Servant Marketing: "Let's Be Good"

October 22, 2019 | 5 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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“Let’s be good at what we do, but let’s be good, too,” said Lisa Harmon Stephens, Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting’s Head of Creative Services, to conclude her locknote presentation at Litmus Live Boston earlier this month. Her presentation was about Servant Marketing, which is marketing that puts customers’ needs first, rather than the needs of your business.

One way to gauge whether you’re practicing Servant Marketing is to look at the calls-to-action and themes of your most recent 20 marketing emails. In what percentage of them is the primary CTA “Buy Now” or some variation? How many of them lead with product content? On the other hand, how many of them lead with or contain educational content, value-based content, community content, or any other content that’s not explicitly selling?

Another way to measure how you’re doing is to see how many times you refer to your company or say “I” or “we” compared to how many times you refer to your customer and say “you.” Do you just talk about yourself and your products, or do you put yourself in your customers’ shoes and talk about their needs, challenges, and opportunities?

The endless drumbeat of a “me, me, me” marketing strategy is endemic among traditional-minded product companies, whereas service-oriented companies tend to have a lot less trouble seeing things from their customer’s point of view. Whatever you’re selling, you need to adopt a service mindset, says Stephens.


Stephens may have closed out Litmus Live Boston talking about Servant Marketing, but many of the other presenters also touched on the need for brands to focus more on serving and on customer-centricity. It was the biggest theme of the conference and woven into presentations that covered a wide range of topics, including:

Email Accessibility

Creating accessible emails means that not only people with visual and other disabilities can engage and interact with your emails, but people with temporary and situational issues can, too. Think subscribers trying to read your emails in bright outdoor light or subscribers carrying a bag so they only have one hand free.

Using email accessibility best practices ensures that your emails are welcoming and considerate toward a wider range of people, and who doesn’t want their email marketing program to have greater reach and be easier to engage with?


Design Thinking & Empathy

Mike Hill, Director of Web Development for Erickson Living, talked about designing with empathy. He talked about the difference between sympathy and empathy, which boils down to “I feel bad for you” versus “I know how you feel.” 

Marketers want to be in that place of empathy and Hill talked about how Design Thinking principles help guide brands toward empathetic solutions. Having personally worked with Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting’s Design Thinking & Innovation Services team, I couldn’t agree more. The starting point of all Design Thinking is putting yourselves in the position of your customers, and then working forward from there.


Jokes that Miss

Think of the biggest cultural phenomena, like Friends, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars. As big as those are, not everyone has seen those. So, if you refer to a popular song, TV show, movie, meme, or whatever, be prepared to get some blank stares.

Kait Creamer of Scaled Agile, who gave the opening keynote at Litmus Live Boston, found that she actually got angry emails. She’d sent a reengagement email with the headline “I find your lack of clicks disturbing,” punning on Darth Vader’s famous line, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” She thought it was gold, and it is very funny...if you know the reference. Creamer said it was a powerful reminder that, as marketers, we should always be putting ourselves in our subscribers’ shoes.



Performance Metrics

In my keynote, I talked about better questions to ask about your email marketing performance. That included asking yourself “How many of the right subscribers open my email?” instead of the common question of “How many subscribers open my email?” 

Getting the right subscribers to take action is critical, because email marketing isn’t about opens. It’s about openers, which then experience your body copy and hopefully your landing page. 

You’re taking your subscribers on a journey as they interact with your email. It’s not about getting as many people as possible to take the first step—because it’s easy to do that through trickery and misleading subject lines. It’s about getting as many people as possible to complete the journey. If you think about email interactions that way, then it becomes clear just how important it is to get the right people to start the journey and that you do that through transparency and trust-driven interactions and messaging.



Artificial Intelligence

Phrasee CEO Parry Malm talked about the incredible power of AI to make brands more money. But he concluded his talk by spending several minutes warning brands to not let AI run amuk.

Marketers have to keep both hands on the steering wheel and continue to be guardians of the brand, he said, because AI will suggest wordings and tactics that are off-brand and attempt to manipulate subscribers in order to achieve higher performance. That’s one of several issues that we bring up in our post on how to use AI subject line and copywriting tools successfully. AI is powerful, but brands must set and enforce the rules of engagement.


The core takeaway is that customer-centricity is good business, because staying focused on your customers and their needs gives brands the best opportunity to build strong, profitable, long-term relationships. This is a core belief here at Oracle, where data availability and accuracy is foundational to our integrated ecosystem of marketing, customer experience, and data analytics, which allows our customers to better serve their customers. But even if you don’t have an integrated suite that allows you to be customer-centric across all channels, applying a Servant Marketing lens to your campaigns, projects, and channels can yield huge dividends and more satisfied customers. 


Need help with making your email marketing more customer-centric? Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including specialists in Design Thinking, automation, customer insights, and more.

Learn more →



Chad S. White

Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.

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