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Show Value to Solve Relevance Challenges

  |  March 24, 2010   |  Comments

End the guessing game between subscribers and senders and make your e-mail program more relevant by improving your acquisition process.

All e-mail experts tell e-mail marketers to make their programs more relevant to increase deliverability and ROI (define) and decrease spam complaints, unsubscribes, and inactivity.

Nobody can argue with that. The problem comes when you try to figure out what "relevance" really means.

Relevance is still a challenge because we haven't been able to get rid of the guessing game between subscribers and senders:

  • Round one: The sender won't clue the subscriber in to what type of e-mail it will send, how often, or what it looks like until the subscriber provides an e-mail address.

  • Round two: The subscriber provides only bare-bones information to the sender, who can't collect important data in any way if it doesn't use a welcome program, provide a preference page, or integrate CRM (define) and Web analytics with e-mail.

  • Round three: Lacking data to segment, target, or adjust content, the sender has to treat the subscriber like everyone else.

  • Round four: The sender assumes their message is valuable just because they're sending it.

  • Round five: The subscriber is bored or expected something else from the sender's e-mail. Result: the subscriber becomes "emotionally unengaged" and either ignores the e-mail or marks the e-mail as spam because it's easier than working the unsubscribe.

To end this guessing game, you have to go back to the beginning of the relationship and improve your acquisition process.

Anticipate and Answer "What's in it for Me?"

We know how much delivery success depends on setting and managing expectations at the start of the e-mail relationship and sending relevant e-mails.

Here, "relevance" is defined as "value to the subscriber." It isn't enough that the e-mail message comes from company X. The company X e-mail has to offer subscribers something they want or expect.

These values (i.e., demonstrating relevance and managing expectations) have to happen even earlier in the subscriber relationship: at acquisition, even before opt-in. This crucial period is when your subscriber is still in the prospect stage, before providing an e-mail address.

Potential subscribers are asking you, "What's in it for me? Why should I give you my e-mail address when I get more than I can read now?"

A good acquisition process actually answers this question twice: once before the opt-in and once after it.

Here are a couple of tips to increase relevance:

  • Add value to your invitation: Your challenge is to find the right words that balance brevity with meaning. Being short is easy: "Sign up to receive special offers and promotions." Bo-ring! And, it's vague. I could sign up for e-mail from a home decorating store and end up getting e-mails for car products according to that value proposition. Instead, go for specificity: "Sign up for weekly e-mails with sneak previews, e-mail-only offers, and advance sale notices." Think of it like a Twitter tweet. It should be short, direct, and easy to understand, while imparting a clear value.

  • Manage expectations: Landing a new subscriber isn't the end of the acquisition process. Driving engagement is the next step. This should begin right on the subscription page, when you lay out what the subscriber can expect for content, format, frequency, privacy, etc., in more detail than you could put in the subscription invitation or in a follow-up e-mail (confirming the subscription or a separate welcome e-mail).

Acquisition Evolves Off the Web Site

Your acquisition process should anticipate and answer the question of "What's in it for me?" everywhere you issue an invitation to subscribe, whether it's on your home page, search engine landing page, Facebook Fan Page, Twitter home page, or checkout page.

  • Opt in via text: Using mobile short codes to invite opt-ins is catching on, especially among retailers, airlines, and restaurant chains. Here, a person sends you a text, which triggers an e-mail opt-in confirmation request to the e-mail inbox. This tactic is great because it removes many of the obstacles that hamper accurate e-mail collection, and forces you to hone your messages to 10 or fewer well-chosen words to express your value proposition.

  • Opt in via Facebook: The Fan Page for The Territory Ahead dedicates a tab to e-mail sign-up. Great! But don't clutter the page with a long registration form or every preference you offer. At the least, show prospects a sample e-mail, or explain how often messages come, what content they contain, and so on.

  • Opt in via snack bag: The next time you fly Southwest Airlines, check your peanut bag (or see this image, via my colleague Ed Henrich). Relevance and brevity come together in a small space. Maybe you can't log in right then to sign up, but you can save your peanut bag with its pithy value proposition ("Stop Searching, Start Saving with Click 'N Save Emails" and the company logo and URL) and opt in later.

Offsite Acquisition's Unique Permission Challenge

Effective follow-up in the form of a welcome e-mail that sets expectations is even more crucial when the acquisition happens somewhere else. Besides, most offline acquisition completely lacks data the marketer can use for sending relevant messaging.

A mobile opt-in collects the e-mail address and acquisition opt-in, but nothing else. You need a welcome e-mail that repeats and amplifies the value proposition, sets expectations, and drives the new subscriber back to your preference center to provide more information and promote your e-mail offerings.

Remember, the only thing that has changed here is where the subscriber opts in to your e-mail program. Choice and control must remain with the consumer to deliver the relevance that drives e-mail deliverability.

Until next time, keep on deliverin'!


Stefan Pollard

Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.

In Memoriam: Stefan Pollard
E-mail marketing community mourns the loss of a marketing pro dedicated to helping his peers and clients and working to improve an industry. Here are their tributes celebrating his life.

E-mail Marketing Expert Stefan Pollard Dies
An expert in deliverability is remembered as a champion of best practices and someone who selflessly gave of his time to others.

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