Creating an Integrated Email Marketing Strategy

Keeping email in the sales tool box limits the benefits and keeps it from helping your company grow. Electronic mail is well known as a marketing tool that generates immediate cash flow. It works so well that many companies send daily updates that contribute a significant amount to their annual revenue. Some might say that this is the primary purpose for email marketing. Maybe they’re right but I think it is a shame to waste opportunities

Keeping email in the sales tool box limits the benefits and keeps it from helping your company grow. Electronic mail is well known as a marketing tool that generates immediate cash flow. It works so well that many companies send daily updates that contribute a significant amount to their annual revenue. Some might say that this is the primary purpose for email marketing. Maybe they’re right but I think it is a shame to waste opportunities.

Email is the only tool available today that can economically provide a one-to-one communication between company and customer or prospect. Perhaps it’s the fear that people will overwhelm already stretched customer service departments that keeps companies from capitalizing on the opportunities available. Maybe they’re spending too much time working on creating content in the hopes that it will go viral. Or it could be that email works so well as a sales tool little thought has been put into other uses. After all, when resources are limited, management tends to take an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach to projects.

This is a dangerous position because email as a sales tool is breaking. The days where emails sent to unengaged subscribers generated significant revenue with little effort are disappearing. The changes in Gmail’s interface are the beginning of a new email marketing reality. Begging people to move messages to the primary inbox is not a sustainable solution. Building relationships that makes them want to find your emails is the only way to continued sales success. Fortunately, email is a multifaceted tool that works well in relationship building.

The companies that change their strategy to include retention and education will gain market share, improve customer loyalty and make sales messages more profitable. There isn’t a downside to doing this because it delivers results at minimal cost. This strategy is part of an integrated marketing and service initiative that has far reaching effects.

The content created for educational messages establishes expertise, builds trust and can be repurposed on other channels. Google’s shift to conversational search requires marketers seeking better ranks to provide quality content. The best information speaks directly to the people who buy your products or services. Incorporating educational messages in your email strategy allows you to discover what drives sales and keeps customers coming back. The same messages will attract prospects.

Much of the information about relationship marketing implies that people want personal relationships with companies. They don’t. People want personal relationships with friends and family. They want companies to make it easy for them to solve problems. It’s a bonus if the company solves the problem without participation from the individual. Trust is established when company’s consistently deliver on their promises. Trying to create personal relationships with people who don’t want them is foolish and a waste of resources.

A better strategy is to find people’s pain points and make them disappear. This creates a trust relationship. Email is an excellent tool for sharing information and learning about your customers’ needs. An optimized email marketing strategy includes promotional, educational, and informational messages. Personalization is a key component that can be added by connecting historical data with targeted content.

We are entering a new era for email marketing. The timing is perfect for retailers and any business that peaks in first and fourth quarters. Optimizing your email strategy when the volume is at its peak allows you to learn quickly what works best. You can do this while still sending the promotional messages known to generate cash flow. Waiting to see if the changes to email delivery have an effect will put you behind the competition. Start immediately, plan well, test everything and use the actionable information to improve the customer experience and your company’s success.

A Goodbye
This is my last column for “The Integrated Email.” It is been my honor and privilege to share my knowledge with you. Thank you for the opportunity. Godspeed.

Editor’s Note: It has been a pleasure working with Debra. We are sorry to see her go, and hope she will be able to contribute in other ways in the future when her time permits. The Integrated Email will return in November with a new blogger.

Why Is Customer Loyalty So Hard to Get? And How Can You Get It Now?

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson must have a secret formula. Customer loyalty for them goes beyond the norm. Calling the people who buy their products “customers” doesn’t do justice. “Raving fans” is a much better description. Billions of dollars are spent every year on customer relationship management in an effort to inspire loyalty. Reward programs are implemented and abandoned when the cost to maintain exceeds the return. Loyalty is hard to get and easy to lose.

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson must have a secret formula. Customer loyalty for them goes beyond the norm. Calling the people who buy their products “customers” doesn’t do justice. “Raving fans” is a much better description.

