Let's face it, we all get too much email; reams of the stuff, some important, some junk, and much just plain irrelevant. Mail service providers have done a pretty good job over the years dealing with the spam, although the legitimate but just plain boring still clogs our inbox.
Google's Gmail service recently announced the introduction of its priority inbox service, a user option that will categorise inbound mail as 'Important' - what Google believes is important; 'Starred' - what you think is important, and 'Everything Else', with mail being diverted into relevant mailboxes. If the 'Everything Else' is like my regular inbox, those emails will not be seeing the light of day any time soon.
The Priority Inbox service works in a typical Google way. Using complex learning algorithms to measure how a user interacts with their mail, how often you correspond with people, your opening history, and the like. It then diverts the mail to what it believes the right place. Other mail providers have and will follow.
From a marketing point of view the knee-jerk reaction is perhaps one of horror. Almost certainly your finely crafted emails are going to end up in the 'Everything Else' box, possibly never to be read, with corresponding impact on opening and click-through rates. It could indeed hurt segments of the industry that send out high-volume impersonalised messages pretty indiscriminately to people where often there is little or no pre-existing relationship.
But therein lies the opportunity for us all to lift our game. To raise the quality and relevance of the email dialogue with our customers that ensures we deserve to be in the Priority Inbox.
What should we be doing to make sure our messages are a priority? The simple answer is to ensure your customer reads them, but I'll try and be a little more helpful than that.
1. Customise content – Content is still king and whilst for many years customising content was hard to do, it gets faster, cheaper, and easier every day. We are not far off custom content being a hygiene factor.
2. Encourage replies – Those messages, "Do not reply to this email" are almost as old as the Internet and its time they went. The ability to efficiently manage large quantities of inbound email is much improved, and it may even win you some extra business.
3. Better targeting – Poorly targeted emails are probably the biggest turn off for any customer. It suggests that the marketer does not understand them and does not respect them.
4. Encourage forwarding - If people value something they will generally share it with their friends and colleagues. This not only raises the priority of the message, but it gets your marketing message to more people, make sure forwarding is easy to do, and that you don't lose the format and integrity of the email on the way
5. Interaction – Invite your customer to interact with the email - polling and soliciting feedback are popular and for some segments simple games work well.
6. Consider timing – Right message at the right time. If a customer plans their dinner arrangements in the late afternoon, we need to ensure we send our dining specials at around 3pm rather than first thing in the morning, the time difference to opening might just nudge you into the priority box.
7. Triggers – Increasing email is a triggered initiative, in response to a customer interaction. The recency of this ensures that we are top of mind, relevant, and opened.
Gmail is, for the most part, a consumer proposition and it does not have much of a footprint in the corporate world. It is a shame, when you consider the volume of unnecessary emails that your colleagues copy you in on, not to mention sending pictures of someone's new cat to the whole company, priority mailboxes would be a godsend. One day!
The big test of any priority email service is whether the users trust the rules and adopts it. It is early days still on this and both users and marketers are, to a degree, playing wait and see. But the general concept is here to stay. We as marketers and customer relationship managers need to embrace the idea and ensure that our email marketing is a dialogue that the customer is going to love.
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Stephen Hay is Asia Pacific regional director for ICLP, the award-winning global loyalty and customer relationship management (CRM) agency. Stephen came into loyalty at Cathay Pacific when e-mail was still something that people in research labs used to send to each other and direct mail was still king.
ICLP works with some of the world's leading customer-focused brands, including Cathay Pacific, Mandarin Oriental, and Juniper Networks; looking to bring brands and customers closer together into a more mutually beneficial and more profitable relationship. Stephen takes a customer point of view on almost everything, not always universally popular, but proven time and again to be the basis for a sustainable, profitable, long-term relationship.
December 5, 2013
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