The E-mail Marketer’s Mandate

A friend of mine is a rabid David Sedaris fan, snatching copies of his latest books off the bookshelves as soon as they’re available and often preordering online from a large, well-known bookseller to ensure his place in line the moment they’re released. So when he received an e-mail alerting him to the upcoming release of Sedaris’s latest sure-to-be bestseller, he jumped on the opportunity and immediately ordered.

When the box arrived at his home, excitement quickly turned to disappointment. He opened the box to find a 600-page tome. Its pages were filled with large, bold print, appearing more like an eye chart than an essay. That would have been fine if my friend had vision problems. But he sees 20/20. Furthermore, while three out of the last four Sedaris books he purchased were the book and audio set (he likes to listen in his car), this combination wasn’t offered to him when he placed the preorder. He soon learned this option was available at the book’s release. Ultimately, he ended up a dissatisfied, disappointed customer.

While certainly not a tragedy, this story is one that happens all too often. This vendor has enjoyed a long and lucrative history with my well-read friend. But it failed to leverage the data from that history — past purchase behavior, preferences, and so forth — to deliver what the customer really wanted. The bookseller not only lost out on a clear up-sell opportunity to offer the book and audio set, it damaged a relationship with a very loyal customer who will be more willing to look elsewhere when the next Sedaris book comes out.

And so it goes with so many marketers. Despite the plethora of customer information and insight available through online channels, woefully few marketers today actually leverage that customer data to fully optimize their acquisition, sales, and retention efforts. A new Forrester Research study confirms this, reporting that almost half of interactive marketers today say their organization struggles to prove the ROI (define) of its efforts, while 7 in 10 say there are understaffed to do so.

With budgets tightening and accountability pressures on the rise, marketers can no longer afford such misguided practices. While marketers are increasingly turning to interactive channels such as e-mail for measurable marketing tactics in these penny-pinching times, they fail to apply the metrics and insight gained to optimize future efforts — and truly undermine their competitiveness and profitability as a result.

As I travel around the country meeting with marketing managers at many Fortune 1000 organizations, the lament’s the same. Never before has there been tighter control and monitoring around the deployment and execution of customer acquisition, retention, and sales development programs. Marketing personnel inside many of the largest brands are being challenged, in many cases forced, to grow their sales and profits with an ever tighter budget year after year.

What was once a luxury in marketing thinking has now become a mandate. I spoke to several automakers recently who told me the days of customer data being spread across an array of incommunicative databases are over. There’s simply no budget wiggle room to allow for such overlap and waste. Today’s consumer grows more impatient with e-mail marketers who seem to be very aggressive about collecting data, preferences, and insight but who do little to leverage this profile information as part of a more targeted, relevant, and purposeful dialogue between the company and themselves.

The mandate is straightforward: get your database house in order. Create a universal database that takes feeds from disparate silos and assembles meaningful universal customer profiles. Build systems and processes that allow for real-time updates to those profiles to ensure you have the most relevant information about your customer as possible. Only then can you understand the products, services, and messaging most relevant to the customer’s profile. This isn’t easy work, but it’s absolutely necessary for achieving optimal success.

When your content and profile relationship strategy is in place, you can begin to leverage a wide array of tools and messaging platforms. These tools can help position your product offerings and their inherent benefits to each customer in an engaging way. Now is the time to make assumptions about relevancy. Remember: remain incredibly focused on monitoring and assessing your messaging and its performance against real customers.

Test. Monitor. Study. Test. Monitor. Study. Optimization in your e-mail strategy won’t yield the desired results unless you’re committed to ongoing testing, monitoring, studying, and reengaging with the customer. Each test result provides you with data and insight on ways to modify and sharpen the content-profile relationship. Your success metrics will help you measure how effective you are in digesting data and modifying future engagement opportunities.

Welcome to today’s e-mail marketing. It’s no longer a campaign-driven, unconscious mode of marketing. You want to move the needle? Grow sales in the marketplace? Time to wake up to the new level of intensity and focus.

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