Campaigns are a critical part of the day-in-a-life of all e-mail marketers. Many organizations organize their e-mail marketing teams by campaign, giving a campaign manager responsibility for a specific program and the results that the program drives. In large organizations with complex products and customer relationships, you may find four to six campaign managers responsible for contributions to revenue and the customer experience.
Many businesses have invested in multi-channel campaign management systems, giving them the ability to execute campaigns across e-mail, direct mail, and the Web seamlessly. We classify our campaigns as transactional, promotional, and experiential, among others. When we look at reports, we often compare campaign performance against previous campaigns or similar programs running in parallel. While this focus on campaign management has made e-mail one of the most profitable direct channels in the marketer's arsenal, it has clouded our view of something more important: relationship management.
If e-mail marketers are focusing on campaign-level strategy and execution, who is left to focus on the broader relationship between the brand and consumer and how content, cadence, and channel preference all come together to create a relationship of trust between the brand and the consumer?
Let's look at some examples of how a focus on the relationship changes the way we look at the programs we run and inevitably makes e-mail campaigns more effective.
Relationships Are Always Evolving
Relationships develop over time, and as they develop, the investment and commitment to the relationship by all involved parties changes. Campaigns do not evolve. They have a start and an end, giving marketers a point at which they can assess success or failure. I'm aware that many e-mail campaigns are multi-stage or multi-threaded, but at their core, they focus on a near-term result.
Let's consider a common e-mail campaign, the welcome message. At point of subscription (or in some cases, purchase), a brand sends a message or series of messages to the subscriber. In their simplest form, these welcome programs confirm subscription. In more elaborate examples, a series of e-mails helps introduce the subscriber to the brand and the value of the e-mails she will be receiving in the future. Very rarely are welcome messages leveraged throughout the relationship, after the initial subscription is complete. Why not? It seems obvious that a subscriber's needs and interests may change over time.
As a consumer leverages a brand's service or product, they become more familiar, more sophisticated, and their needs change. Brands should plan for this by creating programs that foster a deeper and more meaningful relationship. Rather than creating a target for a campaign, create profiles that, based on identified data attributes, inform the brand on the relationship stage each customer or subscriber is currently in. Traditional attributes like recency, frequency, and monetary can be used, but new data like Facebook posts, user-generated content contribution, and loyalty program status can all be used to define the profile. Armed with this, e-mail communications that foster the strengthening of the relationship can be developed. The result: better relationships and better campaign performance.
Relationships Are Bi-Directional
While relationships involve two-way interaction, I'm not certain that the same can be said of campaigns. Campaigns tend to focus on the needs of the marketer, not the consumer or subscriber. The campaign itself (the tone, topic, and content) is based on a marketing calendar that takes into account very little of the subscriber's current relationship status, areas of interest, or environmental factors. The best relationships start with listening that in turn leads to understanding.
Today, many brands have developed communication strategies based on listening, such as behavior-based programs triggered by shopping cart abandonment or browse behavior. But here again, these strategies are being used to enhance campaign results, not to deepen the relationship with the customer.
Last week, while speaking at an e-mail conference, I asked a room full of e-mail marketers how many of them listened to customers, either through tools from companies like Radian6, Nielsen Buzz Metrics, StrongMail, or within their own communities and loyalty programs. Only about six hands shot up. I then asked, of those companies that listened, how many edited or changed their campaign content based on what they heard. Only one hand remained in the air. Out of a room of 40-plus e-mail marketers, only one was listening to consumer sentiments and trends on the social Web and adapting the content of their e-mail based on that knowledge. The best part was that it wasn't a retailer or travel firm, but a financial services business! Who would have guessed?
Campaigns are being created by the marketer, for the marketer. With the pervasiveness of the social Web, e-mail program content should be based on listening and understanding the things surrounding your brand and customers and then adapting program content and cadence accordingly.
Relationships Are Complicated
E-mail marketing programs cannot base subscriber relationships on the e-mail channel alone. E-mail subscribers are interacting with the community, loyalty program, Facebook page, Twitter streams, and a number of other channels that are hard to identify and even harder to track. Attribution for the e-mail channel remains primarily based on last click, but the reality is that most brands' e-mail subscribers represent their most engaged and profitable customer segments. In order to maintain this, we need to treat subscribers accordingly.
As they post to Facebook, act as brand advocates on the social Web, or provide ratings and reviews, we need to recognize these investments in the relationship and respond. Re-engagement campaigns are common practice in most companies. If a customer has not opened or clicked an e-mail in six months, then they are considered "unengaged" and added to the re-engagement campaign. But are they really unengaged? What if they have shopped on your site? What if they have participated in your online communities or are active in the Facebook channel? As marketers, we need to treat these as engagement events. Just because engagement happens outside of e-mail, it doesn't mean engagement hasn't occurred. Developing relationships with subscribers will require e-mail marketers to be smarter than they are today and aware of all customer touch points with the brand.
Campaigns will continue to be a critical part of how we manage communications with our customers. However, look at these campaigns as a means to enhance the overall relationship between brand and consumer, and channel performance will grow as that relationship deepens.
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Ryan Deutsch was vice president of strategic services, StrongMail, up until July 2011. There, he worked closely with senior e-mail marketers at large brands to help them increase subscriber engagement and improve program effectiveness. Before that, Deutsch served as vice president of marketing automation at Premiere Global Services, where he was instrumental in managing customer relationships with numerous global brands. Previously, Deutsch held senior sales and marketing management roles at Twelve Horses and Springdot.
An online marketing veteran and industry thought leader, Deutsch has more than 14 years of direct marketing experience across the catalog, retail, and publishing industries. Deutsch is a regular contributor to marketing industry publications, including MediaPost, DM News, BtoB Magazine, and Chief Marketer, and is a frequent speaker at industry events, including the DMA Annual, eTail, Email Evolution Conference, ad:tech, and the MediaPost Email Insider Summit.
March 19, 2014