Email Marketing is the Sticky Stuff of Digital Conversations

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Glue? Is that good? I think so. Because email marketing communicates with your eCRM database and connects marketing campaigns with data at the individual subscriber level, it’s become a powerful way for marketers to connect across customer touchpoints, even other channels. It’s become “conversational glue.”

Consider this glue to be a series of messages that nurture and engage consumers over time. Marketers already aim to do this. They create content and messaging that reaches customers and prospects over time, with a purpose that’s meaningful to customers. Most likely, the conversation component (i.e., each individual message) drives an action or interaction with the customer. While not every email needs to drive a click to be effective, if you’re engaging in conversation it must be a two-way dialog. This means the timing of the messaging and the content encourage higher response.

There are many ways that marketers collect data in order to customize experiences. Consider what you have at your disposal: past response data, online forms, surveys, sales teams, competitive analysis, social communities (including comments on your blog) and web analytics. Understanding the key drivers of response will help you focus on the things that matter most. For example:

1. Post-purchase triggered messages, like those from Amazon and Williams-Sonoma, encourage suggested follow-up items. That alone isn’t a conversation, so turn that post-purchase request into a conversation by offering testimonials from others who have purchased the follow-up product. Provide helpful tips from your product experts or merchandisers, or even invite the customer to join a product-owner community.

You can still suggest related products, it’s just not the sole purpose of the communication. A colleague received a “personal” follow-up from a sales associate she met during her purchase at Neiman Marcus. Now that’s a conversation starter!

2. Sign up for a B-to-B event and what do you get? An invitation the following week for the same event — sometimes at a better deal. An order confirmation or download receipt isn’t a conversation. This period of anticipation — post sign-up and pre-event — are actually great times for conversations. Engage participants with experts by sending provocative insights to be shared at the event, and collect feedback in advance that you can use during the event to tailor the experience. While you do that, offer help for hotels, travel, networking, etc. Wrap the conversation around those helpful informational messages.

How do you do this? It starts with data. If you don’t have a campaign management tool integrated with your database, you need to prioritize the data elements that will power the most relevant conversations and import that data to your email marketing tool. That data isn’t as timely or rich, but it will get you on your way. Perhaps it could even help you make a business case for better segmentation and campaign management tools. Create the content up front so that you know the whole conversation. But if subscribers aren’t engaging, don’t keep talking. Allow those who aren’t interested to drop out of the series.

Test everything — content, images, offers, presence of navigation and secondary offers, cadence, timing, and message length. Even subject line testing will help you improve results and guide your segmentation going forward as you learn more about your audience.

Successful conversations require a deep commitment to subscriber interest. Let’s be honest: Self-interest and business pressure often result in low relevancy for subscribers, the very people you’re trying to engage in conversation. Often there’s a disconnect between a marketer’s desire to have conversation and a subscriber’s willingness to converse. Select your opportunities carefully. Marketer must become advocates for their subscribers, and not just for altruistic reasons. Relevancy improves response and revenue.

Don’t forget to include your landing pages in the conversation. Continue to offer ways to respond, interact and provide feedback. Social elements can help here as well. Think of landing pages as a continuation of the conversation.

What are you doing to start and nurture conversations? Let me know how you’ve successfully improved engagement and response by posting a comment below.

5 E-Marketing Lessons from Social Media News Links

“The stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press,” says the Pew Research Center‘s Project for Excellence in Journalism in a recent study, expanded here on Journalism.org. “But they also differ greatly from each other.” These differences highlight traits in these mediums that e-marketers must understand to effectively market through social media channels.

“The stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press,” says the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in a recent study, expanded here on Journalism.org. “But they also differ greatly from each other.” These differences highlight traits in these mediums that e-marketers must understand to effectively market through social media channels.

1. “Bloggers gravitated toward stories that elicited emotion, concerned individual or group rights, or triggered ideological passion,” according to Pew’s report on the study. Obviously this highlights the partisan boil of recent U.S. politics, but it also exhibits what bloggers want: something to talk about. To have a marketing or PR campaign picked up in the same way, it has to be a conversation starter, something that inspires bloggers and their readers to comment. If you’re going to feed bloggers, make sure there’s meat on the bones.

2. Bloggers gravitate toward newsy items more than opinions. According to Jounalism.org’s expanded report, 83 percent of the news items bloggers link to are news reports, and only 13 percent are opinion pieces. This makes sense when you consider that bloggers want to voice their own opinions on subjects, and are therefore more likely to pick up stories that report — or publicize — core facts about which they can pontificate. Your own opinionated items tend to speak for themselves, and could get picked up by bloggers more to argue against than discuss.

3. For Twitter users, “the mission is primarily about passing along important — often breaking — information in a way that unifies or assumes shared values within the Twitter community.” Twitter is known for its discussions, but it’s not a great discussion space. Updates are fast, widespread, easy to ignore and perfect for passing on actionable information: “Company X is giving away free thingamajigs! LINK. #YourCompany.”

4. YouTube’s “most watched videos have a strong sense of serendipity. They pique interest and curiosity with a strong visual appeal. The ‘Hey, you’ve got to see this,’ mentality rings strong.” However, videos don’t have to be funny or outrageous. Outrageousness can seem like the only videos that go viral because that’s what shows on the web and TV (“Web Soup,” “Tosh.0”) make famous. But any video that’s really interesting can go viral and drive sales. Companies like Dynomighty Design have had success driving whole product campaigns with simple videos showing how cool their products are, such as this video for the company’s magnetic jewelry.

5. “Across all three social platforms … attention spans are brief.” This goes both for the length of the message and the length of time it’ll remain relevant. The majority of top stories remained top stories for no more than three days, especially on Twitter. The study also found that social media picked stories up much more quickly than traditional media. Combined, these traits mean lift can be short from any one message. A marketing or PR message delivered on Sunday and picked up by Tuesday will likely lose its buzz before the weekend.