Is Your Email Program Helping or Hindering the Customer Journey?

I recently spoke at ExactTarget’s multi-city Future of Marketing Tour, where the theme that tied everything together was the customer journey. My section covered email marketing trends in today’s inbox, as well as what the future of the inbox holds for marketers. This seemed very fitting, as email is an essential tool for helping to start the customer journey and drive desired activity during every stage.

Perhaps even more important than whether or not you’re measuring that activity as opens, clicks, or conversions is whether you’re optimizing your email program to successfully nurture customers and prospects as they experience their journeys. Regardless of journey stage, persona, segment, or activity, a successful email program can enhance the customer journey. Likewise, a poor program means missed opportunities for increasing engagement, building relationships and brand affinity, or worse – creating detours that delay the customer from taking the next step in their journey or roadblocks that lead to abandonment of the journey all together.

How would you describe the journeys you are creating for your customers? Are they skipping along the Yellow Brick Road or battling Orcs on the road to Mordor? Are your customers on the path to enlightenment or are they experiencing the walk of shame? Is your journey like a game of Candyland or Chutes and Ladders? Now, think about your email program: does your strategy enhance the customer journey or detract from it? Here are a few signs that indicate whether your email program is contributing to a smooth or bumpy ride:

Coasting in the Fast Lane

  • Your email program is creating highly personalized and customized interactions and touch points. Whether you’re using a company like Movable Ink to combine multi-channel data that serves your subscribers with relevant information in their inboxes in real-time, or another optimization tool, your campaigns are populated with highly relevant content that is unique to the relationship and where your subscribers are in their journeys. 
  • Triggered messaging is used to ensure your subscribers are receiving timely email campaigns supporting a recent activity. This can include welcome messages, abandoned shopping cart messages, requests for product review submissions for recently purchased items, inventory updates on in- or out-of-stock items, promotions related to recent site browsing activity, birthday or anniversary messaging, and so much more.
  • You recognize that the customer journey isn’t linear and that interactions with your brand are happening across channels simultaneously. Your customers are following your brand’s tweets while using their smartphones to search for top-rated products while they’re in your store. As a result, your email campaigns feature product reviews from your website, content that’s trending on your Facebook or Instagram pages, videos from your blog, and inspirational images from your catalogue.

Caution, Danger Ahead

  • Your email messaging is frequently being routed to the spam or junk folder at the major mailbox providers, or is going missing because it’s been blocked. You’re not only losing out on opportunities to connect with your customers and shepherd them along their journeys, but your brand is being lumped in with messaging for porn and pills.
  • Your customers have received phishing or spoofed messages that look like they come from your brand. You haven’t been proactive in educating them about how to spot fraudulent email messages (which is becoming increasingly more difficult as spammers diligently use best practices), you haven’t authenticated your IP addresses, and you aren’t aware of malicious activity occurring on your domains. All it takes is one click for your customers to become vulnerable, thereby negatively impacting their experience with your brand and potentially inspiring them to cease their activity with your email program, or anything else altogether.
  • You haven’t optimized your email for mobile rendering and your website and landing pages aren’t mobile-friendly. Your call-to-action isn’t clear and your messaging doesn’t render well when images aren’t turned on. You’ve neglected to make creative adjustments that will enhance the impact of Gmail’s grid view, your branding isn’t consistently reflected in your templates, and email interactions are creating disjointed experiences that aren’t related to activity in other channels.

When I think of how email supports the customer journey, the travel app TripIt comes to mind. With TripIt, you can have all of your travel information, reservations, booking updates, and itineraries consolidated in one place. That’s how the inbox functions for your customers and prospects as they experience the journeys you create for them. Your email program can either move them forward or set them back. The choice (and their destination) is yours to make.

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