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Dialogues of Equals

  |  May 28, 2003   |  Comments

No more hard sell! Four steps to make your newsletter create a dialogue with readers.

I made a presentation at last week’s ClickZ E-Mail Strategies. I’ll share part of it today for those who couldn’t attend the event.

My talk focused on how newsletter publishers can avoid being just another interruption in a prospect’s day by providing content the reader wants, needs, and seeks out. In doing so, not only do you let your prospects sell themselves, you’ll also demonstrate you’re prepared to participate in their lives in a meaningful way. For we newsletter publishers, this means changing our communications philosophy -- what we say and how we deliver information. The result is a dialogue of equals.

What does a dialogue of equals mean? It means going beyond the one-way communication most marketers have adopted in e-communications. It means tuning into behavioral differences, into how prospects react to the online marketing that flows into their lives and how it affects their overall online experience.

Most online marketers continue to use a one-way methodology. They throw something out there and wait for the sale. Prospects want to be sold right off the bat, but one-way communications just won’t get the job done. Building trust and confidence a customer can rely on will.

I’ve shared many of my thoughts on this topic already, but to make the point in my presentation, I came up with a very good test I think all publishers should take from time to time. Take it yourself now. You might be surprised by the answers.

Are you holding a one-way e-conversation with your readers?

  • In your newsletter, is there a way for customers to show or tell you their preferences?

  • Is your promotion embedded in relevant content, or is the message 99 percent promotional with a little information included?

  • In your messaging, do you use the word "we" limitedly?

  • Do you measure effectiveness by more than just click-through and open rates?

  • Do you segment your list and send different emails to different segments?

  • Is personalization more than addressing recipients by name?

If you answered "no" to more than just a couple of these questions, admit it: You’re a one-way marketer.

Understand you’re not listening, not responding. You’ve not yet aligned yourself with your readers’ online behavior, experiences, and expectations. You most likely still send campaigns rather than manage email conversations.

This is getting you nowhere fast, isn’t it?

Change Your Ways

The quality of listen-and-respond communications can take an email dialogue far beyond selling, advertising, and marketing. With a very customer-focused approach to messaging, content, frequency, segmentation, and metrics, you can begin to create a dialogue of equals. You will truly understand where the prospect is in the buying process. This will demonstrate you’re listening to readers, not just to the sound of clicks.

Another huge benefit of dialogues of equals is your newsletters will be less spam-like.

Ways to start a dialogue of equals with your readers:

  1. Organize programs around building email conversations.

  2. Use learning analytics to segment customers into behavior personae, not demographics. For example:

    I have pets and so does my friend. However, I’m married with no children, while my friend has three boys. To me, my cats are friends to spend time with; my friend’s dog is a playmate for her children.

  3. Sequence messages according to the buyer’s buying cycle:

    • Stop asking customers to act now (selling).

    • Lead them through the decision cycle with appropriate content (informing).

    • Embed loyalty plans into useful/helpful content to build referrals or greater trust.

  4. Offer to first let them try, then buy, your product or service. Rich media and secure transaction are simple tools to accomplish this.

In future columns, we’ll explore segmentation more, including the importance of psychographics. Meantime, email your thoughts!

Meet Kathleen at ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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Kathleen Goodwin

Kathleen Goodwin is the former CEO of IMN (formerly iMakeNews), specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis' publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.

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