Here are two tactics that can help you collect data at different points in the customer relationship.
I keep thinking about how e-mail relevance drives engagement and increases reputation and delivery. I laid out some ideas in my previous ClickZ column, "Show Value to Solve Relevance Challenges," but now it's time to get tactical.
"The right message" represents a key element of the relevance equation. Segmenting your mailing list into buckets of customers with similar interests offers the best way to get the right message in front of people who will be most receptive to it.
Getting the kind of data that will give you the most useful segmentation can be a challenge if you don't collect much information from new subscribers when they sign up.
One avenue: a welcome program that moves newcomers to preference pages. But it's not the only approach. It also doesn't help you collect key data from longtime subscribers.
The following two tactics will help you collect data at different points in the customer or subscriber relationship. There are more, of course, but these two work for me time and time again.
Track Link Click Behavior
Where do your recipients click in your messages? Observing what they do can give you enough data to begin segmenting. It's also a good argument for giving your subscribers more choice in calls to action than just "click here."
For example, suppose it makes sense for your campaign to segment by gender. Some online retailers are ramping up choice in their messages by offering two distinct calls to action, with links labeled "Shop Men's" and "Shop Women's."
Naturally, each call to action will need its own landing page with products that reflect the click of choice. But for segmentation, you can move everyone who clicked on the "Shop Men's" button into one segment, and then serve future e-mail messages that feature men's products front and center.
This tactic doesn't require special software. You need only track links to create the segments and increase future message relevance.
One caution: This tactic applies only to future messaging relevance, because you need a click from the recipient to trigger link tracking and subsequent segmentation. Subscribers who haven't clicked on your messages will still see a default message.
This tactic can also help you solve that age-old challenge of attribution: which click drove the sale? If you have a store and a Web site, how can you track sales back to the e-mail message?
One candy retailer solves this problem by putting two coupons in one e-mail message: one for their stores and one for the Web site. The retailer can use the coupons to track and attribute sales and segment customers who prefer shopping in one location to another.
Use Progressive Profiles
With this technique, you add a brief poll to your e-mail message to collect information for future segmentation. You've probably used polling before to gather topical information (newsletter topics, new product features, etc.), but here you use the data to form segments.
The profiles often look like a short poll or survey in an e-mail message, with radio-button responses. You're not actually coding an HTML form into the e-mail, because they might not render correctly across a variety of browsers and platforms.
However, you can design images that look like buttons. When a specific button is clicked, that data can be written to a profile table and respondents redirected to a response page which either thanks them for their input or presents a product page, depending on your poll's purpose.
This would be appropriate for a welcome or onboarding program where you're building preference data on new customers. Survey questions might appear random, but you're actually building a storehouse of data one question at a time, which can draw greater response than if you ask customers to click on question after question on a preference page.
Progressive Profiling's Side Benefit
Besides collecting valuable data to increase message relevance, these short surveys or polls can increase clicks from recipients who aren't interested in that particular offer.
People like to answer questions - especially those that relate to the subject matter or show a clear benefit, such as promising more relevance in future messages.
These surveys and polls have been shown to increase response rates, which in turn increases engagement - one of the metrics ISPs use now to measure your sender reputation. More clicks on e-mails, even if they don't lead to conversions, will improve your reputation and help your delivery.
Two notes about using polls: Explain why you're asking for the information and share the results with your readers, showing how you're using what you learned to improve your message content.
For example, if you learn that most of your respondents don't understand the benefits of one of your leading products, add a short FAQ or how-to module in a future newsletter to address that.
This kind of transparency and response shows readers they can have an impact on your e-mail content. This builds trust and raises the likelihood that subscribers will click on your polls or surveys in future messages.
Until next time, keep on deliverin'!
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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.
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