Easy Local E-mail Solutions

I’ve spent time lately thinking about the local merchants in my neighborhood, and just how far they are from truly leveraging e-mail to build better customer relationships. Too often we talk about how properly designed e-mail strategies can drive large Fortune 1000 organizations. Many of the same strategies and technologies can perform incredibly well for the local merchant.

Here are just two examples.

The Local Fitness Club

Like many of you, I frequent the local fitness club. Along with other passionate fitness addicts, I’m there to learn more about fitness and health surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals. Behind the Lifecycle equipment and flat-screen TVs is a major business. Fitness centers derive revenue from subscription fees and supplement these fees with a share of the revenue generated by training programs administered by a team of instructors in each facility. The goal for each trainer is to book training sessions with each member. The club makes money each time a member books and uses a session.

At my club, this model’s flaw lies in the primary communications channels used to encourage this behavior: the telephone and direct mail. Dave, my trainer, he has to resort to calling in a reminder the evening before a session. Dave’s a good guy and a great trainer, but the club leaves it to him to keep track of my booked sessions. When he realizes I’m low on sessions, he prompts me to renew my commitment. Such an old-school way of doing things.

Why not try an e-mail solution? First, the club collects e-mail addresses for all members, saving boatloads of dollars on direct mail and postage. Next, it builds a customer database to track member profiles and their training regimen. Then, it creates a series of relevant e-mail communications to remind members of training sessions. The club could also produce a newsletter, with personalized diet, exercise, and supplement (available at the club) suggestions for each member.

Just think how excited fitness marketers would be if a fitness chain would place their messaging in an ongoing newsletter, alert, or reminder message program. That’s the right audience at the right time for an advertiser. One or two advertisers would likely cover the entire cost of the communications program. What an incredible combination: more effective communication, money saved on direct mail and postage, and an advertiser partners to underwrite communication costs.

The Local Clothing Store

Westport, CT, has no shortage of clothing stores. They all compete with one another, national chains, and nearby shopping malls. Again, virtually all the communications I receive from these merchants, regardless of my ongoing purchasing patterns, is via direct mail. Recently, I received two bound copies of a Mitchell’s catalog.

Mitchell’s has been a Fairfield County institution for decades. The family prides itself on impeccable service and quality. Buying from the store is a very special experience. You’re served by family members who truly have your interest and taste as their highest priority. Many other retailers would be well served to take a page from Mitchell’s playbook when it comes to customer service.

Like other retailers, Mitchell’s is missing an opportunity to leverage e-mail. First, the store must collect customer e-mail addresses in all its stores. Then, it builds a database that matches point-of-sale purchase information to the customer’s profile. That way, Mitchell’s has a better understanding on a customer-by-customer basis of the type of clothing each customer purchases: designer, style, price range, time of year, and so on.

What an incredible service Mitchell’s could offer by sending personalized e-mail messages to customers based on their profile. It could alert a customer it has his favorite designer’s new line of suits in stock. Newsletters might provide helpful tips on dressing for success, or for a specific season or event. It could send reminder messages about tailoring, gift suggestions for holidays, trunk sales… All personalized by customer preference and profile.

Would the designers that partner with the chain to published these old line catalogs and brochures be willing to do target marketing inside customer -specific communications? No doubt.

What prevents these local businesses from changing their ways? They’re too busy working within their existing models to think outside the box. That’s our job. We must start promoting the tools, services, and strategies that can and should be deployed on a local level to help these merchants scale their businesses in a new world of customer communications.

Until next time,

Al D.

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

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