Avoiding Death by Bigwig Syndrome for Online Initiatives
Posted on July 13 2011 by
The Bigwig Syndrome is a common problem that occurs in many private and especially public organisations. It is when the person with the most authority makes integral decisions that they are not qualified to make on their own and others support them, even if they disagree with the decision. Though this syndrome is usually present in the wider organisation, it is prevalent in departments that have responsibility for the organisation’s efforts online. These passionate leaders are often intense and follow through with their personal convictions. They have a preference for blue instead of pink for the site’s background colour or have some extra money in their budget to run five email campaigns a month instead of just one and so it will be, whether or not that whim is justified. Plus, with the absence of data, who is to say that they are actually wrong?
Unfortunately, the experts who should have a major say in making those decisions are not invited and sometimes even allowed behind the veil of the bigwig’s office. These experts are the ones who build these tools from the ground-up, man your digital-outposts and most importantly, make up your client base. For example, marketing managers usually decide on email frequency with a keen focus on campaigns and improving their return on investment, which tends to disregard recipients and building profitable relationships with them in fundamental ways. Campaigns focus on convincing people to buy into some idea, when the purpose of building relationships with your customers is to maximise lifetime value.
Case in Point: Increasing Email Touch-Frequency
Despite being leveraged for commercial reasons, the core purpose of email remains. Email helps us maintain relationships through the disclosure of information. However, when this basic principle is misunderstood or violated, emails can become bothersome and intrusive. We all have different relationships with the companies we do business with. Naturally then, we also have varying expectations of each of these relationships and strive towards accomplishing different relationship goals. Though it may be okay to send more emails to my friend Peter, who your database indicates is very similar to myself, I however may not appreciate this practice.
Taking a relationship-centric approach to this situation, email touch-frequency would be determined by how often customers want to receive information from companies and not by the company’s need to increase the number of emails being distributed or even how relevant the material is to recipients. As relationships are constantly negotiated and renegotiated, potential recipients should be given an opportunity to decide on how often they wish to receive communications from the company at opt-in, or afterwards, perhaps via an email preference centre. Testing must be conducted to optimise messaging, visuals and other important aspects of the campaign for targeted audiences. One must strive to reach an optimisation plateau. Furthermore, the impact of increased frequency on email processing behaviours by recipients and their responsiveness (e.g., Click-throughs, and email opens) should be tested on a sample of recipients before rolling out this change to the entire mailing list. This way, well-informed forecasts and data-driven decisions could be made about the optimum email touch-frequency for each segment. Of course, this testing and optimisation process should be continuous as people and relationships change over time.
Face Complexity Head On
Bigwigs are usually the ones making the final decisions for a good reason. They are often smart people and competent enough to make the right decisions. However, making well-informed and strategic decisions for the web is not easy, as it is a new tool where the rules are still developing. In these situations it is common for the best of business leaders to avoid complexity in decision-making and keep things simple and easy. They subscribe to the Occam’s Razor principle — if you have two equally likely solutions to a problem, choose the simplest — and they rely on the usual business practices that have worked well for as long as they could remember.
Though these approaches may have worked in most circumstances in the past, they fall gravely short when coming up against the volatility of the web. Our success, especially online, requires a conscious effort towards testing our ideas and quickly learning from our mistakes. Smart people involve others and seek advice. Make sure your decisions are founded on good advice, which is based on solid data from subject matter experts so that you avoid the Bigwig Syndrome jeopardising the success of your web projects.