Use E-mail to Nurture and Convert Search Leads

Content is king again. Marketers create content trails for prospects and customers to discover our products and brands, which should inspire a purchase or conversion. Increasingly, we are judged by the effectiveness of each channel’s contribution to conversion – and content becomes the glue by which we optimize awareness and demand generation in our socially-networked world. That’s a big incentive to make the channels work in sync, supporting and energizing each other. (I’ll talk about attribution in a future column, but meanwhile check out this excellent column by fellow ClickZ columnist Ed Henrich.)

A digital lifecycle approach works best in a multichannel environment – in large part because customers prefer to interact with brands via multiple channels. No one channel can take the prospect all the way from discovery through close and satisfaction (and renewal). At the early part of the relationship, search marketing is great for introducing many leads to the brand or product promise, but quickly loses track of them once they hit the landing page. E-mail marketing can pick up the ball and run with it to a conversion, both working alone as well as in tandem with social marketing and inside sales.

I spoke last week at SES NY on this topic, as part of the Online Marketing Institute track. (Please ping me if you want my deck).

What’s the e-mail gal doing at a search conference? Just talking about how a multichannel approach can improve the return on your search investment. E-mail and search are actually sort of like distant cousins – both alike and wildly different in equal measure. They have similar attributes like targeting, timing, and clutter. Yet, they are fundamentally different. Search is a pull medium and e-mail is push. Effective e-mail is based on permission – an explicit opt-in to the relationship. E-mail is more of a content creator for dialog and relationship, while search is really good at optimizing content to be found.

Like two puzzle pieces, together they create a continuum of touchpoints that build a relationship with the prospect/customer. I’m a firm believer that all channels contribute to synergy, which lifts the results of the whole marketing mix. There are three primary ways that e-mail can extend your search relationship:

  1. Data: While search marketing is rich in user intent and behavior data, e-mail marketing is rich at the subscriber level. E-mail has a convenient tag (the e-mail address), which connects with CRM (define), e-commerce, sales force automation systems (SFA), and contact management systems and lets us track conversion easily. Similarly, if search landing pages are optimized to collect e-mail addresses, a report can be run to determine if the keywords are attracting prospects with a high propensity to convert.
  2. Continue the relationship: The most important job of the search landing page is to collect the e-mail permission. All the better if that is tied to the conversion (e.g., white paper download or free trial.) Please do not assume permission. Be very clear if you will send additional e-mail information. Sell them on the value; don’t sandbag them.
  3. Welcome and engage: Customize the welcome e-mail experience to the context of the initial search. This takes discipline. Too often, we marketers want to tell all prospects everything about our solutions in the first communication. That isn’t helpful or necessary. Ease the prospect in by focusing on the information you know is important to them – what they searched on. Relevancy in the first message earns the right to send more messages.

Consider offering short-term e-mail conversations as an alternate to your newsletter. Offer prospects from any source the option to sign up for three to seven e-mail messages in a series about a particular topic. Set the cadence to match the lifecycle stage. Researchers of productivity software may welcome a daily message for four days, if it helps them evaluate vendor options. Someone interested in a Webinar on business trends might love to get five once-a-week tips on how to plan out a strategy for business growth this year. The series needs to provide the specific value promised (tips on business growth), but certainly can also sell. For example, suggest the appropriateness of your brand and product for solving key challenges, offer a quiz or poll to identify latent needs, or offer additional downloads. We’ve seen these series result in a 50 percent conversion of inquiries to sales call, as well as 75 percent conversion to the ongoing e-mail newsletter file. However, if all you do is hammer a sales message, you will likely see low response.

Please use the comments section below to share your experiences on connecting search and e-mail (and other channels) – and the risks of not doing so.

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