Brent Coker Internet consumer psychologist Dr Brent Coker

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Digital Bullets. And the Date that Never Called Back

28. August 2011


If you really want to annoy people, call them at their home when they’re just sitting down to eat their dinner, and try to sell them a new phone plan. After they hang up on you, re-call them 30 minutes later and try again. And just for good measure, call again in the weekend to make sure they haven’t changed their mind!

Consumers don’t like to be bugged. We might roll our eyes in disbelief at our telemarketing example here, but many companies assume they are not bugging their customers. Cold calling people in their home is slowly disappearing (thankfully!). Nowadays, it’s all about building the “conversation.” Classic telemarketing and modern day digital communications like email, twitter, sms, and Facebook updates are different! Or are they…

Let’s break it down a bit. Assuming the telephone call described above was cold calling, the first difference is opt-in. Most companies do not send out communications to their customers without their permission. Facebookers ‘Liked’ you, Twitter people ‘followed’ you, and those receiving your emails opted-in somewhere. The second difference is communications delay (see media richness theory). Telephone requires the receiver to respond according to your schedule, not theirs. Someone is communicating with you, and expecting a response there and then. On the other hand, digital forms of communication give the receiver freedom to respond when it suits them, or in most cases may not require a response at all.

OK, so now we know the main differences, let’s revisit our telemarketing example again. If we include opt-in and communications delay, we can change the scenario to this: You are calling a person who gave you permission to call, and has an answering machine in case it is inconvenient to talk. Perfect! Now we have licence to call this person again in 30 minutes if we do get the answering machine. And call again in the weekend, in case they don’t return our call during the week. And we can justify our actions. “Yeah, she was probably out when we called last time, or she’s been out of town, or maybe erased our messages by mistake.” So, we’ll start calling again on Monday. Calls are free! So we may as well…

This scenario sounds a little bit like the date that never called back, that we ended up calling a few times in case they lost our number. But there’s a fine line between an enquiry and stalking. Sending messages to someone is in itself ok. But do it too often, and you’re going to seem a bit annoying.

Which brings us to the company, trying to drum up admiration and keep the “conversation”. Many companies post daily updates, or send out emails regularly on the clock.

“Hey its Monday again guys. You know the drill; find someone else’s viral news we can tweet, post it on our Facebook page, and drag up some company information for our weekly email. Oh, and don’t forget those call to actions. Let’s get these people down that funnel people!”

 Sound familiar? Sounds a little bit like leaving a message on an answering machine with a call to action to “call when you get in”. You might get away with it a few times. But do that every Monday, or every other day, and you will start to get a bit annoying, or worse, a make people angry!

This is where the digital bullets theory comes in. Think of your messages sent to consumers as bullets. You have a message gun that only has so many of them. You want to be careful and judicious about when you fire one. You want to think carefully about when to fire, and always consider the implications of what could happen when you do. The temptation is to fire one whenever you have the time, since digital bullets are so cheap. The problem is you end up annoying people. And resentment is the first step towards hate.

Only fire when the time is absolutely right. And make sure you fire at the right people. This means you need to escape the temptation to fire out messages on a set timetable. If you haven’t sent out an email in a while because you don’t have any new news, it’s no big deal. Your customers won’t miss it! Only send out an email when it contains important information your customers will be glad to read (‘you left your keys in the restaurant – I have them’). Don’t tweet viral stories you found on popurls for the sake of sending some tweets. Craft a relevant message instead (be the first to view our new Winter Collection). Or use twitter to respond to customers in need (Brent-we heard you had a problem. Can we help?). This is all relevant information. No-one likes to go on a date with someone who talks about irrelevant stuff. Be meaningful! If you’re interesting, you’ll find they will call you when they’re ready. Not when you’re ready.



Comments (1) -

9/7/2011 10:33:29 AM #
Interesting...not even totally positive that I realize all this but appreciate your making the effort to clarify that in this sort of depth. I managed to get an malfunction message when I tried to enroll in your Rss feed though. Anybody here acquiring this dilemma?
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About Brent Coker

Brent Coker

Hi. I’m Dr Brent Coker, an internet consumer psychologist, and inventor of Webreep. Here I blog mostly about my research, and how customers behave on the web! 


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