the expectation of an immediate reward.

What constitutes high-quality information?

Is it a letter from the CEO? No.

Is it a product release announcement? No.

Is it an important offer from your marketing director? No.

I’ve found the highest satisfaction comes from providing your readers with information published by magazines they already either read or trust. The content, of course, contains information about your product category.

o Competence. The simple act of communicating is the first way you show your competence to your readers. Unfortunately, there are two major blunders that appear over and over. The biggest blunder also is the most ubiquitous. It’s when a marketer fills the top of the monitor with promotional material. Who wants to wade through all that stuff to find out if there’s anything of value way down below?

The second blunder is in the writing. Technology companies tend to believe that since the medium is technical, only technical people can communicate in it. I’ve investigated that practice because it seems so self-defeating. Staffing experts have carefully explained to me that IT people truly are the best-suited, first because they have the technical knowledge and second because no one wants junk mail. The result is a marketing message only techies can understand.

The e-mail marketing efforts of brick-and-mortar companies are ghastly, too, but in a different way. They tend to entrust Internet marketing to writers with traditional backgrounds in public relations, journalism or advertising. Those practitioners would seem to be logical choices since they’re already on staff. But the result is a marketing message that is wordy or fluff-focused. Where is the credibility in that?

You can build the perception of your competence by using people who are good letter writers. They probably are not direct mail letter writers. More importantly, the new writers should be selected based on their innate people-centric personalities. The point is, communicating on the Internet is like a casual flirtation. You have to be intimate, effective and quick at the same time.

I realize that the formula is labyrinthine, but isn’t that the beauty of it? People are complicated. Their needs, wants and circumstances are complicated. It takes professionals to make this new medium work. That’s you, isn’t it?

With the Internet we’re dealing with the most exquisite invention in history, a global communication network. Our efforts will either add to its value or help destroy it. If we’re going to add to it, then we’re in the credibility business. With I-marketing, we’re no longer in the mass-mail business. We’ve elevated ourselves from the dark ages and into the future. Your future on the Internet is determined by credibility. You’re in the credibility marketing business.

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