A Lesson on Listening: Takeaways from Connections '08

We had the pleasure of having two brilliant Brits join us as keynote speakers at our Connections ’08 conference in Indianapolis last week. These included Nigel Travis, CEO of Papa John’s and former president at Blockbuster, Inc., as well as Joseph Jaffe, author of Join the Conversation and frequent blogger at www.jaffejuice.com. Both energized the crowd of 1,100 and presented an inspirational vision for engaging customers in an ongoing dialog. This made me wonder: As more of the power shifts to the consumer, how many businesses could increase their bottom line by just by doing a better job of listening?

Papa John’s has done a number of things to listen to their customers. For example, they saw more of their clients move toward web and SMS, so they acted quickly to offer both of those channels to their customers for ordering. Papa Johns has surpassed over $1 billion in web orders and more and more customers are ordering via SMS. That is a lesson in going to where your customers are, joining the dialog, and responding.

The opportunity for differentiation in pizza is bigger than you might think. Even though there are over 65,000 restaurants in the U.S., consumers average just 4 visits per year to a pizza restaurant. Loyalty is challenged by the sheer number of choices. Yet Papa John’s recognizes that to differentiate themselves they have to engage their customers and join the conversation. What if they do a better job listening to their customers than Pizza Hut, Domino’s or local chain down the street? Can they not only claim all 4 visits to their restaurant, but also make it such a frictionless order process, solid product and customer experience that they increase the visits to 6, or even 8 per year?

We launched Subscribers Rule! as the theme of our conference for this very reason. Consumers are empowered today more than ever. This power manifests itself in two key ways.

First, consumers are empowered by choice—what to buy, what to wear, how to communicate. Plus, competition has made these choices all “good enough” for most consumers, so it has become increasingly difficult for companies to differentiate themselves.

Second, consumers are empowered by technology—social networks, Twitter, blogs, Google groups, viral email, etc. and they can say what they want about you at any time they wish to do so. Monitoring the web through Google Alerts, for example, to see what humanity is saying about your company is now critical.

The combination of endless consumer choice and nearly boundless ability to spread a message has changed the game for marketers. The conversations are happening and it is up to marketers to join in or be overlooked for the brands that are engaging their customers on their turf.

As I reflect upon these trends as it applies to where many are morphing their email programs, it actually maps pretty well. The call toward triggered messaging relevant to a consumer’s activity, or the need to deliver dynamic promotions based on product category searches speaks to the relevance that consumers not only want, but are in a position to demand.

As Joe Jaffe says in Join the Conversation: “Conversation…is a two-way dialog or a stream of messaging between two or more parties with like-minded or shared beliefs, wants, needs, passions, or interests. Conversation is not initiated by any one person, side, or organization. It is organic, nonlinear, unpredictable, and natural.”

At our conference we had over 50 customers share stories on how they are using email to deepen the relationship with their customers, improve the dialog, optimize relevancy, and increase stickiness. Some customers are doing really incredible things with CRM integrations, or analytic system integrations to drive that relevancy, and scaling it. It is really fun to see technology and marketing action match up to what was once just theory. As these technologies and trends continue to evolve, the next year is going to be fun to watch and take part in!

— Chip House of ExactTarget

One thought on “A Lesson on Listening: Takeaways from Connections '08

  1. Chip –

    Huge congrats on a fantastic conference. Extremely good content and a first-class production.

    Interesting that my takeaways from the conference differ from yours in certain respects. While the conversation notion is indeed critical, I believe the core trend is choice. Consumers want the right message at the right time from the right company, using the right vehicle.

    What excites me about this development is it further integrates email and lifecycle marketing into the overall realm of digital marketing, and makes it a closer companion to search, social media, and even online advertising.

    Amazingly, as the business fragments and gets more specific, the result is even more synergy. Who would have thunk it?

    My thoughts on the conference and its implications for the future of email:

    "The Future of Email. Think Holisticallly, Send Individually"


    All the best and thanks again,

    Jason Baer
    Convince & Convert
    Internet consulting for agencies
    blog: http://www.convinceandconvert.com/convince-convert-digital-marketing-blog
    twitter: @jaybaer

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