Reviewing the slew of promotional and conversion emails in his Black Five-day inbox, Ian Jindal reflects on those retailers who focus on their customers’ lives as opposed to their lifecycle.
I have the luxury of typing on Black Friday when I know that the majority of our readers are occupied in a less-sedate frenzy of promotion, conversion, stock and offer management and fulfilment over this peak period. As I review my incoming email I see a mix of offers that are purely transactional – 10% for current season (why bother?) to 70% for the one remaining burgundy jumper in XXXXL from the 2016 season...
Two emails stand out, however. The first is from an appliance company, the second from a sports brand. Both of these speak to a different customer world view that’s moved from the ‘stage in the transactional lifecycle’ to ‘being part of the customer’s actual life’.
To diverge a moment, lifecycle marketing is an important tool for managing and optimising parts of a customer’s relationship with your brand. It’s not, however, a full or nuanced view of the customer’s life. Much as “lifestyle” is not the same as my real “life”, so ‘lifecycle’ is as irrelevant to most consumers as is the favourite song of the driver who delivered their parcel. It’s a construct that’s for the convenience of the retailer, and the effectiveness of separating consumers from their money in a given period.
This transactional approach is under pressure when there’s a surplus of retailers and products chasing a customer’s limited funds. And limited attention. And even more limited interest.
My first email only arrived because I had my washing machine serviced after 12 years of ownership. I then joined their digital marketing database! However, rather than a monthly mail suggesting I replace my machine, I get an email reminding me that they guarantee to service it for at least 25 years, suggesting how I can save money on consumables and how I can adjust the settings on my (old) machine to give better eco performance or mimic more modern settings.
This is a brand that is so confident in a 4-times-a-century repurchase rate that it’s not pushing the “more is more” mantra. Admittedly, getting a biannual service is ideal for ongoing revenue, and the brand halo effect means that they will gradually colonise my home, but the tone and confident approach is a welcome spritz of joy in a desperate-sounding inbox.
My second email is from a cycling company that has “Clubhouses” rather than stores. They recognise that there’s a limit to the amount of kit I can buy, and that the purpose of the kit is to ride. Therefore they have a welcoming riding club for their customers, with group rides starting from their Clubhouse; cycling holidays; training camps; online forum; a club group on Strava and – my unused favourite – a discount on buying a size smaller if you’ve lost weight through cycling!
An email from this company is ‘about the ride’ as much as about the products they’re selling. The idea of ‘membership’ is further enhanced by joining rides in other countries. In San Francisco earlier this year I could book a very snazzy road bike, join a guided ride and grab a coffee in the Clubhouse. Ditto Hong Kong, New York... It’s a global, local, year-round, activity-based, passion-driven relationship. Oh, and I’m sure I spend more as a result!
Where your product is not disposable, where it’s part of a customer’s passion or professional life, then the move to providing experience, training, support, stimulus and – in some senses – a community of users is an integral part of the commercial conversation with your customer.
This requires a changed set of KPIs (less focused upon the immediate sales conversion and more focused on lifetime value); increased investment in the store experience; and the recruitment and retention of staff who are expert both in your product and in the customers’ use and enjoyment of them.
Retailers who have product integrity and also selling integrity create a sustainable point of difference from the mass of discounts and promotions. They also focus on their customers’ lives, and not just their momentary location in a ‘lifecycle’.