1. Marketing

Conversational Autoresponders

One of the classic elements of marketing is surprise, and one way to do that is to include a message in a place that someone wasn’t expecting to see it. Last weekend, I did as much with what’s typically one of the most boring forms of correspondence: the out-of-office autoresponder:

I’m out until Monday,
9/17 with sporadic access to email until then…. [contact details followed]


PS: If you have nothing to do between now and when I return, might I recommend
a good book? I’m currently reading John Adams by David McCullogh, which is as
much of a love story as it is a history book. What are you reading?

Some people then took the time to respond to the autoresponder. A client wrote, "Dude, the John Adams book is SOOOO 2001. Are you
also really excited about Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon?  :)" Another person wrote, "I loved John Adams and agree it’s a great read.  Currently,
I’m finishing a Star Trek novel and am looking at my towering stack of To Be
Read to see what will be next." Both cases presented opportunities for conversation that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

I do a similar writeup with my email signature file for my work address. There’s a legal disclaimer included at the bottom of the default signature, written in a 7-pt font that no one is ever supposed to read. When someone reads the message on a BlackBerry or for any reason in text rather than HTML form, the text looks bigger, and that’s most likely when someone will notice my appendage to the sig file:

This e-mail and attachments, if any, may contain confidential
and/or proprietary information. Please be advised that the unauthorized use or
disclosure of the information is strictly prohibited. If you are not the
intended recipient, please notify the sender immediately by reply e-mail and
delete all copies of this email. If you read all this, you need to unwind a
bit. How about a good book? I recommend Ali & Nino by Kurban Said, together
with Tom Reiss’s The Orientalist. Have you read anything good lately?

It’s like an Easter egg for sig files, and it’s updated periodically so those who figured it out wind up finding something new should they check again.

It’s hardly conversational marketing; rather, it’s more like marketing conversations – the entire point is to stimulate further conversation (in a context where parties are already communicating). It is a surprise though, and it’s a way to slightly liven up an otherwise dead space.


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Comments to: Conversational Autoresponders
  • Avatar
    September 20, 2007

    Isn’t that how we became friends? We chatted about your book recommendation in one of our first correspondences. And I will have you know that said conversation launched after I spotted the message on a 19″ screen in all its 7-point glory… so there! 🙂

  • Avatar
    September 21, 2007

    And now I know the names of the two books you were recommending last night 😉
    Fascinating experiment and definitely something a marketer could use without annoying customers.


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