Part Art, Part Science, Part 3: Create A Dialogue

Optimizing 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. In the first part, we looked at strategy. Last time, we talked about relevance. Today, we’ll discuss the importance of creating valuable email dialogues with your customers.

Part 3: Create A Dialogue

Shout into the wind, and you’ll get a hoarse voice and sore throat. A lot of marketers are going home at night with raspy voices and throat spray.

Most forms of marketing failed to evolve beyond a series of one-way blasts. Print? TV? Radio? No interactivity, no personalization. Just generic, one-size-fits-all messaging that moves in one direction: advertiser to consumer. From a return on investment (ROI) perspective, mass-media buys are for big-ticket items delivering results that are difficult to measure.

Email is a personal, one-to-one connection with customers. Only email offers an opportunity to build an ongoing, interactive dialogue with your customers and prospects on a measurable, cost-efficient basis.

As the volume of messages in inboxes increases, marketers who embrace the notion of building two-way email dialogues with customers will succeed. Those who don’t will watch their customer bases migrate to competitors. Sophisticated marketers love email for its ability to target, personalize, measure, and conduct dialogues. Too many marketers approach email with a mass-media, one-way-blast mentality. It negates the power of permission-based, one-to-one communication.

When a customer gives a marketer permission to begin an email relationship, it’s an invitation into a personal realm, like getting together over coffee for a first date. Dominate the conversation with your topics, interrupt your companion every time she tries to speak, neglect to find out what that person is about, and you can kiss the second date goodbye. Don’t drop the ball on this opportunity to create a meaningful, two-way dialogue en route to a long-term relationship.

Case Study: An Auto Parts and Services Chain

Let’s imagine it’s the middle of winter. A major national auto parts and services chain wants to move its snow tire inventory. It’s compiled a list of customers who have opted in to receive email communications.

So, it sends an email to its customer base promoting a discount on snow tires. Sounds like a harmless, no-brainer from a marketer’s point of view, right?

Step into the customers’ shoes. If you’re in Buffalo, NY, where heavy snowfall is common, there’s a good chance you’re interested in the email. If you’re in San Francisco, where there’s been no snow of any significance since the 1960s, it’s less relevant. You may ski in Tahoe on weekends and might consider a set of snow tires. Live in New Orleans? Think again. You need snow tires about as badly as Bourbon Street needs another bar.

From the standpoint of the New Orleans customer, and most likely the one in San Francisco, too, the message is destined for the trash and may warrant a click of the unsubscribe link. The Buffalo customer may have bought snow tires two weeks ago from the same supplier. He’s stocked, so the email is sent to the trash. The marketer doesn’t understand basic needs and did little to engage in relevant, responsive communication. This one-way blast looks like a failure.

Create More Relevant Communications, Work Toward Dialogue

What should the marketer do? Moving winter inventory is the goal. First, build a segment of customers in colder weather regions. That may not sound like rocket science, but sloppy email marketers still blast generic messages to their entire list. Sending unnecessary, irrelevant messages to customers who won’t respond reduces your chance of driving incremental sales.

Take it a step further. If a huge Nor’easter is forecast to dump several feet on Buffalo in four days, anticipate the event and reach out with a relevant message. Email can be delivered to a specific audience with timeliness! Feature winter weather advice. Place an offer for snow tires and winter-related products in the email. Insert offers based on purchase history. If a customer recently purchased snow tires, swap in a different offer.

Provide timely information in concert with each customer’s buying cycle. Automate the delivery of oil-change and maintenance reminders on an individual basis. Provide insurance information updates localized by state. Send weather-specific driving tips and seasonal car care ideas. Drive customers to online landing pages, preference centers, surveys, and questionnaires where you’ll continue to learn about their needs and wants.

Build communications efforts for an audience of one — many times over. Examples include:

  • Cross-sell/up-sell efforts: Products and services sales

  • Customer care: Bill payment and presentments, confirmations, thank-you messages

  • Flash sales: Holiday-driven promotions, close-out sales, sales incentives (e.g., 20% off)

  • Loyalty programs: Discount programs, incentive programs

The Customer Experience: What It Takes

A Forrester report (“Effective Email Marketing”) noted one-off email campaigns must evolve into email “conversations” to make email relevant and increase in value. The report defines an email conversation as “an ongoing series of emails tailored to customers’ motivations and sequenced to guide them through their purchase process.”

The key to building successful conversations is understanding the customer, anticipating his needs and wants, then delivering the appropriate message at the right point in the buying cycle. This is accomplished by employing customer-focused practices involving content and frequency, customer segmentation, and email metrics, as opposed to a broader campaign-only focus.

A successful customer experience drives a successful email dialogue. Crafting and nourishing a winning customer experience takes these factors into consideration:

  • Understanding. Know what customers need, want, and prefer. Collect information at every customer touch point, always with permission. Anticipate the customer’s needs, and deliver the correct information at the right time. You’ll improve response rates, conversion rates, and overall customer service.

  • Convenience. Deliver messages at the most convenient time, in the preferred format, and at the preferred frequency from the customer’s point of view, not the marketer’s best guess.

  • Interactivity. A dialogue requires communication between at least two parties. Include avenues for replies, feedback, surveys, and questionnaires to capture responses and information.

  • Personalization and dynamic content. Advanced email providers offer dynamic segmentation and content assembly in addition to mass personalization capabilities. Take advantage of email’s ability to talk to customers on a one-to-one level.

  • Customer control. Give customers control of frequency and content by asking for preferences, needs, and wants. Over time, frequency should be dictated to meet the needs of the individual customer, not set on a campaign basis. Set triggers to automate delivery and handling of messaging individually.

Creating and delivering valuable email dialogues separates your brand from the marketers out there who operate with a one-way, batch-and-blast mentality. Talk and listen, don’t shout. Build a conversation. Blasting with little or no regard for the recipient’s interests won’t develop into a profitable, long-term relationship.

In part 4, we’ll discuss how to analyze your email communications program, including how to measure tangible and intangible metrics and how to understand your ROI.

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