Get to Know Your Customers With ‘Interactive’ Email

Email marketers have always been affected by the technical limitations of the channel. In short, you can’t build interactive emails: forms get stripped out in Outlook, Flash doesn’t work, you need to design to the lowest common denominator, etc. For years, email marketers have been patiently waiting for Microsoft and other ISPs to widely roll out interactive email, but despite some recent inroads with Hotmail and HTML5, the waiting continues. However, if you’re looking to iteratively profile your customers, you don’t need to wait for the introduction of new-fangled technologies. You can start down that path today.

The following are some good and fairly easy-to-implement examples of how brands are using a variety of approaches to improve engagement and gain critical insights that can be leveraged in future communications.

The Product Poll – Kodak Gallery

Knowing what features your customers like best about a product is extremely valuable feedback for both product development and future marketing efforts. In order to get this information, the most reliable way is to simply ask them. Kodak Gallery did just that in its monthly “Exposure” newsletter.


By inserting individual hyperlinks that linked to a JavaScript-enabled web page, Kodak Gallery made it possible for the recipient to mark their selection in the email, which launched a web page that automatically registered their response on the backend and then served up the overall poll results across all participants.

With this technique, Kodak Gallery has created a true interactive email experience that works within the current confines of the channel. As more email clients support HTML5, it will eventually be possible to avoid sending your customers to a web page, but Kodak’s current method at least encourages a click while eliminating any additional steps that need to happen on the web.

The Customer Satisfaction Survey – AAA

While Kodak Gallery made its poll part of an existing email communications stream, you can try sending a dedicated email to garner more responses. With a dedicated email drop, you don’t have to worry about the recipient missing the call-to-action in a sea of other competing content. When AAA wanted to gauge its current customer satisfaction levels, it relied on this approach. Given the importance of this information, it makes sense that AAA would want to garner as many responses as possible.


Not only was the email short and to the point, it also only had one question – “How likely are you to recommend AAA to friends and family?” It could have asked for a lot more detail, but that would have likely reduced the number of responses that AAA would have received.

Like Kodak Gallery, AAA used individual hyperlinks to capture the response. However, given the sensitivity of the information provided, the confirmation page thanked the recipient for their response, but didn’t serve up an average response.

With a simple email template and a little landing page development, AAA now has incredibly valuable information on which of its customers are brand advocates, and which might need some extra attention to get them to that stage.

Trivia – Lexus

If JavaScript-enabled pages seem a little out of your league, and you don’t have the budget to have your email service provider assist, you can still drive engagement with a static trivia element that not only educates and informs, but also generates a click.

At the end of Lexus’ monthly newsletter is a “LexusTrivia” feature that promotes the multimedia display for the new GS 450h. By asking recipients to identify the one thing it doesn’t do, Lexus cleverly communicates its benefits while having fun with the one wrong answer – you can’t cast a mayoral vote with it. To find the answer, the recipient clicks through to a page with a humorous explanation and one button to find out more information on the GS 450h.


With just a simple link and a landing page, Lexus encourages its customers to interact with its brand in a fun and informative way.

Gathering Customer Data Shouldn’t Be a One-Time Event

While you might be tempted to gather tons of useful customer information during the registration process, this can actually distract or prevent you from achieving your ultimate goal – registration. Not only that, some questions are better asked after your customer has a more established relationship with your brand. By providing mechanisms for your customers to provide you feedback and preference information throughout the customer lifecycle, you can fine-tune your communications and establish a mutually rewarding relationship that drives revenue and customer satisfaction.

Use simple techniques like the brands above to engage and interact with your customer. You don’t need to wait for email 2.0; you can start learning more about them now.

This column was originally published Oct. 4, 2011.

Related reading