A Thousand Words Will Betray Consumer Trust

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"Image is everything," says a Canon camera ad campaign. However, a recent report by consumeraffairs.com alleges that the company is taking the slogan too far, focusing on corporate image rather than customer trust. The article asserts that Canon overflows customer inboxes with product launches and advanced offerings to overshadow press regarding defective products, especially the E18 camera. Irate customers have voiced their complaints on numerous blogs and are pondering class action lawsuits. While Canon's Asia Web site acknowledges the defects, the company has issued no recognition of product deficiency to customers outside the region. Instead, these customers are left with loads of positive talk in their inboxes when they would most likely prefer just one "We're sorry." Masking negative press with positive rhetoric is a familiar trick employed daily in every field from public relations to politics, from press releases regarding the Ford-Firestone tire scandal to propaganda from the 2004 presidential race. However, when damage control meets mass email marketing, things can turn ugly. Although some experts say when it comes to product promotion, "Repetition is the mother of state of mind," Canon's issue raises the question: When does enough become too much? Jim Cecil, president of Nurture Marketing, explains, "Most of these big brands, Canon and others, have always tried to just hammer their brand and their name as frequently as possible." While this may have worked for them in the past, Cecil argues, "Selling complex end-technology products, you're probably dealing with someone who has a fairly good understanding of how to use the Internet to check out things that seem to be blatantly positive comments. I'd think it would be a dangerous tactic." Cecil cites hiding product problems with positive press as a sure way to lose consumers' trust, or at least "make them madder." However, even when the message in an email campaign is honest and valid, companies may still find themselves losing customer confidence through simply having too high of a mailing rate. "The level of email really depends on the business model," says David Daniels, vice president at Jupiter Research. "Do people really want to hear every day from their airline carrier or supermarket? Probably not. Once marketers pass that threshold the response rates are going to go down, absolutely." Flooding inboxes can create problems not only with individual customer response, but also with the larger issue of deliverability. When those receiving the emails feel that marketers are bombarding them, they may report the sender to their ISP. The ISP may then block the sender, thereby cutting off companies from reaching substantial segments of their customer population. "With email, you can't really ask for forgiveness, because once you've turned that person off, [he's] opted out," Daniels says. A recent report from Jupiter Research found that when asked how they opt out of email, 17 percent of respondents replied that they mark it as spam, thereby ensuring that a marketer will no longer be able to reach their inbox. "We are often asked what's the magic number for frequency, but unfortunately there really isn't one," Daniels says. "It's better to email people less often and to get as much as you can out of that email with targeting and testing, and really come up with your own frequency rule."
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