E-Mail May Cost More Than You Think

Let’s pretend I’m a marketer for a hotel, and I’ve decided to do a direct-mail campaign to announce an expensive renovation we’ve recently completed. I’ve printed up a bunch of mailers, at a significant cost to my company, and mailed them out without proofreading them. But instead of beautiful photographs of guests splashing in the massive new pool, the mailing went out with giant black Xs where photographs should have been. How would this reflect on the resort? Let’s just say I would certainly never be doing any work for it in the future.

Yet this is exactly what happened in an email I recently received from a luxury resort in Florida (the company is a Jupiter Research client, so I’ll keep its identity a secret). None of the photographs in the email displayed in my Yahoo Mail reader; instead, the email welcoming me back to the property was peppered with Xs. If this resort cannot even ensure its marketing is produced correctly, how can I trust my stay will be trouble free?

Obviously, a poorly rendered or typo-riddled email is simply bad business. But what does an email campaign have to do with customer experience? Everything. My colleague and fellow ClickZ columnist Gary Stein wrote a column two weeks ago about four indispensable elements of online branding. I would argue consistency in customer communications is a fifth element of online branding that often goes ignored. E-mail’s low cost has led many marketers to ignore a campaign’s branding aspects — especially the negative.

How much does a bad email reflect on the brand? Check out these gems I’ve received:

  • I sent an email to a major airline after it failed to credit me frequent-flier miles for a recent flight. I received the following message five days later: “The systems will be credit your flight in 2 weeks.” Huh? Airline brands are built on trust and reliability. Does a grammatically challenged email that arrives five days late imply trust and reliability?

  • An email message from a hotel contained two goofs. First, it listed centu@—-.com (I omitted the hotel name) as the sender, rather than the name of the hotel. Then, the message itself contained 12 lines of dashes at the beginning and end of the message, along with the cryptic message, “This safeguard is not inserted when using the registered version.” Doesn’t make you want to run out and make a reservation, does it?
  • A personalized email from a retailer touted several times, “Save 0 percent all day, every day…” That’s an offer I can refuse.
  • Another personalized email from a hotel discounter featured this subject line: “4th of July Deals for Jared.” But the text of the email began, “Dear David.” Who’s David? Why is he getting my personal deals?

E-mail messages are inexpensive and easy to create, factors that have led many marketers to use them carelessly. Just as many of us send email to friends with little thought as to how it will be received, marketers frequently send email without considering the message’s branding implications. How else can you explain the errors I’ve noted above?

The reason for this disconnect is, typically, direct marketers and brand marketers are different animals. How different? I’ve frequently heard brand managers at large companies say their email marketing coworkers often try to subvert the corporation’s branding efforts by altering logos, changing colors, and ignoring the look-and-feel guidelines for corporate communications.

Direct marketers are simply less concerned with these somewhat softer branding issues; rather, they generally focus on highly measurable response metrics. If a company’s approved colors are red and blue but email with green graphics brings a better response rate, the direct marketer will fight for the green graphics, despite the long-term benefits of consistent branding.

Aside from look-and-feel issues, the email gaffes I’ve noted betray the company’s underlying branding messages. If a personalized email’s message is, “We understand your needs,” then the company’s brand is fully compromised when a lazy marketer (or a malfunctioning database) addresses me as David. When a hotel’s branding is focused on attention to detail, an email loaded with mistakes betrays that branding.

I cannot stress enough simply because an email is inexpensive to send does not mean it’s free. The cost of ignoring, distorting, or undermining a brand’s message runs far higher than a $3 CPM. That cost won’t show up on your click-through report, but it will show up when customers stop returning.

Meet Jared at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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