Good, Bad, and Ugly Marketing — All At the Same Time

Of course we all strive to send meaningful marketing messages to our customers that are, at best, helpful and welcome, and at least, not offensive or damaging. Sometimes, though, a mixed message slips through, such as the e-newsletter I received from my health insurance provider today.

First, I appreciate being able to choose an e-version of the newsletter — or no version at all — rather than automatically being sent an oversize paper version that I toss in the recycling pile within 5 minutes (at most) of perusal.

So the first impression was positive.

The Good: Letting customers choose how they wish to be communicated with, if at all.

One of the articles, dealing with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), was of particular interest to me. I have an HSA and knew that my account would soon be handled by another bank — exasperatingly, the third HSA custodian since I opened the account only two years ago. So, I clicked the link in the email to read more. That I could easily scan the content to find what mattered to me was also positive.

The Good: Letting customers choose which messages are most important to them.

In reading the article, after learning about some improvements to simplify the claims process, I found this paragraph:

Additionally, as part of our spending account transition, the custodian of your [insurance]-sponsored HSA will change to [NEW BANK]. You should have received an important notice in February telling you how to easily transfer funds from your current HSA custodian ([OLD BANK]) to the new one. Your consent to transfer funds from the current to the new custodian will enable you to continue to access your HSA through your member website and allow you the continued convenience of paying providers directly from your HSA.

Suddenly, the message I was receiving was not so good. I did remember receiving the change notice mentioned (In December or January, however, not February), but didn’t think I had to do a thing to transfer funds to the new custodian. Now I was confused — was I supposed to do something? Did I have to give “consent to transfer funds”? Had I misunderstood? Was I screwed if I didn’t save that notice?

That sent me on a 10-minute hunt to find the notice, thinking, Well I guess I’ll have to call them if I can’t find it. My bad.

When I did find it, however, I saw that indeed, I was correct. If I did nothing, my HSA would automatically be transferred to the new custodian. Much ado (and much annoyance) about nothing — definitely a negative impression.

The Bad: Causing confusion (and frustration) through unclear or misleading messages.

Because I’m a professional communicator, these types of communication mishaps bother me a lot — probably more than the average reader. I wanted to email my insurance provider to point out the confusion (and, honestly, to vent a little).

How could I do that? Hmmm…no link either in the original email or on the article landing page for questions, comments, or feedback. I noted the sender’s email address, and thought I might just reply to that. But no, a closer look at the fine print revealed this message:

Please do not reply to this email as we are unable to respond to messages sent to this address.

Now I had an overwhelmingly negative impression — otherwise known as being pissed off.

The Ugly: Not giving customers an easy way to communicate with you to ask questions or offer feedback.

Note: Some of that feedback just *might* be good. So, my insurer is missing out on that opportunity as well.

I am not willing to devote any more of my time to this issue, such as calling an 800 number and attempting to find out who might be the right person in the “newsletter department” to talk to. So instead, I vent on paper — as writers are prone to doing.

It doesn’t take a lot for a good marketing effort to turn bad and ugly. In this case, the problem could have been avoided with more careful content review and editing. But assuming the confusing paragraph might still have slipped through, giving readers the opportunity to interact and share questions and concerns would have gone a long way to restoring goodwill and helping to correct misinformation.

The Bottom Line: Avoid pissing off your customers, but because you probably will at some point, give them an easy way to tell you about it so you can fix it.

###

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
~ Bill Gates

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