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Are You Leaving Money on the Table?

  |  July 23, 2008   |  Comments

An amazing vacation to Iceland underscores how businesses could more effectively use e-mail marketing.

Two weeks ago, I took an amazing vacation to Iceland with my family. We were treated to a nonstop panorama of natural delights -- from spouting, sky-high geysers to majestic waterfalls.

While we were there, I learned about some of the pressures facing the Icelandic economy that are causing the country to allow aluminum smelters to set up operations -- which, in turn, could cause environmental damage that could hurt Iceland's reputation as an unspoiled tourist destination.

I read editorials by Icelandic celebrity BjÖrk, who feels Iceland should develop other, more environmentally sound businesses based on its unique natural and cultural heritage.

So what does this have to do with e-mail?

Having conducted most of our trip research by e-mail and on the Web, I got to see how the tourism business is conducted in Iceland -- and I think the travel industry is leaving money on the table.

Here are some examples of what I mean -- and they can be translated to many other B2B (define) driven enterprises, such as conferences, business hotels, car rental companies, airlines and restaurants:

  • Where's the welcome message? Although I have a global BlackBerry, I didn't receive a welcome message from IcelandAir (a wonderful airline, by the way) or from the travel company through which we booked our trip.

    As we touched down in a strange land, it would have been fantastic to get a welcome message with tips on what to do your first day in Iceland, how to get around, and where to pick up groceries, eat out, and so forth. This content could be sponsored by local Icelandic attractions and businesses.

  • What about special alerts? My family had booked a whale-watching trip that took about three hours to travel by car to reach. Unfortunately, we were unprepared for the vagaries of Icelandic weather -- gale force winds canceled the whale watch. So we had to turn around and drive another three hours in the other direction. As it happened, the whale watch company sent us an alert that the trip was canceled, but to my husband's e-mail account -- which he couldn't access. Next time, we'll know to put my e-mail address down for all travel bookings. But that was another wasted opportunity, because the operator never requested the e-mail addresses of everyone in the traveling party. If so, we could have been directed to other destinations and made a better day of it -- which would have profited participating Icelandic tourist spots.

  • What about cross-selling and up-selling messages? It doesn't take long when you're driving in Iceland to start thinking, "I should have rented a vehicle with four-wheel drive." While the main roads are great, once you go off the beaten track, you can find yourself on treacherous gravel roads. If I had gotten a message from the car rental company saying we could trade in our car for an upgrade, let me tell you, I would have jumped on it. Without that auto-suggestion, we just soldiered on the best we could, not even considering that there was another alternative.

  • What about the impulse buy? While we put a lot of advance planning into our trip, there were many moments when we were totally open to suggestion. If we had received messages from the city of Reykjavik or nature outfitters about special events, day trips, restaurant deals, and the like, we would have explored any number of them.

  • What about creating community? Iceland is still pretty much a novel destination for many people and we would have welcomed the chance to be on a listserv with other families visiting the country at the same time -- or even past visitors. It would have really helped to know that the one-hour boat ride to Puffin Island really wasn't worth the trip since you can't see these charismatic birds up close but that taking an eight-hour trip to see one of the country's biggest glaciers is a can't-miss experience.

  • What about creating loyalty? Having had such a fantastic trip, we're ready to go back again. But I haven't heard a word from any Icelandic tour operator informing us of, say, winter trips to see the amazing northern lights of the aurora borealis. And although we are now great fans of Icelandic coffee, the band Sigur RÓs, and organic lamb, we haven't received one offer to purchase any of our new favorites. My husband's birthday was immediately after the trip, and believe me, he would have loved an Icelandic sweater as a gift -- but without the reminder, it completely slipped my mind.

In the same vein, I recently attended a huge conference in my field that I benefited from immensely, yet I was never asked for a customer review, never received an advance alumni discount to book next year's event, or offered a book on one of the event's most well-attended topics.

In today's difficult global economy, it's time to take a fresh look at your customer's experiences -- and explore places where you may be leaving money on the table.

How are you achieving new revenue streams with e-mail? Contact Karen and share your successes.

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Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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