Breaking the Ice

Human beings have always struggled with interpersonal communications. A trip to your local bookstore reveals myriad books and periodicals focused on developing, refining, and enhancing communication skills. Though frustrating at times, I remember the delight my wife and I had when our children were learning to speak. Those first words were the toughest, and the most rewarding to hear.

For most, introducing ourselves to someone new at a party, in a business setting, or at a social event is challenging. Many are bewildered by the process of introduction and investigation. We struggle to find the right words to begin a conversation. Who hasn’t fumbled with the words to approach someone new? It’s awkward and takes courage to make that leap of faith. What if we’re rejected or, worse, ignored?

With all the talk about the absolute necessity of building stronger relationships and cherishing customers, we’re still in the earliest stages of interactive customer dialogue. E-mail authentication standards, deliverability, and open and click rates are only the beginning of relationship building. A casual review of many marketers’ current open rates reveals most could be doing a much better job gaining customer interest. In a crowded party setting, the marketer may be in the same room as his customer, but they’re not paying much attention to each other.

Marketing and advertising were long confined to broadcast media. That’s the equivalent of shouting in a large, noisy room, “Anyone interested in me?” Most marketers don’t care enough to measure if anyone answers affirmatively. Broadcast marketers shout their message louder and more frequently, hoping eventually those interested in learning more will find their way through the crowd to the offer. This approach is archaic in the context of the Internet and changing media consumption patterns.

Yes, it’s important to ensure your message reaches its desired recipient. Yet I worry an intense focus on deliverability means email will suffer the same trashcan fate as most direct mail. E-mail dialogues so closely parallel human interaction. Marketers are challenged with the process of constructing a conversation.

If you’re actively interested in building relationships with customers via email, go beyond deliverability. Focus on campaign information. Once you’re sure your list is clean and satisfied your service provider delivers your messages to recipients, obsessively focus on open and click rates.

If open rates are low (e.g., 15 percent), resolve to develop test programs that combine new subject lines and a wide range of offers, all designed to boost open rates. You can’t build a relationship with a customer who trashes your message before opening it. Over time, it makes no sense to keep “customers” on your list if they haven’t opened a message from you in the last six months. It means they’re not interested.

Next, move toward customers who open messages and click through, but don’t convert. You’re having a good conversation with a customer who doesn’t take the desired action. Why? Have you thought about it? If e-commerce revenue is growing, is that good enough? What if you could convert another 15-30 percent of customers who open and click but don’t convert? It would transform your business and your career.

Is the navigation between the email and the landing page correct? Are the offers truly competitive? Do you provide effective tools to shop now and pay later? Do you have a program that reconnects with an abandoned shopping cart or abandoned visitors to remind or poll them on what can be done to capture the sale?

It starts with a deep understanding of the customer. How much do you know about her? Not your analytics or IT team, but you, the marketer responsible for building profitable, ongoing relationships. Do you have real-time access to customer preferences, customer service, and transactional interactions with your company? Or is this data in some spreadsheet that merely increases the size of a customer warehouse database?

Be an evangelist for gaining access to all customer data. Organize protest marches within your office; storm the gates of IT and demand access to the data. Without this information and desire to truly interact with customers, you’re in a world where there’s no relationship between the dollars you spend on marketing and the bottom line.

Organizations are beginning to “get it.” However, no one’s fully gotten it yet, except a few market leaders obsessively focused on white-boarding the frameworks of customer dialogues. They’re moving away from a broadcast, blast mentality to the tough work of communicating with customers on a one-to-one basis. It’s very difficult work. It’s a new language. It’s like those first words: “mama” and “dada.” It can and will be equally as rewarding.

Until next time, happy Thanksgiving.

Al D.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

Related reading