It’s the little things

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

You sometimes pick up a gem of an idea… and the mind begins to wander (and wonder).

At the Monetate Agility Summit in Philadelphia (where I was invited to give the keynote presentation), I wound up connecting with some of the most fascinating brands in the world — all of which have a deep passion for creating a better consumer experience in the digital channels. Over dinner, a conversation broke out on the topic of loyalty, targeted emails, and consumer fatigue (hey, it’s a gathering of a bunch of marketing wonks, what did you think that we would talk about?).

Some of the guests were lamenting the frequency by which many of the flash sale sites or Groupon-like enterprises barrage the inbox. And, while the discussion ensued, an individual said that they had received a very interesting email from Fab (one of the companies that often emails with a daily-plus frequency). Without knowing the exact language, the email said it was unsubscribing this individual from their mailing list because they have not opened up any emails from Fab, so they did not want to disrupt this individual’s inbox. Seth Godin would be proud.

Did you catch that?

The brand wasn’t waiting for this customer to grow fatigued and opt-out, nor did they want their brand to feel like an annoyance in their inbox, so they were simply removing this person and thanking them for their consideration. How many brands do you think do this? How many brands have lists upon lists of email addresses from individuals who have never bought from them or even opened their email?

Instead of bragging about how many email addresses they have collected, Fab was looking for actual customers. You don’t hear about these kind of smart marketing tactics to sort the wheat from the chaff often enough. It’s a simple little action that keeps their email lists clean and relevant, and delivers a powerful message to a non-consumer (“thank you for considering us, but we don’t want to bother you”).

It’s the little things.

All too often brands are trying to make big plays. You have cookie companies working in real-time to create ads while a major world event is going on to feel relevant and build buzz. You have brands attempting to pull off a stunt in Time’s Square that the world will notice. You have countless companies trying to manufacture the next YouTube sensation. How many small things (like unsubscribing the people who aren’t even opening your emails) are you missing? If there is such a thing as “death by a thousand paper cuts,” maybe the opposite is doing a thousand of these little marketing things that gets the word out and builds the brand in a more profound way.

Small allows you to iterate.

If you could execute on ten smaller things — instead of the one big thing while testing, learning, and optimizing — imagine what your brand could do. Another lesson from the Monetate Agility Summit was this: those who win are those who test. We saw countless brands talk about how many tests they do online — each and every day — and how these small, little tests enable them (big, big corporations) to be extremely agile in a world where the big stuff would get locked in political quagmire and technology roadmaps that would take years to undertake.

This is about much more than the aphorism that small is the new big. It’s about a way of thinking (and doing) that engenders a culture of trust with customers and — even better — a corporate culture that screams: Let’s tinker with a lot of little things, see what happens, and keep iterating until efficiencies are truly met.

What would it take?

Fab, obviously, does a whole lot more than just remove the uninterested from their email lists. Zappos does a lot more than make sure that returning a product is simple.

My key takeaway from this event was: make a list of many little things. Start with five. Test, learn, tweak, and optimize. It can be something in your office, it can be something for your consumers, or it can be something on your website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. If you don’t think about it and test, you’ll never know if you can be making something that much better (or if anyone cares).

Over to you, what are some of the little marketing things that you have seen that have moved you?

About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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