Thursday, March 10, 2005

Saving E-Mail From E-Mailers

Marketers are killing e-mail, the only tool we have with the potential to create individual conversations and dialogues with customers and prospects. Obsessed with its low cost and speed, they bombard the 78% of online customers who actually opt-in with tons of forgettable annoying ads.

Retailers are the worst culprits. They have transferred their deep and enduring love for circulars to the digital domain. Now they can hammer us with crap for pennies every day or every week or every fortnight.

It’s no surprise that frequency was a big topic at The BigFoot Interactive E-Mail Summit. The reigning wisdom is to “hit the list hard and often” and “continuously add new names” Unfortunately these tactics will burn out the audience and destroy the credibility and general acceptance of the medium before we get really good or really sophisticated at using it.

E-mail will have legs if we don’t kill it first. The medium has the potential to be a true 1:1 medium with nuance, tone and great personality. One way to save the medium is to take a longitudinal view and to conceptualize e-mail in campaigns and message sequences driven either by individual information or by predictable events. That way we can test and learn before we crash and burn.

Most of the e-mails I get are one-offs. I haven’t experienced sequential campaigns of several messages. And I’ve never been conscious of being on the receiving end of e-mails delivered in a multi-channel context where postal mail, e-mail, catalos, phone calls or live interactions are orchestrated to engage and motivate customers.

I’m eager to learn if a two, three or four part sequence, which works well as postcards, works as well as e-mails. I’m dying to be romanced (or blitzed) by a retailer who will hit me high with a catalog, hit me low with an e-mail, sneak up on me with a bill stuffer offer and hit me straight on with a phone call all within a 48 hour window with offers of stuff they know I like, I want and I can afford. And these are just ideas off the top of my head. There is a whole world of experimentation and learning at risk.

The current ham-handed approach assumes that the sender has to know the unknown. Retailers bang away at me either with a single offer, not linked to my purchase history or my expressed preferences or with a newsletter smorgasbord of offers hoping something will catch my attention.

Why not just ask me what I want, how I want it and when I want it and then do what I ask? It requires a bit more technology, but it pays out 100 percent better. There is considerable evidence that consumers aren't bashful. They will gladly tell you what they want and how they want it. And there is growing evidence that consumers disproportionately reward retailers who listen and respond to those who take them seriously and deliver on expressed preferences.

Consider this tailored e-mail scenario:

I buy 4 towels on your site. This event triggers a follow-up e-mail within 72 hours of delivery asking if I liked them and offering me matching wash cloths or hand towels. In my marketing utopia, this offer mirrors the one-sheet or the personal letter you slipped into my shipping box.

It might even be worth asking me if I want a few more, assuming I liked the first bunch. Imagine if I was a high value customer? You might wait 36 hours after e-mail transmission and call me to reiterate the e-mail offer. A skilled telerep might up-sell me better goods or cross-sell me a matching bathrobe, expensive bath oils and unguents or a color-coordinated soap dish.

If I don’t bite, wait. Send me an e-mail within 30 days. Offer me a reduced or clearance price. Better yet, use my purchase as a qualifying event and reach back into earlier purchases to tell me “because you bought the towels, you get first dibs on the polo shirts that you haven’t bought in two years”

E-mail can follow me and mirror merchandise orpricing cycles. E-mail can create a back-and-forth flow of information and loyalty. E-mail can do things we haven’t really figured out yet. Let’s try not kill it before we master the tone, the texture or the tactics of the medium.


Blogger Interceptor said...

The flood of unsolicited emails you mention may have already killed the email machine. Combine that with security threats as described in this months Information Week, "Bots", and you have a public that is not only tired, but scared. The only obvious answer to saving email as a medium is permission based email generated by targeted communication/advertising on friendly web sites that users choose to participate in based on a value and relevance. This will work to expand the communities approach to marketing where users participate at will and you have no access to them unless they will it. It happened with telemarketing and it will happen with email. If you are not someone they WANT to talk to, they are hanging up. Ultimately email will become a simple, more convenient, and cheaper delivery mechanism for solicited mail.

Another approcah to getting people to participate in solicited email is to speak to them off line, and get their permission to talk to them on line. Events, face to face intercepting, and cell phones as a channel for two way communication are fast becomming mediums for the collection of permission.

Lastly for my comment, a message to marketers. Heed the word of your audience. They are in total control, and have the ability to avoid you with ease. The harder you push them, the farther away they will get until eventually you will lose the ability to obtain the permission to communicate with them. Permission you will need to survive.

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