Stop Missing Opportunities

I admit it. I am obsessive when it comes to email. It was Thanksgiving weekend (November 21-24), and I just couldn’t stop myself from constantly checking email. After all, Thanksgiving weekend is the official start of the holiday shopping season, and I wanted to see just how sophisticated email marketing efforts had grown in an environment that looks to the “extraordinary” to grow sales and maximize return on investment (ROI). So, to my amazement, I peeked into my email inbox and saw… well, not much.

While holiday banners were blazing, TV ads crackling, and radio messages singing, many marketers’ retention-based email marketing efforts were surprisingly silent during the long weekend. The question is, why?

The answer: This medium is still very much in its infancy. I believe this year’s mistakes will begin to form the foundation of next year’s best practices.

Though many of the media mentioned above predominantly focused on acquisition, retention-focused email communication offers one key competitive advantage — the ability to speak to your existing or best customers in an efficient, cost-effective manner. Without a doubt, email offers marketers an incredibly powerful communication vehicle, with the highest return on investment you can get. If you’re not taking full advantage of this relationship, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

How huge, you ask? The Jupiter Media Metrix 2001 Holiday E-Commerce Index Series reported that 50.2 million unique visitors shopped online from home or work during the week of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday — that’s up a whopping 43 percent from 35.2 million over the same week in 2000. Retail Web site traffic on November 22 (Friday) also shot up by 68 percent from the same day in 2000. The index further indicated that online retail traffic on Saturday and Sunday increased 59 percent and 55 percent, respectively, compared to 2000 activity.

And that’s not to mention email marketing’s potential impact on offline sales. Jupiter estimates that consumers will spend $647 billion offline by 2005 as a direct result of research they conduct on the Web. Although email’s specific contribution to that number is not yet available, it no doubt represents a significant piece of that pie, given that email remains the single most popular online activity among consumers.

To be fair, some retailers did send aggressive offers (with incentives such as free shipping and discounts on purchases) on Wednesday (the day before the weekend) and Monday (the day after), but where was everyone on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday? The lesson: You need to be everywhere your customers are. And email, the most widely used application on the Web, is a critical component of the marketing mix, particularly during these tough times.

My criticism of myself and of the industry here is based entirely on the fact that we are operating in an evolving medium and the opportunities for all of us are enormous if we seize the moment and leverage our medium accordingly. No longer is “batch and blast” acceptable in email marketing; email marketers and providers must create email communications, or “dialogues,” to appropriately maximize the opportunity before us and use the medium to its fullest potential.

Let’s face it, unlike the other media mentioned above — online, TV, radio — we know who we are speaking to. Let’s not mess it up! Thanksgiving is a key illustration of this opportunity. According to comScore Networks, November 26 (Monday) was the single highest day for online sales this year, with retailers raking in $220 million in total sales. We can only imagine the potential impact on sales if targeted communication had continued throughout the weekend and included real-time, relevant updates on hot products, great gift ideas, and more — which would help marketers remain top of mind among our target customers.

More important, our technology makes this possible, but we just didn’t use it to its fullest extent. Today, targeted, relevant email communications can be scheduled and sequenced in advance relatively easily — the marketers who took advantage of this and automated the process (although I saw few) had the opportunity to create real competitive advantage and stand apart from the crowd over Thanksgiving weekend.

For those who didn’t kick it into high gear over Thanksgiving weekend, here are my Critical Lessons Learned From Holiday 2001:

  • Scheduling/automation. Where is the email? Email technology enables marketers tremendous flexibility when it comes to scheduling. Use every opportunity to get your message out during critical times and integrate messaging with your offline efforts. Where possible, automate the process to build in additional relevance and efficiencies. No doubt you will see a bump in conversion!
  • Relevance. Use the intelligence you gained to send out more relevant email communications post-Thanksgiving. If your recipient didn’t bite on “free shipping,” try something different. Use intelligence from initial holiday messaging to further refine your offers, such as “Here’s what our other shoppers are buying” or “Our top 10 hottest holiday gifts.”
  • Timing. Scheduling the communications is step one. Take it further and use time-triggered email communications to keep the purchase process moving. Utilize post-purchase communications to encourage additional sales of related products and to build the relationship, such as: “Thank you for your order. Act now and receive a 10 percent discount on X accessory for your Y product.”
  • Preferences. Use this opportunity to get to know your users better and to understand their needs and wants. Use surveys and sweepstakes to gather critical information on your users. Dynamically serve relevant offers to these customers.
  • Offer. Relevant, contextual offers are the Holy Grail. Preferences and intelligence gathered during this critical period will allow you to generate offers that are sure to serve as the foundation for a long and profitable relationship.
  • Best practices. Analyze all efforts and build best practices. Find out who responded and who didn’t, what subject lines worked and what didn’t.

Though email recently turned 30 years old this past month, for me Holiday 2001 is the beginning of a new era marked by the end of email marketing and the start of email communications. Those who can quickly leverage the lessons of holidays past and build best practices will undoubtedly be the leaders of tomorrow. Happy holidays, and a great 2002 to everyone!

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