Billions of dollars are spent every year on customer relationship management in an effort to inspire loyalty. Reward programs are implemented and abandoned when the cost to maintain exceeds the return. Loyalty is hard to get and easy to lose. This is why the companies that have it guard their brand image with a vengeance.

The benefits of good customer/company relationships are well known. When people feel connected to a company, they become lifetime customers and advocates for the brand. Some companies naturally attract loyalty because of their product appeal and exclusivity. The rest have to earn it.

Earning loyalty begins with understanding relationships between customers and companies. Loyalty is hard to get because companies are focusing on the wrong things when they try to build relationships with their customers. Transactional and service relationships are the only type that people want with companies. All of the talk in social media about anything deeper is fantasy. Trying to connect with people beyond fulfilling their needs and expectations is a waste of resources.

Social media is one of many channels that companies use to communicate with customers and prospects. It is an excellent way to share information about the company, products and events and interact with people. It is not a replacement for taking care of the basics that provide the foundation for loyalty. Trying to shortcut the loyalty process by creating viral content is ineffective. If you want an interactive social presence, start with the fundamentals that are endearing to customers.

People want simple and easy more than anything else. Life is complicated and short. They do not want to invest time in the buying process. Simplifying the buying decision and making it easy to purchase, return and resolve issues will do more to create loyalty and increase revenue than anything else. Multiple channels and a variety of tools are available that provide economical and efficient methods to improve the shopping and service experience. To fast-track loyalty for your company:

  • Clean House: Review every process, procedure and policy to insure it is necessary and as efficient as possible. The shorter the paths from initial contact to purchase and problem to resolution, the better. It makes it easy for customers and economical for you.
  • Improve FAQ’s: Answer questions before they are asked. Sometimes this means you have to anticipate the questions because people don’t always know what they need to ask. Including the questions that should be asked in the FAQ’s improves trust and reduces resistance.
  • Supercharge Emails: Add service emails to your marketing mix. Service emails educate and inform customers and prospects so they know what’s happening and how to interact with your company. Educated customers are happier and easier to serve.
  • Offer Self-Service: People don’t really want to talk to your company representatives. They find it easier to solve their own problems when possible. Providing self-service opportunities pleases customers and reduces operating costs.
  • Invite Feedback: Your customers are the best source of information on how to improve your business. Invite them to share their thoughts and make the process as easy as possible. Be sure to always respond with gratitude and information on how the suggestions will be used. It gives ownership and connects people to your company.
  • Do It Yourself: Before expecting your customers and prospects to do anything, try it yourself first. If you developed the process and cannot be objective, ask someone outside the company to do it with you watching. The pain points are quickly identified when this is done.

5 Reasons for ‘Why Now?’

With the lingering, precarious feelings about the state of the economy, along with plenty of concerns about the business climate in general, I find that there is always a great deal of hesitation around beginning any kind of large- or even medium-complexity project focused on data. In many instances, the general consensus from senior management and even ancillary groups outside of the marketing and data management groups is the company has been doing fine with everything just the way it is, with plenty of “If it ain’t broken we don’t need to fix it” or “Let’s focus on increasing revenue this quarter first” pushback to proposed projects.

With the lingering, precarious feelings about the state of the economy, along with plenty of concerns about the business climate in general, I find that there is always a great deal of hesitation around beginning any kind of large- or even medium-complexity project focused on data. In many instances, the general consensus from senior management and even ancillary groups outside of the marketing and data management groups is the company has been doing fine with everything just the way it is, with plenty of “If it ain’t broken we don’t need to fix it” or “Let’s focus on increasing revenue this quarter first” pushback to proposed projects.

