Part Art, Part Science, Part 2: Keep It Relevant

Optimizing your email communications is one part art and one part science. In this five-part series, we’ll explore the essential elements of creating truly effective and efficient email communications. Last time, I talked about strategy. Today, we’ll look at how to keep email messages to your audience.

Part 2: Keep It Relevant

For as long as I can remember, someone has been trying to convince me recycling all my newspapers, catalogs, magazines, and direct mail pieces is the right thing to do. Right up there with mom and apple pie. Everywhere I look, instructional placards point to the proper place to dispose of this wasted paper.

“Discard your magazines here” reads the dumpster at the end of the train platform. “We will be collecting all unwanted newspapers and magazines before we land,” intones the flight attendant. At the local recycling station (“the county dump,” as we used to call it), there are even special trailers where you can separate magazines from your direct mail and newspapers. Daily, tons of paper head for the trash heap to be recycled and returned to us consumers in the form of coupon inserts and dry-cleaning cardboard.

Seems like a tremendous waste of good advertising dollars, doesn’t it? Marketers just like you have paid literally billions of dollars to position their messaging in the proper environment to ensure their brand or product is viewed by their target audience so one more customer can be acquired or protected from their competition.

Months of focus groups, creative consultations, testing, planning, and strategizing have culminated in a campaign that finds its final resting place in recycling containers.

I won’t be foolish enough to claim the bulk of this print collateral is a waste of money, but I hope you’ll agree I’ve made a point. A careful look at the latest UCLA Internet Report confirms many consumers are spending less time with traditional media while their usage of the Internet and email is growing.

Early Web pioneers who “followed the money” inevitably fell into the same trap as direct marketers. They confused the medium with the message. By adopting a broadcast mentality, they planned interactive media like direct mail, catalogs, and print advertising. They thought, “Bring me the boxcars full of impressions and I will find my audience.” They believed interactive media is “cheap,” so there was no need to customize messaging.

Like their print brethren, all the irrelevant messages targeted to (against?) disinterested surfers found their way to the virtual dump heap. Wailing and lamenting was heard throughout the land, as some marketers felt a new medium had promised the world and betrayed its true believers. “Banners are dead,” read the epitaph. But, like the death knells of print, magazines, outdoor, radio, and TV before them, rumors of their demise were exaggerated.

The lessons learned from these experiences are critical. Every medium has its place. In a society where information overload is the norm, marketers must leverage all available resources to create messaging that meets the specific needs of their best prospects and customers. Relevancy and return on investment (ROI) are critical components in the marketing mix — more than ever.

Relevance in the form of targeted, contextual messaging on an individual basis in mass media (TV, print, radio, and the Web) is either impossible or cost prohibitive. Enter email. In no other medium can you communicate as cost efficiently with your customers or prospects on a one-to-one basis. Used correctly, the power of email communications can achieve new levels in personalized, contextual, and targeted communications. Take it a step further — by sequencing both your offline and online communications — and you’ll witness exponential growth and success.

According to a recent AMR Research report, response to targeted email campaigns is 7 to 12 times higher than mass mailings. How do you build targeted, relevant messaging? The process requires:

  • Customer preferences and profile information. Use registration pages, surveys, and preference centers to understand your customer needs better than the competition does.
  • Observed behavior. Action and inaction speak volumes. Watch customers’ behaviors and interests to build individual profiles based on their actions.
  • Ongoing intelligence and integration. The most powerful, personalized email communications are born out of an integrated view of the customer across all touch points and departments. Marketers should leverage the power of all their databases to build a 360-degree view of the customer. Important touch points, such as point of sale and customer service, can help you create communications that are true competitive advantages.

Case Study: A Leading Retailer and Cataloger*

Background. A leading retailer wanted to increase sales loyalty and average sale per customer across its large existing and new customer base.

Solution. The client developed a 360-degree view of the customer across all touch points, including the print catalog, Web site, and email communication channels. The goal was ultimately to improve customer knowledge and understanding to craft more targeted and relevant communications. The solution included:

  • Consumer information. Consumer information and preferences, including language and product interests, were collected.
  • Observation. Behaviors were observed over time, including a full analysis of previous purchase patterns.
  • Database integration. Disparate databases were aggregated to provide a view of individual consumers over the entire organization’s products and services.
  • Model development. Using the above, the client built a series of profiles to launch a targeted email communications program to over 10 distinct market segments. Segments included English- and Spanish-language versions, based on individual profiles.

Results. The retailer increased repeat customer sales as much as 70 to 80 percent in some product segments. Sales grew as high as 200 percent in several product segments. Today, the program is being expanded to grow to potentially more than 40 different segments in multiple languages. Email is being used to sequence messaging with offline marketing efforts. Conversion has increased by 7 percent.

Lessons learned. More relevant messaging can build deeper relationships and maximize marketing ROI. It’s been said countless times: If you want to change your results, you need to change behavior. In a market in which differentiating your message, brand, company, and product is increasingly difficult, it’s important to consider the power of relevant, integrated email communications as part of your marketing mix.

If not… your message may be destined for the infamous recycling bin.

In Part 3, we’ll look at how to create a dialogue with your customers, including communication techniques that help drive results.

* Some figures were changed slightly to protect the identity of the client used in this case study.

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