E-mail on Steroids
[Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the October 2007 issue of FundRaising Success sister publication Target Marketing, and is written from a for-profit point of view. The solid tips hold equally true for nonprofit mailers.]
Do you monitor your competitors’ e-mail programs? If so, you may note some appear to be addicted to frequency and often send several messages a week. Under most circumstances, this is a misguided attempt to keep in front of their e-mail list. Relevance always trumps frequency.
Quantity does not equal quality. Successful marketers don’t push their messages. Instead, they strive to understand their subscribers’ needs, preferences and behaviors — and they approach e-mail as a vehicle that allows them to tune into the interests of their e-mail recipients.
To customize and deepen your e-mail relationship with your subscribers, you’ll want to take advantage of two sophisticated e-mail techniques that should be a part of your marketing arsenal: triggered messaging and dynamic personalization. These two capabilities allow you to communicate with your e-mail subscribers based on the information they volunteered during sign-up, what you know about how they interact with your e-mails and what your Web analytics tell you about what they do on your site.
Triggered messaging and dynamic personalization give you the ability to serve the right message to the right person at the right time. The beauty of these techniques is that they’re automated. You create the “rules” for which e-mails or content will be delivered based on certain customer actions or information. You create the specific messages or content clips and load them into your e-mail deployment system. Then the appropriate e-mail or content is sent automatically. Your customer receives a timely communication, and the speed of your responsiveness can drive instant customer response.
Think of dynamic personalization and triggered messaging as two powerful marketing tools that can react to each person on your e-mail list in real time. You can take advantage of them to nurture the relationship and actively persuade prospects to become customers.
With dynamic personalization, messages are customized to a customer’s specific needs and interests by automatically inserting appropriate content in real time into an e-mail message. This sophisticated technology allows marketers to deliver hundreds or thousands of offer or segment combinations where the messages can be managed and assembled “on the fly.”
Typically, this technique is employed as part of a marketer’s regular messaging program. A portion of the message may be customized by including a particular item of interest to a segment of the list or a special announcement for certain groups of customers.
Think about the last time you visited an auto dealership to purchase a car. The salesperson probed to find your hot buttons. He or she first wanted to understand whether you were interested in a luxury, sport or utility vehicle. You then were asked about factors important to you, such as fuel economy, leg room, performance and reliability. Then the sales pitch was tailored to your wants and needs.
With online marketing, you can use similar intelligence gathering to craft your messaging. Demographics, prior purchase history, e-mail clickthrough information and online browsing behavior all can play a part in your decision process. For example:
* A sales organization might customize e-mails to account holders by inserting a picture of their specific account representative and having his or her signature and contact information in each customer e-mail.
* A retailer might use geography as a key messaging factor and insert information about in-store events based on ZIP code. The entire list might receive the same featured items for the campaign, but the insertion of local promotional information makes the message feel more personal.
* A B-to-B marketer that serves multiple verticals might collect industry, department and title information to send content that will resonate with each recipient.
* A book marketer might analyze past purchase, click-through and online viewing behavior to determine the genre of books a recipient might be most interested in, and then use that to change the featured item for recipient groups. Mystery buffs would see the latest whodunit, while history nuts would see the latest biography.
Campaigns are set up with the standard content that will be sent to all e-mail recipients. The variable content is loaded in a staging area or library, and then rules are established for the best possible choice for each person on the list. For example, if state equals Michigan, then insert content clip X; if no state is listed, insert content clip Y. Messages are generated dynamically based on these rules.
With triggered messages, you can create messages that are sent to individual users based on an event (the trigger) occurring. Sequenced messages allow the delivery of highly personalized, timely e-mails. Messages can be triggered based on customer actions or a change in requested information. Some examples:
* A series of welcome or notification messages delivered over a specified time period to introduce a new customer to various aspects of a product or service.
* An order confirmation.
* Alert messages — “Only two more days to take advantage of our sale!”
* Subscription renewal and gift reminder messages.
* Personal-touch messages that recognize birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
* Abandoned shopping cart alerts.
* Follow-up communications after subscribers click through to the site and browse but do not purchase.
* Cross-sell and upsell offers based on purchase.
* Notice that an out-of-stock item is back in inventory.
Each of the methods listed above help generate more sales. Abandoned shopping cart reminder e-mails are very effective, particularly since half of all shopping carts are abandoned before checkout. People use carts as a convenient tool to hold items while they search other sites for comparable products and deals. When executed correctly, you might recapture as much as 25 percent of lost sales with these e-mails.
This type of reminder-triggered e-mail might be sent several hours after the cart is abandoned. A simple approach is to send text messages to remind shoppers they can log into the site and continue with their orders. Some marketers feature a picture of the actual item left in the shopping cart. And some send more than one follow-up message.
Another great opportunity is to use triggered e-mails to cross-sell after a purchase. If you have a good Web analytics package in place, you know that people who buy one particular item are likely to purchase other related products. Marketers selectively use this technique. They set up rules based on the most popular purchases and then develop cross-sell promotions for those purchases that may consist of one or more additional items.
You should test to find the optimal timing for these messages. A popular approach is to wait until you know the person has received his or her order. At this point, the individual is a happy and satisfied customer — a perfect time to capitalize on the sale.
Use these tools judiciously
Dynamic personalization and triggered messaging allow you to create a focused and rich experience for your customers and prospects. If you customize and personalize your relationships, you should see big dividends.
However, be mindful of your customer’s right to privacy. Your messages should be crafted so that the individual doesn’t feel you’re watching every action she takes. I’ve received many e-mails that do this well. For example, I was searching for airfares to Chicago on a travel site and later received an e-mail with four headlines in the table of contents. One of the headlines promoted hotels in Chicago. This was a subtle touch, but it homed in on a topic the marketer thought would be of interest to me.
Think about integrating dynamic personalization and triggered messaging into your e-mail marketing strategy. You’ll deliver product offerings and timely content when it is most relevant to the customer.
Regina Brady is president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, a direct and e-mail marketing consultancy. She can be reached at 203.838.8138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.