The ‘Pub Conversationalist’ principle (or, ‘How not to creep out your new customers’)

If you’ve ever seen Skip Fidura, dotmailer Client Services Director, at one of his talks, you’ll know about his ‘Creepy-Guy-in-the-Pub’ principle. But what actually is it, and as a brand – how can you not be that guy?

It’s a Friday night down the pub, and you’re introduced to a new person. The conversation might go a little like this:

You: “Hey, nice to meet you.”

Them: “Hey there. What’s your name?”

You: “Skip. Sorry I didn’t get yours…”

Them: “So where are you from?”

You: “Well, originally  San Francisco but I’m in Croydon now.”

Them: “So what do you do?”

You: “I’m actually in Marketing and Advertising?”

Them: “How many kids do you have?”

You: “Err…”

Them:  “What kind of sports do you like?”

You: “Listen, I…”

Them: “Hey, do you like my watch? Pretty cool, huh?”

You: “What?”

Them: “I’m acting in a show next week, would you like to come?”

You: [Shifts uncomfortably at bar, laughs nervously, looks for possible escape] “Excuse me, I have to…go”


Beware the Guy in the Red Shirt…all is not what it seems…

This is possibly everyone’s nightmare pub conversation to be stuck in. But what’s happening here? Aside from someone possibly certifiable on the loose? First, this new person has a seemingly unending stream of questions. Second, and perhaps more telling, this new person has not given anything back into the conversation – no reaction to what has been said, or indeed anything about themselves.

If the evening was to actually play out, you’d probably end up trying to avoid eye contact or further conversation with this individual. Yet this very kind of interchange is what happens every day between brands and their customers. In an age where we look to predict our customers’ needs and wants, and market to them appropriately, brands can often come off looking like the creepy guy at the pub.

Real people, real conversations

What shapes are these ‘creepy’ conversations taking? Primarily, they come in the form of web forms that are just too darn long, asking pretty much everything on your marketers’ wish list in one fell swoop. Aside from it being incredibly tiresome, this is not a very human way to interact with your customers.

Let’s take the example of British retailer, Waitrose. They’ve managed to retain their ‘local shopkeeper attitude’ over the last 110 years into the digital age – knowing what their customers want, by having real conversations with them, face to face. This is a relationship that’s built over time, getting to know the neighborhood and the people that live in it.

‘Conversation’ is the operative concept here. Today’s consumer seeks a seamless interaction with the brands from which they buy and with which they engage– they expect to be able to get the same information and service online as they would do from someone on the shop floor. The relationship therefore has to be a two-way street, an organic interaction, and not simply traditional push messaging and ‘data harvest’ operations.

Humanity at scale

But how do we achieve this, and at scale? Well, given that you are (most probably) reading this on the blog site of a marketing automation platform, it’s not a surprise to know that marketing automation plays a huge part in this.

Take the example of Saks Fifth Avenue – illustrated in the GIF below. Their welcome email program is 3-sends in length. They both contextualize and incentivize engagement in the program. Their first email, pretty much tells you that you’re going to receive three emails – the headline does read a little like a BuzzFeed article, but hey, it gets clicks. Each of the subsequent emails is able to then track additional behavior – clicks offsite, clicks to social, etc.


Saks can then build a picture of how engaged that potential customer is, what networks they may be on, etc. – thus informing what kind of marketing materials they may want to send in the future. This is the other side of the conversation – listening to the interactions, about what your customer is interested in and where they exist in the digital space.

It is easy to personalise an intereaction with one, ten or even one hundred customers but for this to scale to one thousand, ten thousand or one hundred thousand you need marketing automation. This is a route – a lifecycle – that your customer embarks upon. Mapping out this route and understanding how you would take one customer through this journey will help you scale to the larger numbers – it is essential to both planning future programs but also helping better understand your customer.

Mapping out the conversation

At dotmailer we went through this mapping process when we set out to create an automated email nurturing program for people who sign up to a 30-day dotmailer trial.  Here’s an example of how that journey was planned out.

live account

As you can see, the programme is split over a number of days, each mail with a desired outcome. We have a journey in mind for our user. Of course, that user may not always travel along the path that we want them to – the modern consumer rarely follows the more traditional forms of ‘consumer lifecycle modelling’.

The only thing that you can easily model, are the choices that a consumer could make the further you go down this pathway. Know that at any point, a consumer – just like a real human being – can get annoyed and stop engaging or might continue to engage but not in the way we expected. They might not push the ‘unsubscribe’ button, but it’s up to you to figure out what those signs might be.

Look at your customer touch points, how your users move and interact with them – and listen.

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