The problem with the first is, quite simply, if corporate data has been ignored, or even just on the back burner for any length of time, it is most assuredly broken. Perhaps it is not critically broken yet, but losing clarity, focus and relevancy in keeping up with the evolving goals of the organization. Bloated with obsolete or irrelevant information and systems fragmented; lagging behind on improvements and upgrades, databases become slow, unreliable and frustrating for both the front-line users and for their management teams who are looking for answers that are surely there but, unfortunately, cannot be mined with the speed and efficiency expected. Of course, when this occurs the frustrations grow and we begin to see various business groups take what pieces of data fit their responsibilities and start building and updating the silos which eventually hamper, rather than contribute to, enterprise-wide success. There is no feedback of newer and more relevant information to the main repository; there is no coordination of contact strategy or organized tempo or voice to communication. What evolves is chaos in overlapping or possibly opposing communication from different areas of the same company. It is a sure way to spur the erosion of customer respect for your products and services, along with a vision of incompetence from prospective customers confused by who you are and where you are trying to lead them.

The problem with this is most organizations will not recognize it as a problem. The groups creating the silos and working from there are perfectly happy to have their own source of whatever data they need. No hassles with requests or production queues. They are able to report the results of their efforts in isolation so management only has to see the rosiest picture. Unfortunately—and exactly because of the isolation factor—little if any sales, lead generation, updates or contact changes ever make it back to the primary data warehouse and the remainder of the organization is not able to share in the refreshed information that will help their efforts, as well.

The cure for that, and the answer to the “Let’s wait” feedback, is for the marketing and IT leaders to jointly be prepared with a roadmap of “Why now” proposals for the value of organizational refresh and consolidation that can resonate across the enterprise.

1. Cost containment: With a single platform view of customers and prospects, with vigorous updates and enhancements from every touchpoint, campaigns are able to be streamlined, based on full knowledge of RFM. Consolidation of duplicated software and vendor charges that are being utilized across multiple silos will allow every department to free up much-needed budget space.

2. Increased Productivity: With budget room made available, allocations can be shifted to incorporate the speed and upgrade solutions within the existing resources. Increasing both throughput and volume while optimizing manpower performance and efficiency.

3. Reducing Risk: Utilizing a centralized team to oversee data operations ultimately reduces the risk and exposure caused by violations of corporate policies, governmental regulations and industry best practices. Contact preferences are able to be maintained and shared across all corporate business units on every channel.

4. Customer Journey: No responsible marketer deliberately sets out to overwhelm, annoy or even spam existing customers and prospects. Without centralized deployment and tracking, however, you will be doing exactly that, oblivious to the damage you are doing to your reputation.

5. Increased Revenue: Removing all of the risks, poor decisions and duplication of effort alone will create a much more streamlined approach to providing all of the proper and most effective strategies for finding, developing, nurturing and hopefully establishing long-lasting client relationships. Consumers, regardless if in a B-to-C or B-to-B environment, buy from companies they respect and trust. Revenue grows and is sustained just as steadily by the quality of your relationship with customers as it is by the quality of your products and services.

Healthy, professional relationships and contact strategy are the value-added-benefits you can quantify and demonstrate to even the most ardent rebels across the company. Use the data you have readily available in your system to show every business unit leader the facts. Prove to them the upside potential that a solid, professional and, most of all, highly reliable marketing automation or CRM solution can provide in boosting revenue year over year. Stealthily, but honestly turn the naysayers into advocates with clean and simple facts.

Do that, and the conversation shifts from “Why Now?” to “How Soon?”

How Much Is Your Email List Worth?

Every good direct marketer knows the top company asset is the customer database. Almost anyone with marketing experience can turn that data into revenue. I say “almost” because there is still a social media movement trying to prove that direct mail and email marketing is dying. It’s doubtful that anyone in that group could create and execute an effective plan that delivers sales and profitability. But, for the rest of us, the people who understand that customer relationships are about the quality of service, a solid list is money in the bank

Every good direct marketer knows the top company asset is the customer database. Almost anyone with marketing experience can turn that data into revenue. I say “almost” because there is still a social media movement trying to prove that direct mail and email marketing is dying. It’s doubtful that anyone in that group could create and execute an effective plan that delivers sales and profitability. But, for the rest of us, the people who understand that customer relationships are about the quality of service, a solid list is money in the bank.

