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The Name of the Game

  |  April 16, 2001   |  Comments

Sometimes it's called retention marketing. Other times loyalty or database marketing. But no matter what you call it, email's perfect for it. So get on it. Now.

Based on the number of responses I received to last week's article on HTML versus text, it's clear that this continues to be a hot topic. So here's another topic that I hope will spur a ton of feedback: retention marketing, otherwise known as loyalty marketing, customer relationship management, database marketing, and more.

No matter what you call it, get on it. Then work it. Embrace it. Make it yours. 'Cause for a good number of businesses, when it comes to this type of marketing, there ain't a better channel than email.

Another Reason to Love Email

Why is email so effective for retention efforts? Just to start with, it's a lot less expensive to email a list that you already have in-house. Also at play with a house list is the name-recognition factor. If one member of your list has responded to an offer that entices him or her to sign up for future promotions, chances are good that a fair number of members will respond down the road. Plus, with some of the technology and resources available nowadays, a house email campaign can be set up so that recipients receive only messages that have value and relevance to them.

So, if you're not already doing so, run -- don't walk -- and begin building that list now. At the very beginning, gather at least full names and email addresses, but probably not much more. When the time comes, as the relationship evolves, collect other valuable information to enhance future campaigns.

And collect wherever you can. Get people to opt in on your Web site, of course. If you have a storefront, collect names and email addresses physically. If you do direct mail, package in inserts that provide incentives for folks to opt in.

Remember not too long ago when the mandate was to post your URL everywhere? Now that mandate rings true for email-address collection because retention-based marketing is going to be on center stage for some time to come.

Yes, it takes an enormous attention to detail, but once you kick a house-list email program in place, you can pretty much count on jumpstarting your online marketing results posthaste. No doubt about it.

Get a Plan, Put It in Action

It all starts with a basic plan. Ask yourself what your ultimate goal is. Most likely it is to build new sales of some sort, to woo existing customers, or, for higher-end offers, to develop relationships with qualified leads so that a telemarketing rep can "come in" warm rather than cold.

With that goal in mind, think about how you are going get there. Will a regularly scheduled newsletter help or hinder the cause? Will "spot" promotions do the trick? Do you first need to convert new leads into customers, and then market paid products to them?

Then start getting down to the nitty-gritty. As I suggested above, start with collecting as little information as possible because people tend to be less apt to fill in a lengthy form with a company they've never heard of. Your plan needs to recognize this and needs to determine methodologies for gathering additional data after the initial registration/sale. These can include follow-up surveys, rewards, incentive-based promotions, or messages that promote new services, such as birthday reminders.

Get the Timing and Look Right

Then think about timing. You may want to start with a plan that calls for a biweekly emailing; however, I'd recommend testing that. Some businesses do extremely well with weekly efforts, believe it or not, while others struggle with messages that go out only once a month.

To test timing, simply split your house list into equal parts, and over the course of several months, test a weekly with one group, a biweekly with another, and a monthly with yet another. Just be sure that your content (your offers and links from your weeklies) is aggregated and merged into the content for your less-frequent campaigns for each month. That way, you'll have as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible and will begin to see trends of how timing affects your results.

After you've figured out how to time your strategy, grow the list, and develop the quality therein, it's time to think about formatting specifics. There is the tried-and-true newsletter model, of course, as mentioned above, but depending on your business, you may want to develop something less boilerplate and more befitting a one-to-one communication. (Hey, that's what most of us are striving for here, right?)

If you're selling products or services online, think about special-offer promotions, such as sales, new product announcements, holiday updates, "members only" club announcements, coupon promotions, and more -- whatever has value for your list that will also spark their interest and perhaps will get you closer to your ultimate goal.

How to Get It Out the Door

Once you've pulled together your action plan for marketing to your house email list, it's time to think about how you're going to send out these little gems. If you need to keep everything in-house and you're just starting to build your list, or your list is small (20,000 names or fewer), you may want to start with an easy-to-use, lower-cost solution, such as Roving, MessageMedia's MailKing, Lyris, or EmailFactory.com.

For midrange list management and deployment, there's GuestTrack and L-Soft.

Higher-end solutions include MessageMedia's UnityMail, e2 Communications, Socketware's Accucast, FloNetwork, and Responsys.

Note that the above, for the most part, provide the technology but not necessarily a hands-off, completely full-service solution. For these types of providers, look to Post Communications/Netcentives, Digital Impact, e-Dialog, and Inbox Interactive's Optim-E.

And There's More...

Those are the basics. It can get a lot more complex than this, of course, especially when you start talking about dynamic messaging and database marketing tactics begin to come into play. And nothing can guarantee success with house-list messaging.

But with a solid plan -- along with a few well-established resources, if needed, to fit right into it -- success can be yours. And from now through the foreseeable future, the discipline that encompasses house email-list building and follow-up retention-based offers is sure to be the mainstay of online marketing.

That's the name of the game.

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Kim MacPherson

Kim MacPherson is President and Founder of Inbox Interactive, a full-service email marketing agency specializing in promotional copywriting, HTML design, planning, and deployment/tracking solutions. Kim is also the author of "Permission-Based E-mail Marketing That Works!"

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