Just another CRAFT site

Microsoft’s Rust Lung Email Problem

by gscoville

A promotional email I received this morning from Microsoft suggests that immulsion fumes are beginning to turn marketers in Redmond into primordial Lambent Drudges. Their blunder is tragically common, and easily mitigated with better strategic planning and creative copy development.

Xbox LIVE successfully melded the real-time over-the-net competition of PC gaming with the intuitive, user-friendly play of console gaming. As is the case with the modern web, socialization is the foundation on which Xbox LIVE’s long-term success rests, and this is rightly reflected in their marketing strategy.

So what’s the problem?

My colleague Jon Henke is on the list of people Microsoft says hasn’t yet played Gears of War 3. But Jon and I have played Gears of War 3, both over the Internet and on a split screen – and trust me when I say that playing with Jon is like frag-tagging a downed Locust Grenadier just before he bleeds out. Three other friends with whom I have played the title are also on the list, and the final person has been online playing the game when I was, even if we weren’t playing together.

This is a wasted a marketing opportunity for Microsoft. They have correctly identified me as a fan of Gears of War, an email opener, and an action taker. But Microsoft’s specific call to action in this piece is for me to distribute a $10 discount to friends to purchase a game they already own. Microsoft has wasted its time and resources, and my time. Think about it like this: if I follow through on the call to action, I will have wasted five other people’s time, not to mention more of my own. That’s not a good way to keep people interested in Microsoft’s emails, or to get good mileage and reach out of advertising dollars and product incentives.

The rush to add social context to legacy online advertising practices seems to be leading some people to paper over important details in their strategic thinking. Social context is meaningless if it doesn’t help you achieve your goals.

Poorly executed social advertising is a waste of a firm’s dollars and of its customers’ free time. Not all marketing messages need socialization – if I shop at Walmart this holiday season, it will be to save a couple of bucks in a down economy, and the ad copy to the right conveys that value proposition to me. That my sixth grade English teacher likes Walmart on Facebook will have no bearing on my decision, one way or the other.

Microsoft should have gone a step further to find out whom among people on my friend list had not yet actually played Gears of War 3. One minute, overlooked detail made this whole marketing effort a wash, and that doesn’t even take into account how many other emails Microsoft sent to other Xbox LIVE members like the one I received.

Socialization is important to Xbox LIVE’s long-term success, and it should be a commonly used tool in the marketing department’s toolkit. But it’s not a salve for boosting the bottom line, and can actually damage a brand when executed poorly. What could your brand be doing better?

For more CRAFT commentary on email marketing, see Matthew Dybwad’s recent Halloween-themed piece on devaluing your email list by selling it to people who fail to connect with subscribers, and Michael Turk’s series on “zombie email.” See Outbreak Days One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Wilco, control. Delta out.