Direct mailers are very good at creating detailed plans that project sales and profitability down to the penny. When shifts in external factors like weather and politics affect sales, adjustments are made to keep the company operating in the black. Executing a direct marketing campaign requires a significant investment, making careful management necessary to corporate success. Customers and prospects are segmented, monitored and measured every possible way in an effort to increase lifespan and lifetime value.

Email Marketing Is Different
The investment required for email marketing is minimal when compared to direct mail. Returning a profit is so easy that marketers are lulled into complacency. When the revenue to cost ratio is that good, why invest additional resources in making it better? After all, there are always other areas that need more attention.

Email marketing can do so much more than generate revenue and profits. In the right hands, it increases customer loyalty and reduces operating costs. Emails offer the opportunity to create a personal connection that is unavailable in any other marketing channel. They can be used to economically provide high quality service on an individual level. Capitalizing on this requires in-depth analysis that begins with the value of email subscribers.

How Valuable Are Your Email Subscribers?
There is a direct relationship between the quality of your email marketing program and the value of your subscribers. Programs that build relationships using personalized promotions, education and service create substantially higher value subscribers than pure-play promotional campaigns. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because better investments always yield stronger returns.

The first step in creating high value subscribers is analysis. How do the customers and prospects that participate in your email program differ from the ones who don’t?

Compare purchase history, time from first entry to purchase, times between purchases, average order, lifetime value, lifespan, number of orders in specific time frames and any other valuation information available. Segment customers and prospects as needed so you will be able to consistently evaluate the results. Seasonal, discount, and hit-and-run shoppers significantly skew the results. The information accumulated here is the benchmark that will be used to gauge the effectiveness of new campaigns.

Next, catalog all of the emails sent to each segment over the last two years. Include all available results so new emails can be compared to historical data. If you haven’t been segmenting subscribers, or segmented them a different way, capture the information that is available and move on. Don’t waste resources trying to analyze something that doesn’t have enough data to provide clear results. When finished, you’ll have a good idea of the current value of your email subscribers.

Creating a New Email Marketing Program
The analysis you’ve done tells you what has happened in the past. If you are happy with the results, keep on doing the same things. But, if you want more:

  • Look for gaps in your email marketing campaigns. Do they include personalized emails? Are the transactional emails optimized? Are you sending educational emails that teach subscribers how to use products and services?
  • Are you emailing often enough? Test sending emails more often to a sample of your subscriber list. If response increases without a significant jump in opt outs and spam reports, roll it out. Well targeted emails that provide value to recipients are rarely rejected.
  • Use your email marketing to improve customer relationships. Invest time in understanding your customers’ problems and creating solutions. The more problems you solve, the less likely they will leave. Email is an excellent tool for creating unbreakable bonds because it is effective, efficient and economical.
  • Measure everything on a regular basis. The better your data, the easier it is to improve results. Consistently digging through the data provides insight into how your subscribers behave. The more you know about their tendencies, the easier it becomes to create campaigns that motivate them.

Do Birthday Acknowledgements Build Brand Relationships?

Asking a customer for birth date information is a very intimate question, and one that I tell clients to consider carefully before including on any registration form. When I celebrated my birthday in early December, I received all sorts of interesting emails and direct mail wishes and offers from a variety of brands. So which ones left me feeling warm, fuzzy and loved, thereby achieving their objective of deepening my relationship with them, and which ones left me in the cold?

Asking a customer for birth date information is a very intimate question, and one that I tell clients to consider carefully before including on any registration form.

If you have a legitimate reason for collection (identification, age requirement, etc.), then no one thinks twice about providing it—and accurately. But many brands only collect for analysis purposes—which means they’ll often get useless, incorrect data—while others note that they have a special birthday program, and for those consumers who like freebies, they provide that data point willingly.

When I celebrated my birthday in early December, I received all sorts of interesting emails and direct mail wishes and offers from a variety of brands. So which ones left me feeling warm, fuzzy and loved, thereby achieving their objective of deepening my relationship with them, and which ones left me in the cold?

