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How to Prepare for B2B E-mail's Future

  |  December 29, 2010   |  Comments

Because of social and mobile media, interaction with customers and prospects has evolved. Here are three ways to adapt.

E-mail may no longer be the only channel by which marketers communicate, but it's certainly not dying as some have predicted over the past several years. E-mail is far from dead, but it has evolved. It has become of one of the many channels your prospects and customers prefer to use to drive the conversation with you brand. Your customers don't actively look to use social media or mobile over e-mail, they are simply looking to communicate with you through more and more channels than ever before.

In 2011, e-mail marketing will move away from sending newsletters, alerts, or other passive, one-way experiences to truly helping to drive conversations with your customers and prospects. Subscribers will look to keep the conversation going with you via social media and mobile as well.

The Multi-Channel Evolution of B2B E-mail Marketing

As the year draws to an end, it presents a good opportunity to reflect on how B2B e-mail has evolved and speculate where B2B e-mail is going in 2011 and beyond. Sending a newsletter or occasional alerts to your customers and prospects via e-mail used to be the cornerstone of most B2B e-mail marketing plans. However, sands have shifted and your busy B2B subscribers expect you to send them relevant messages before they will engage.

Facebook has grown to over 500 million users in 2010, with over 50 percent logging on in any given day. LinkedIn has grown to over 85 million users with a new user registering every second. To be effective in 2011, your B2B e-mail marketing program needs to continue to evolve by engaging readers and encouraging relevant two-way conversation via these channels as well.

In 2010, including "share with your network (SWYN)" links was a good first step. It is very valuable to have your message shared and spread by your loyal customers. However, a conversation is much more than just placing social media icons in your creative and asking your readers to share. Create conversations between your brand and your customers to fully realize the value of the social media channel.

Planning targeted messages? Your plans should include delivering targeted messages to a post to a LinkedIn group, on Facebook, via Twitter, on your corporate blog, in a YouTube video, and/or via an SMS message – in addition to e-mail. As a result, your customers may answer your e-mail messages via your LinkedIn group or on Twitter and vice versa. Addressing your customers across all these channels will play an important role in stimulating engagement with your customers and prospects.

 

Most B2B marketers know who they want as customers. We define our target customers via the traditional market segmentation approach by geography, industry, and size. In 2011, the key to creating a conversation with a customer or prospect is building a deeper relationship with them through understanding their needs and motivations. Engaging customers and prospects on this level can dramatically increase their perceived value, which should positively impact your ROI.

In 2011, move beyond traditional segmentation practices and look to behavioral traits to help you understand your customers' needs and motivations. Analyze the e-mail and website content they are interacting with to tap into customer concerns and business problems and then fine-tune product and pricing strategies to achieve maximum impact. Observe what social networks they use and when they use them to identify potential social influencers and help you plan the most effective multi-channel content.

Rethink How You Collect E-mail Addresses

Traditionally, B2B marketers have assumed that anyone who attends an event where their brand was present or is on a list they purchased is eligible to receive their marketing e-mails. While it is true that B2B e-mails are generally exempt from the "permission" requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act, but meeting the legal minimum requirement is not the optimal e-mail marketing strategy.

In 2011, use explicit permission as your minimum requirement for e-mail marketing. You are putting your brand and yourself at risk when you send e-mail to people, even B2B recipients, without their explicit consent. They will opt-out and typically have a very tainted impression of your brand. Many recipients who are active in social media can easily slam your brand for unsolicited marketing in these channels as well - even if you meet legal minimum standards. This is certainly not the best strategy in markets with relatively small or close-knit target customer bases.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Hotz

Mike Hotz is a senior strategic consultant for Responsys, working with clients to design, develop, and execute cross-channel digital marketing strategies that contribute to their cross-channel digital marketing success. As an industry veteran, Mike has worked in e-mail marketing since 1998, designing, building, and executing e-mail and multichannel direct marketing strategies focusing on increasing customer engagement, nurturing leads, supporting sales organizations, and driving revenue for companies such as CDW, OfficeMax, Grant Thornton, and Digitalwork.com.

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