Brand messaging on personal screens: context & permission is key

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Big data. Those two magical words, excite venture capitalists, marketers and media planners alike and are meant to provide deep insights into consumer behaviour nowadays. Every aspect of our digital presence is apparently available for scrutiny by marketers and media planners. App developers have analytical data on aspects ranging from app install ads, number of downloads, time spent on an app and in-game gestures. But there’s one aspect of consumer behaviour that such data does not capture: consumer emotion.

Consumer emotions towards a brand’s marketing message is driven by context. If I am expecting a very important message from a family member, I’d hate to receive promotional messages from an e-commerce brand or a game app at that time on my phone screen. But brands and games have no way of knowing that context. They can only go by data-driven parameters like ‘notification alerts only between 9am and 9pm’ and not be aware of the context. This is true of any marketing message – especially in mass media, it is impossible to tailor it based on context. But we are supposedly living in a digital age, where brands know my travel search queries, tailor ads accordingly and so on. The ideal goal is to create brand communication which is useful for the consumer but most marketers create communication which is useful to them, not the consumers. The least brands can do in today’s context is to leave some room for the end user to opt out of promotional messages, especially the intrusive ones. The scope for creating negative emotion around a brand is high in any case in irritating, intrusive ads – we all have switched off the radio or switched TV channels upon hearing or seeing an ad we don’t enjoy. That kind of negative feeling is heightened in personal screens like mobile phones, watches and iPads. The biggest culprits in this context: intrusive ads, pesky newsletters, app notifications and text alerts.

Take newsletters for example: one is never sure how one’s email ID ends up with brand in the first place. And then the newsletters keep coming – often under various garbs. I wish marketers would make unsubscribing from such newsletters as easy as subscribing to them. And then we have the infamous text message alerts with no easy option to opt out of them. I particularly abhor Foodpanda in this context. I had downloaded their app (deleted now) but have not ordered anything from them thus far. An article on their business practices put me off the brand even more. Yet, I am subjected to promotional text messages from them almost everyday – making me hate them even more. I particularly hate the fact that I have no easy way of opting out of these, despite being on the DND registry. I guess the company has no way of knowing how their promotional messages negatively affect the brand and don’t care. In today’s context that’s a pity.

Apps are relatively better placed to ward off negative reactions but many get it wrong. In my view, asking for permission to send alerts immediately upon opening an app for the first time should be avoided. When I decide to try out an app, I’d like to give it some time to experience it and see if it is really worth giving permission for notifications. Indian news brands abuse this privilege by sending alerts far too often. I guess the ‘everything is breaking news’ culture from the TV screen and Twitter is applied on app, which is plain wrong. NYT is extremely selective in sending out news alerts and that actually makes me like the brand even more. Ditto for Breaking News. I understand the compulsions of app owners – they must keep providing incentives to the user to keep using their app. Promotional text messages or app notifications are helpful tools in that context. Certain categories of apps – games, e-commerce, food ordering etc., are used on a need basis. So it makes business sense for app owners to trigger that need and push them towards usage. Mobile operating systems give the option to the consumer to turn off notifications, be selective about the apps which can send notifications and so on. Bit if the app owner builds in these  considerations right into the app design itself, the chances of earning customer love is higher.

In this era of information overload, brands should be wary of reaching out to end consumers on the personal screens without permission, too often, in a pesky manner. Being of some value, not taking the consumer for granted, seeking permission to invade personal spaces like a mobile device are some factors marketers need to consider.

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