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Why giving up control can give brands more influence

Jami Dewolf, chief marketing officer, Alliance Data's card services business, explains why it's a smart move to hand some control of email content and cadence back to customers.

Why giving up control can give brands more influencePhoto by

By Jami Dewolf, chief marketing officer, card services business, Alliance Data

In today's digitally driven world, email is well-known as one of the most effective ways to reach customers and inspire them to shop. Brands develop sophisticated CRM strategies that carefully target customers with tailored messages at specific times, all with the intention of driving more sales.

Why, then, might it be smart for marketers to hand some control of email content and cadence back to their customers? According to The Great Divide, our recent study by the Alliance Data Analytics & Insights Institute, that's exactly the type of control that consumers are looking for — and it may just be what drives them to engage.

When we asked consumers about their preferences for marketing communications, we found that their desire for control was the biggest gap between what they want and what brands are delivering. Email has become one of the primary ways brands of all kinds reach their customers, so inboxes are overflowing — making it hard for consumers to keep up with the brands they care about, and making it extremely difficult for brands to break through the noise.

With that in mind, it stands to reason that consumers want more influence over what hits their inbox and when, and it's something they aren't getting from brands today. Sixty-eight percent of consumers say they want control over email frequency, but only 10% of marketers say they are meeting this need well. Additionally, 63% of consumers say they want control of the type of content they receive, but only 24% of marketers believe they are delivering.

As a whole, brands are underestimating just how important this type of control is to consumers, ranking it as "low importance." This means brands are missing a significant opportunity to empower their customers, and they're compromising the customer experience along the way. Consumers report that having control over the amount and kinds of communication they receive reduces their likelihood to be overwhelmed by brand communications by 50%.

Perhaps most importantly, giving consumers more control over the communications they receive makes them more likely to engage with a brand. Fifty-two percent of consumers agree that when they can control the content and/or the frequency of the communications they receive from retailers, they are more likely to pay attention when that retailer sends them a communication.

It's easy to understand why marketing leaders often hesitate to allow — let alone encourage — consumers to decide when and how they hear from the brand. After all, that's what that complex CRM strategy is for, and email has proven to be an effective channel for reaching customers. However, maybe it's time for a change.

In an era when consumers have more choices and messages than ever, there's payoff to putting customers in the driver's seat and letting them tell you which messages matter most to them. Not only does it make customers feel empowered, it removes the guesswork and gives brands direct insight into what customers want. In many cases, consumers are simply asking brands to walk away from the "all or nothing" approach; it's not that they don't want to hear from brands, it's that they don't want to receive every message a brand is sending out. If that's their only option, there's a real risk that a customer will unsubscribe from a brand's communications altogether. As one customer in our research commented, "I might not want to unsubscribe from a company completely, and if it's an option to hear from them less, I might choose that over not hearing from them at all."

It's a paradox that pays off: by giving up some control, brands can gain influence. By offering simple tools and options that put customers in charge of marketing communications content and cadence, marketers can set their brands apart from the rest—and have confidence the messages they send will be welcomed, relevant and read.


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