How to ensure that your marketing emails are effective rather than annoying

By: Richard Mullins

Email
marketing programmes must be built around the current real needs of
customers and prospects if they are to be truly effective.

Whether
we like it or not, the power has shifted from our hands as marketers to
those of our customers. If we want our customers and prospects to
welcome our email marketing messages, we need to embrace this shift and
change the way that we communicate.

Instead, we must use email
to respond to the real, immediate and individual needs of each of our
customers. The point where we are no longer selling, but our customers
are buying is the where email marketing becomes truly effective.

The evolution of email marketing

To reach that point, however, we will need to rethink the practices of old.

Just
five years ago, we would blast a single email message to an entire
database and hope for the best. When we measured and tested the results
their email programmes produced, we were nearly always disappointed. As
the volumes of marketing emails that consumers received started to
grow, so did their impatience with unwelcome and impersonal marketing
messages, which meant that our results became even poorer.

In
the next phase of email marketing’s evolution, marketers started
segmenting databases and gearing offers or content towards specific
customer segments. We could time customised messages to reach
recipients when they would be most receptive. Although this method
created some ROI, it was time-consuming, prone to human error, and
largely static. People’s needs change fast, much faster than the static
profile fields captured at the point of opt-in allow for. While this
approach was a vast improvement on what came before, it too, is now
part of email history.

Today, email programmes must be built
around the real, up-to-the-minute needs of prospects: not what we think
a customer’s needs are or what they were three months ago, but what the
customer actually wants and needs today. This means that we need to
listen to our customers all day, every day.

Seven steps to more effective email marketing

Once
you’ve acknowledged that your email marketing should anticipate the
needs and desires of your customers and prospects, you will probably be
unsure of how you can achieve this goal in a way that does not place an
enormous strain on business resources. The best way to get it right is
to break the complex goal down into a series of manageable tasks. The
checklist below offers a good starting point:

1. Go back to basics

Segment
your databases into useful categories, ensuring that mechanisms are in
place for customers and prospects to move between segments as their
situation and needs change.

2. Define a strategy for each segment

Think
about your strategies for conversion, retention, deeper share of pocket
and customer re-activation across the segments you have defined.

3. Execute the strategy

Breathe
life into the strategy by applying it to each customer in every
segment. Listen closely to what customers and prospects are saying by
aligning your email platforms with reports from your web analytics
tools.

4. Define business events

With the basics in
place, you can define the key business performance indicators and
success events that your customers and prospects may trigger. You
should capture any event that may reveal something about the state of
mind of the customer.

At the simplest end of the spectrum, this
may be a registration on your Web site or a customer buying something
from you online for the first time. But key performance indicators and
success events can be far more complex, such as a customer abandoning a
shopping cart before final checkout and payment on your Web site.

5. Pay attention to customer needs and respond

Listen
to what each ‘Event’ says about customer needs and desires, and define
an appropriate response to each. These responses become business rules.
To be effective, these rules need to define both the content and timing
of the response – for example, a standard email offering a discount to
a customer that has abandoned a shopping cart worth more than R300
before checkout.

6. Develop a ‘Messaging Matrix’

A
messaging matrix has customer segments (and related strategies) mapped
across the horizontal axis and business events mapped on the vertical.
The ‘Business Rules’ fill in at each point of intersection where
vertical and horizontal intersect.

7. Pay attention to content

With
the ‘Messaging Matrix’ defined, you can pay attention to creative
messaging and dynamic content creation. With the rule set defined
above, it’s a relatively simple process to extend this into rules for
building and deploying creative on the fly.

Closing thoughts

It
is key is to ensure that all the processes outlined above are automated
from the outset. I have seen many sophisticated programmes, which seem
manageable at first, spiral out of control when the volume of email
messages increases. Automation from the outset means that programmes
can be built confidently without fear of resource or administration
nightmares in the future.

Automation does mean an extra bit of
work at the beginning, but once the upfront definitions and automation
is done, you can go back to being a marketer and focus on the important
business of delivering results by responding quickly to your customers’
needs.