Making the E-mail Channel Less Myopic

Today, sophisticated e-mail marketers have become adept at presenting channel performance based on things more broadly understood within their business – revenue per e-mail and lifetime value of subscriber, to name a few. Too few e-mail marketers, however, have taken the time to understand and define an online contact strategy that takes into consideration not just e-mail activity, but overall engagement with a brand.

Business systems are deployed within organizations that allow marketers access to customer-level brand interaction in-store, on the Web, in communities, and within e-mail. E-mail marketers must define engagement at a brand level and build a strategy that is inclusive of these customer touch points. Many professionals look to begin this process by accessing business systems and centralizing data. While that is important, it is not the first step. First, engagement must be defined in the context of a brand’s unique customer experience by identifying and mapping customer touch points during the customer lifecycle. Next, a contact strategy needs to be developed to maximize the value of each touch point, and finally, data centralization and system integration needs to be built to support the program.

Defining Engagement

At a recent conference focusing on e-mail marketing, a number of brands defined engagement as anyone who opened or interacted with an e-mail in the past six months. This view is too channel-centric. The consumer does not see brand experiences this way. Engagement must be defined based on in-store activity, browser-based behaviors, online shopping, community involvement, social posts, loyalty program participation, etc. A consumer takes every interaction, across channel, into account when mentally building loyalty with a brand.

Marketers must adhere to this same measure of engagement. To define engagement, e-mail marketers must create a detailed list of cross-channel opportunities for a consumer to engage with a brand. Once the list of touch points is created, they should be “mapped.”

In essence, marketers need to identify the following types of touch points:

  1. Touch points initiated by the consumer that result in a communication or conversation.
  2. Touch points initiated by the brand that result in a communication or conversation.
  3. Touch points initiated by the consumer that trigger no communication or conversation.

Once this is complete, the brand has an engagement inventory and overall engagement can be defined based on the customer experience.

The Contact Strategy

E-mail marketers have become proficient at developing campaigns based on customer touch points, changes in consumer data, or triggers from certain business systems (e.g., e-commerce). However, like many disciplines within an organization, e-mail remains largely siloed, and the owners of the channel build programs and campaigns without much involvement from other areas of the organization. When direct mail and e-mail were the primary channels for direct marketing, this was acceptable. However, new technologies that turn Web browsing into a direct channel and new channels themselves (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) have emerged that require the direct marketer to build a multichannel contact strategy that creates a seamless experience for the consumer.

Consumers expect brands to know everything about their relationship. When a customer purchases an iPhone 4 from Apple, they expect Apple to know that they have already owned the iPhone 3GS and to communicate with her as a long-time customer, not one at the beginning of a new relationship. A contact strategy should outline how customer segments are engaged across channels and touch points.

Contact strategies treat new customers different from repeat buyers and assign specific communication to groups identified as “Best Customers” or “Advocates.” Contact strategies should seek to promote cross-channel brand engagement, introducing unique content on each channel that the brand leverages for communication. E-mail marketers can start simple, by building contact strategies for segments like engaged customers, unengaged customers, and advocates. Just be sure that the contact strategy influences how the brand responds to each touch point that is identified in the engagement inventory.

Integration and Automation

Once the business has built the engagement inventory and defined contact strategies based on customer segments, it is time to bring it all together through data centralization and campaign automation. Building a contact strategy based on engagement touch points cannot be done manually. E-mail solutions must be integrated into core workflows that monitor customer activity and make decisions about offers and content.

Most enterprises have invested heavily in data warehousing, multi-channel campaign management, and e-mail marketing technologies. The problem is not the lack of technical capabilities but the lack of a detailed contact strategy for these business systems to act on. With the contact strategy in hand and the right support from the CIO and CMO, many e-mail marketers are surprised at what their systems are capable of supporting. The problem is that most companies tackle the technology first and strategy second – an approach that is doomed to fail.

Consumers expect brands to understand their relationship in general, not by channel. As the inbox morphs and message delivery begins to rely less on reputation and more on engagement, brands must invest in multi-channel contact strategy development or risk irrelevance. No channel, e-mail included, can exist in isolation in today.

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