Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Why my love of Ben & Jerry's isn't over just yet

Over the past couple of weeks there's been quite a bit of buzz about Ben & Jerry's dropping email in favour of social media. It stemmed from an email sent by their UK people to email subscribers, letting them know the monthly moosletter was being canned and asking recipients to fan them on Facebook. It's not quite switching off email (they'll use it still for special promotions) but it's pretty close. According to the quite rightly other-side-of-the-story article, Ben & Jerry's in Vermont isn't following this particular herd, and will carry on regardless.

I commented on the story as originally reported when it broke. My view is that a move to drop an entire marketing channel seems insane for a brand that appeals to people who like ice cream - kids, hippies, adults, old folk, squares alike. We all love Ben & Jerry's. Almost everyone out of their teens uses email. Indeed some kids and teens still use it (though the XML channels r00l increasingly). For instantaneous interaction between a brand and an audience there's nothing quite like social media. For longer-term, planned engagement based on deep understanding of behaviour/demographic/motivation-based segmentation, there's nothing (yet) quite like email.

Where email, and its grown-up cousin eCRM, comes in at its best is in shifting brand perception. A well-paced, well-segmented eCRM campaign over eight months can be persuasive in a way that an ad campaign cannot. You can make a case through demonstrating an experience and involving people in a journey that you cannot do by being interactive or sociable. I think social media channels are brilliant for maintaining and reinforcing a brand's positioning, adding a layer of openness for instance. And I think eCRM is exceptional for changing behaviours through understanding motivation and basing communications on that understanding. Email, SMS and the web can be segmented in a way that is invisible to users. The same cannot yet be said of the Facebook experience.

I am sad that ben & Jerry's has decided to focus entirely on the ephemeral in the UK, at the cost of a long-term brand engagement strategy. It's all gone a bit tactical. And when Facebook fades they'll have to jump on the next big thing. I think it's shortsighted. Customers are, or at least should be, forever. I'll be a Ben & Jerry's customer for as long as I remember its well-meaning roots. But as I'll never be a fan on Facebook it's going to be tricky for them to keep reminding me why I love their brand.