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Can experimental marketing alienate your customers?

I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to Winnipeg, speaking to a couple of hundred marketers at the Canadian Marketing Associate Digital Days conference. (You can download the slides for my talk, “How Web Marketing Changes the Old Marketing Rules.”) I spent lots of time hammering away at how to do it wrong quickly, how to experiment in marketing, and how to measure the results. And someone from the audience asked a great question, “Can experimental marketing alienate your customers?”

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It’s a great question, because there are things you can do that would be horribly alienating. If your insurance agency is considering a titillating ad to run on YouTube, I might say, go slow. There are definitely risky behaviors in Internet marketing that might not be your best first experiment. But most things you do are not so risky. You can try them and take them down if they don’t work.
When I was at IBM, I remember testing something in Russia to see if it worked, because testing it in the US would have gotten too much attention to reverse if it was bad. You can usually find a way to test things under the radar.
But what if you really do alienate people? What if you screw up and do annoy someone? Or even a lot of someones? The way this plays out depends a lot on your response. If you just take the offensive material down and pretend it never happened, don’t expect people to be impressed. You might find the conversation to be decidedly negative and perhaps even grow worse, all because you are not responding, so it looks like you don’t care.
On the other hand, you might apologize. You might answer as many of the negative comments as you can, no matter where they are found on the Web. You might continue the conversation so that you really understand what ticked people off, so that it truly will never happen again. If care about your customers’ feelings more than your own, it will show. And you’ll end up alienating very few people.
Next time you screw up, pay attention to what you do next to mend the relationship rather than running away and hiding. Then try your next experiment now that you are a little smarter.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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