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September 06, 2007

Surrounding vs. Stalking

During my time in the ad-business I've seen a pretty rapid onslaught of connections/engagement/contact planning. So too has a new vernacular developed over the past couple years, and I imagine at this point it is rare to go through a communications briefing without some sort of conversation about how to "surround the consumer."  In its essence, surrounding the consumer was borne of intelligent thinking on how to better reach people and deliver a message.  But all too often now it ends up looking something like this:


Sure in our heads it's a happy person because we're connecting with them in exciting new ways with an 'integrated campaign' but to a lot of people it might actually feel more like this:


That's right. Lets even assume the creative execution is fantastic. No matter how great a friend is, there's a limit to when and where you interact with them. At some point you cross the line from "surrounding" and plow right on through to "stalking."  Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for integration of mediums, but reaching somebody on their TV, phone, e-mail, newspaper, magazine, websites, and so on can get a bit overwhelming for people.  None of us like it when we're on the receiving end.  Unless we're gravely concerned about them, when we've got something new to tell a friend we don't call, e-mail, send a postcard, and then call again.  We choose the most appropriate route based on our individual relationship with them, how close we are and what we know they're comfortable with.  Viewing ourselves as friends, here are a few things to think about when developing a connection/engagement/contact plan;

Ask Them: So few companies do this and when they do it is usually under the guise of "would you like exciting new updates about our products..." Use accounts online, physical experiences, somewhere they're already engaging and simply ask them how they'd like you to get in touch with them.  I think you'd be surprised what some people say, especially if you've established a bit of trust with them in the past.  If they say "NO" to certain (or all mediums) that's okay, you've just saved yourself money on a piece of communication that was otherwise useless.  It also doesn't mean you can't leave communications available for them to PULL DOWN if they hear about something they're interested in, just don't push it, if they don't want it.

Look at their real friendships: Different psychographics will gravitate towards different types of communications vehicles. The best thing you can do is look at where they're most comfortable reaching out to their flesh 'n blood friends. Understand which groups of people are most comfortable using IMs, E-mail and which ones use the phone.  That's not to say you have to mimic a flesh friendship, but use it to inform and understand the mindset they're in when receiving communications in different channels.

Exercise Restraint: This is a tough one, but it has to happen. It can start out as pestering, but end up losing you credibility and trust in the end.  If at first you don't succeed, don't try and and try again. If people aren't responding to certain mediums let it go, for now.

It's all 1 Brand: Remember that no matter how different the content or messaging is people will connect it all back to the brand that's delivering it -- that can be a good thing if executed with restraint and insight, but can also land you in the stalker camp if you're not careful. Even if you've got totally different content in 8 different places with the same underlying message (so it's a brilliant integrated campaign) people could end up feeling stalked by one brand in 8 places.

TV is OK: We've heard this argument a few times; "My friends aren't on TV so this thinking totally casts TV aside. TV doesn't build relationships." Your friends probably also aren't multi-national multi-billion dollar companies (if they are, have them give me a call). TV still plays an important role in many cases here, and when used right it can serve to begin and even deepen friendships. Friends entertain each other and TV can certainly fill that role.  Additionally, TV is a dramatically underutilized medium when it comes to deepening relationships and sharing a worldview (one of our key tenets of friendship); the most recent "i'm a Mac, i'm a PC" ads did so brilliantly.  Generally eschewing the need to visualize product, they developed a message that truly connected, with a wink and a nod, to Apple fan-boys everywhere.  Then there's this (thanks to Ed Cotton over at Influx Insights for the initial find);

Quality Time & Value: Which brings us to the last bit (and two more of our key tenets for building friendship).  Spending quality time with people and delivering something of value.  This Cadbury's piece is completely random, but that's what makes it great. It lets people take a little bit of time out of their day to have a laugh with Cadbury's, a bit of quality time. Any, and every, piece of communication should be working with the other to create a sense of quality time and deliver something of value.  It isn't enough to utilize one medium as a value driver and everything else to support that, they all have to work in tandem to provide true value, one can be entertainment another product.

Integration and contact-planning are fantastic, but it's become really easy to end up using them to talk to ourselves and sell in 'bitchin ideas.'

Make sense?  Think i'm nuts?  Other thoughts on contact planning?



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Dan Neely

By creating a community/space for the consumer is more beneficial than trying to stalk or surround customers. If a space is made for the customers to interact with each other where they already have a brand affiliation, they will naturally feel more comfortable and it allows for open communication with the company as well. This gives the consumer the control. The focus of these companies shouldn’t be on surrounding consumers, but instead letting them decide how much they want to be surrounded and surround their network of friends (to “Ask Them”). Out of all the ways to engage a consumer, an online space surrounding a brand or product gives them the greatest experience and highest value because it is interactive/collaborative and updated instantly, 24/7.

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