Relevance in E-mail Marketing

  |  June 10, 2010   |  Comments

Relevance and targeting are about keeping customers and building loyalty and enhancing the top and bottom lines.

There's so much going on in the e-mail world right now, it's tough to choose a topic. However, I found myself thinking about my recent experiences on the receiving side of e-mail marketing.

Earlier this month, I stayed at a chain hotel in Los Angeles. I was there on a business trip for just one night and stayed at their LAX airport location. I'm a member of the chain's loyalty rewards program, so it already had my e-mail address and permission to send me e-mail.

A few days after my trip, I received a follow-up e-mail asking about my stay. This is fairly standard behavior and a smart thing for hotels to do. I was a little surprised that it was sent from a third party I didn't recognize and on behalf of the hotel itself rather than on behalf of the loyalty program, but not a big deal.

The e-mail came from an unexpected sender, was a wall of text, and I was in a hurry, so I just deleted it. I simply saw nothing compelling in the message to encourage me to do otherwise.

A week later, I received another e-mail from the LAX property. This time it was a properly formatted HTML e-mail and fairly attractive in its presentation, but it really, really missed the mark. The e-mail I received was entirely targeted at pleasure travelers. Offering weekend getaways and describing the hotel's location as a resource for sightseeing. As I mentioned, my trip to Los Angeles was for business. I've never been to Los Angeles for any reason except business. Quite honestly, I don't have any non-business reason to stay near LAX.

So where did this go wrong for me? The chain did several things wrong in my book.

  • The wrong source: I signed up with the loyalty program. The from name of the e-mails say they come from the specific property at which I stayed. The survey even came from an unknown third party. The from address is a generic customer service address that the message claims is "post-only" - another no no in my book. The unsubscription link however says it will stop messaging from the hotel chain, presumably including my loyalty membership. This situation leaves me confused.

    If I stay at other properties will I start receiving regular offers from each of them? If I opt out, what will I be opting out of? I'm not unhappy with the loyalty program e-mails that I'm receiving; I don't want them to stop. However, I'm really not interested in regular e-mails promoting a hotel I stayed at for a single night and that was selected for me by my office administrator!

  • The wrong message: My requirements when I travel for business are very different to those when I travel for pleasure. Not just the locations but the facilities I desire and the offers that interest me. A quick survey could have made clear the purpose of my travel, which leads to my next point.

  • The wrong conclusions: The text-only survey follow-up may be at the heart of the messaging confusion. That combined with the wrong source and my general disinterest in the hotel experience led to me not responding to the survey. Rather than taking that as my lack of interest, the hotel decided to continue marketing to me and without the insight the survey would have provided they ended up completely missing the mark.

Where do I go from here? I'm not sure. As I mentioned, I'd rather like the e-mails from this particular property to stop, but I'm not sure how to make that happen without impacting other communications. Perhaps I don't care enough about the other communications to bother and I'll just unsubscribe and see what happens.

Therein lies the rub. It may seem that there's little risk to sending less well-targeted messages as recipients will JHD (just hit delete) if they aren't interested. The reality though is that there's a potentially significant opportunity cost. Recipients may opt out, or worse, hit the spam button preventing further communications. They may, if like me they're only very loosely loyal, choose to select an alternate chain next time in hopes of a better experience.

Relevance and targeting are not just about response rates and avoiding blocklisting. It's about keeping customers and building loyalty and enhancing the top and bottom lines. Or failing to do so.

What are your e-mail marketing priorities? Take this quick 10-question survey and we'll share the results back in a future column. Thank you!

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Derek Harding

Derek Harding is the CEO and founder of Innovyx Inc., a member of the Omnicom Group and the first e-mail service provider to be wholly owned by a full-service marketing agency. A British expatriate living in Seattle, WA, Derek is a technologist by background who has been working in online marketing on both sides of the Atlantic for the last 10 years.

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