E-mail Marketing Without E-mail

  |  September 7, 2007   |  Comments

Use acquisition-based e-mail marketing campaign techniques for anonymous Web site visitors.

E-mail marketing tends to be used for customer retention. After users give you their e-mail addresses, you can communicate with them via e-mail in hopes of getting them to interact with your company again. Many companies have very smart e-mail marketing campaigns, including traditional mass-market campaigns, personalized campaigns, and, more recently, trigger-based e-mail campaigns.

The only Achilles heel in this process? You need the users' e-mail addresses.

While these carefully thought-through e-mail campaigns are good for customer retention, they're also potentially powerful acquisition tools. But do you create acquisition-based e-mail marketing campaigns for anonymous customers? The answer lies in migrating these e-mail campaigns to the Web site, using tactics from the world of session-based personalization.

Personalization: Session-based vs. Trigger-based

Session-based personalization has evolved over the last 10 years. Originally, product recommendations were the only personalized aspect of a user's browsing experience. Those recommendations were more about product relationships and aggregate user behavior, and less about an individual user.

Slowly, companies made recommendations to individual users based on their browsing and purchase history. Amazon, at the forefront of this kind of personalization, went one step further. It made session-based personalization more interesting by introducing features like "the page you made," and the personalized store page ("Jack's Amazon.com"). These features look at your behavior within the session and create special pages for you based on that behavior.

Similarly, many e-mail marketing campaigns run by advanced companies are based on user behavior. Trigger-based campaigns, for instance, are based on user actions. Travelocity's a great example. A search for a travel itinerary sets into motion various e-mail marketing campaigns based on where you are in the process. When you're just looking (perhaps you've saved an itinerary), the e-mail campaigns describe travel options and the latest travel packages to that destination. After purchasing an itinerary, you'll receive e-mail messages that include other promotions for your destination.

Look, Ma, No E-mail

Travelocity and others have smart behavior-based e-mail marketing campaigns. Too bad only registered users ever get to see them. Why not combine both worlds?

Instead of manifesting triggered e-mail marketing campaigns as e-mail, think about displaying them as special areas of your Web site. Similar to how Amazon creates an on-the-fly storefront based on your purchase and browsing behavior, Travelocity could create an itinerary page that places the information its e-mail would have contained on the Web site. While an easy way to do this would be to create a virtual mailbox on a site, it's better to fully integrate these pages into a site and make it part of a user's experience. Users don't need yet another inbox to check.

This approach has a two-fold effect. For existing customers, it bridges an important gap between e-mail marketing and an online experience. Highly personalized e-mail contains information targeted to the user and that user's current task or need. Once the user goes to your site, however, that information isn't represented anywhere. The user must find the e-mail in question to see products, services, or information relevant to her. By creating online versions of these e-mail campaigns, the user can take advantage of the personalized knowledge both in the e-mail and online.

More important: these online versions can exist for anonymous customers, not just registered customers. Because the campaigns were tied to user behavior from the current session, there's no reason an anonymous consumer can't enjoy the personalized e-mail campaign also, just as long as it manifests itself as part of the user experience, not in an e-mail.

Taking the First Step

How to migrate your e-mail marketing to your site:

  1. Take an inventory of your firm's personalized e-mail campaigns.

  2. Identify the e-mail messages triggered based on browsing behavior, and review anything short of an actual purchase. In other words, what could be triggered by anonymous browsers if only you had their e-mail addresses?

  3. Brainstorm ways this information could appear on the site during that user's browsing experience. Perhaps it's a module on the left or right side of the screen that offers useful personalized tips. Maybe it's a full page like those found on Amazon.

  4. Migrate the most successful trigger-based e-mail campaigns online, and track them as an acquisition tool. Allow these personalized areas to exist based solely on a cookie, and encourage users to save their information by allowing registration on these new pages.

After these steps, see if your e-mail retention tools provide enough value to also act as acquisition tools. If not, revise them so the anonymous versions speak more to anonymous customers than returning customers.

Allowing e-mail marketing campaigns to take on life within your site enables two important concepts. For returning customers, you create a better multichannel experience, adding the features and personalization users receive via e-mail to their site experience. For anonymous customers, you open up a world they haven't seen before and provide them with value from the moment they begin interacting with you. By treating anonymous users as if they're already valued customers, they're more likely to become them.

Thoughts, questions, comments? Let me know!

Until next time...


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Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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