Direct mail: Starting a Web 2.0 relationship with consumers

Continuing our comments on direct marketing for Web 2.0, here are a few observations about email and direct mail offers that invite consumer interaction and participation.

Just as the advent of email marketing added “opting in” to “selling” as a goal direct marketing goal, the advent of Web 2.0 adds “inviting consumer interaction and participation” to the mix. The underlying idea is that this builds and maintains an awareness of your brand, product and service; allows you to continue to mail to the consumer, and leads to significant sales.

The relatively low cost of online marketing is what creates the opportunity to invest in relationships. This type of direct marketing is still very much in the early stages. Here are some of the offers we’re seeing marketers use to develop these relationship. In most instances, they’re asking the consumer to visit a webpage and provide or confirm opt-in information in return for the opportunity to:

  • Download something of value (white paper, recipe, mp3 file, ringtone, game, podcast, or free software).
  • Provide detailed feedback (often via a survey) about a product or service.
  • Create a wish list.
  • Enter a creative competition with the chance to win prizes or public recognition.
  • Publish a public review of a product or service.

You’ll also see emails that invite the consumer to engage in viral marketing. The consumer is asked to forward the email to a friend, or to post some code (usually an attractive graphic with a click-through link) on their own blog or website proclaiming their affinity for the company. (“I love Product X, find out why.”)

Some very popular websites are already using these techniques. and the iTunes Music Store invite customers to contribute product reviews; Mozilla, developer of the Firefox browser, had college students competing to create Firefox Flix videos; and General Motors invited consumers create their own ads for the new Tahoe SUV.

Like all relationships, these can have their scary moments. That’s why commercial websites control publication of reviews and contest entries to make sure the content is appropriate. General Motors had to come grips with consumers whose tasteful but critical creative work spoofed, rather than promoted the SUV (and which was posted on personal blogs as well as on the GM contest site). The GM blog Fastlane concluded that “it sure got people talking about the Tahoe. Which was the whole idea, after all.”

Certainly, not all direct marketing campaigns are appropriate for using, or even testing, the participative and interactive devices associated with Web 2.0. But as more companies build this type of consumer relationship, more consumers will come to expect this type of two-way communication from the companies they do business with. Bottom line: It’s not too soon to do some brainstorming about how you might go about harnessing this power.

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