Convergence Should Be More Than a Buzzword for Email Marketers

  |  May 3, 2011   |  Comments

Apple successfully embedded email marketing in the customer experience. Here's how.

Convergence is an overused term in the business community. Similar to "paradigm," when the word "convergence" is uttered in a meeting, there are bound to some people rolling their eyes at the speaker. At the risk of eliciting a similar response from those reading this column, I think it is time to focus more on convergence in the email channel.

One of the greatest challenges facing email marketing today is the way that large organizations manage the communication medium. Too frequently, the email team is isolated from the broader marketing organization or, worse yet, seen as an execution resource rather than strategic member of the customer relationship team. The concept of convergence is critical for email programs to remain viable and to continue to drive an incredibly high return on investment from the channel and subscribers.

Convergence in email marketing starts with (1) the customer experience, and then continues to (2) the contact strategy and finally ends with (3) engagement reporting and management.

Email communication and cadence is too often defined by promotional calendars. Convergence begins by moving away from this rigid structure and working to embed email communications into the broader customer experience. The issue, in most organizations, is a lack of definition around the customer's interaction with a brand.

Sure, many businesses subscribe to the typical view of lifecycle marketing: acquisition, education, growth, advocacy, and reactivation. However, every industry (think retail, travel, financial services, etc.) and each organization within these industries has created its own unique customer experience. A customer's experience with Apple is different than with Best Buy. A customer's experience with Expedia is different than with Hyatt.

Email marketers should map out the uniqueness of their brands' customer experience. What does the customer need to understand about the brand or its products and services to create the best possible experience? Where are the resources a customer can leverage that are hard to find yet highly valuable? Understanding and mapping the customer experience sets the table for convergence between the email channel and your brands unique customer experience.

How Apple Integrates Email With Brand Engagement

Once the customer experience is mapped, the next step is to identify opportunities where email communication can enhance the brand's unique customer experience. The objective of this step is to create a contact strategy that seamlessly integrates email communication into the brand's engagement with the client.

Consider the unique integration of email at Apple stores. Back in the day, customers waited in a line at a register, paid, grabbed a receipt, and went on their way. Apple redefined (in scale) the retail check-out experience. Now any Apple team member in the store can accept payment on a handheld device, and once the transaction is complete they ask: "Would you like your receipt emailed to you?" The significance of this cannot be overlooked.

Apple leveraged the email channel to eliminate/replace a more traditional process, the printed receipt. Second, the email recipient is more valuable to the consumer than the printed version. The customer does not need to wait for the printed receipt and the receipt is automatically stored in the customer's email client, much harder to lose than the original. Finally (although Apple has yet to take advantage of it), the electronic receipt can help enhance the customer experience. Why just send a welcome message upon email subscription?

For a company like Apple, a welcome email series could be triggered for specific products, providing resources to the consumer and cross-sell opportunities for the brand. The real value of this approach is convergence. Eliminate the paper receipt, deliver it electronically, and transform that communication into an engaging and valuable relationship opportunity for the brand and the consumer.

It's All About the Customer

As email becomes more tightly aligned with the customer experience and your brand's unique contact strategy, it is critical to start tracking engagement across channels. Email cadence and frequency is typically determined by email engagement alone. Today's consumers expect a brand to know that they posted to the company's Facebook page, visited the online store, or commented on a blog. All of these activities help the email marketer determine the level of engagement with the brand and make corresponding decisions of message delivery and timing.

Today, many of the most profitable email programs are driven by insight from cross-channel engagement. Shopping cart abandonment and browser-based triggers are both excellent examples of email communication driven by cross-channel engagement. By reporting on engagement across channels and making that data available to the email channel, brands can identify new communication opportunities based on engagement that increase program performance.

While the concept of convergence is broad and often hard to define, the underlying importance to email is clear: no communication channel can exist in a silo. The consumer has too much access and not enough time to engage with communications that they neither anticipate nor expect. By becoming more embedded in the customer experience, email marketing will generate higher returns and remain a powerful marketing asset.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Deutsch

 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.

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