Here’s my assessment:

  • 5 Stars to Chico’s: In the week before my birthday, I received a birthday card in the mail with a coupon for X percent off on my next purchase. However, when I got to the store, I failed to bring the coupon with me. Not an issue for Chico’s! Their database showed I had the birthday discount available and the clerk applied it to my purchase. Love that.
  • 4 Stars to Sharebuilder: I’ve been a loyal Sharebuilder customer since their inception, over 12 or 15 years ago. The weekend before my special day, I got an email acknowledging my birthday and an offer for a free “buy” trade on my account. All I had to do was click on the link provided and enter a promo code. Easy… which mimics their brand essence.
  • 3 Stars to Starbucks: As a Gold Account holder, Starbucks used to send me postcards after every 15 lattes for a free drink (which I loved). About a month before my special day, they sent me an email that my freebies would now to credited to my card automatically (fabulous!). However, about 2 weeks before my birthday, I got a birthday email telling me I’d get a freebie. When I got to Starbucks, however, it turns out I had to TELL the barista that it was my birthday, otherwise it’s not automatically tied to my card. Bizarre.
  • 2 Stars to ING: On my birthday I got a Happy Birthday message and a link to a video… which wasn’t really about birthdays, but more about being happy. I love ING, but judging from all the comments left from previous birthday viewers, they thought it was as strange as I did.
  • 1 Star to Wells Fargo: For a few ATM visits in early December, I got a “Happy Birthday” message on the ATM screen. No “extra” credit to my savings account. No waiver on an overdraft. No nothing. Gee, thanks.

Of course there’s always one party pooper. In this case, it’s the “Hey It’s Free” guy who assembled all his birthday freebies and posted them for everyone to see on his website. Guess who’s feeling not so special after all?

Did any of these efforts endear me to their brand? Or cause me to rethink my relationship? I can honestly say that they all made me feel a little special and loved in their own way. And they certainly help me to think twice about forgiving them for a future screw up. So as a marketer who knows how hard it is to sustain client loyalty, that’s certainly worth all the candles on my cake.

New Developments in B-to-B Loyalty Marketing

Business marketers have much to gain from retention marketing. Business customers tend to be fewer and more valuable—meaning you can’t afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your customers active and buying from you, versus the competition?  How do you prevent defection? Let’s look at the traditional approaches to retention marketing in B-to-B, plus some new developments in loyalty marketing being adopted by B-to-B marketers today, including social media and gamification.

Business marketers have much to gain from retention marketing. Business customers tend to be fewer and more valuable—meaning you can’t afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your customers active and buying from you, versus the competition? How do you prevent defection? Let’s look at the traditional approaches to retention marketing in B-to-B, plus some new developments in loyalty marketing being adopted by B-to-B marketers today, including social media and gamification.

Traditional Approaches in B-to-B Retention Marketing
Given the importance of customer retention in B-to-B, business marketers have a long history of investing in loyalty drivers. The most basic approach has been—simply—superb account management.

In a well-run company, the sales team in charge of any given customer will do its best to understand what’s going on in the account; sell to them the way they want to buy; deliver on time; develop new products to serve their evolving needs; solve any customer service problems; cultivate deep relationships with the specifiers, influencers and decision-makers throughout the account; and generally provide the best possible products and service levels. It is this basic approach that has stood the test of time in account development.

But as buying has become more complex, businesses have developed additional strategies to deepen customer relationships and engender loyalty. For example:

  • Data-driven segmentation and differentiated treatment. Not all customers are created equal, so segmenting customers by value and treating them differently is a strategy that works well in business markets. Some companies will identify their top accounts—based on margin or on top-line revenue—and provide them with special perks, pricing and service levels, such as:
    • Corporate-wide purchasing agreements, where all buying across a far-flung enterprise can benefit from pre-negotiated contract pricing.
    • Dedicated sales teams, some of them even housed on site at the customer’s operation.
    • Dedicated customer service phone lines, where the service personnel can develop an ongoing personal relationship with individuals in the account.
    • Special status, like Gold Customer or Preferred Customer, programs that may include access to discounts, free shipping, invitations to events and other perquisites.
  • Incentive programs. Taking a page from the consumer world, some business marketers have found success with frequency marketing programs that reward customers for certain behaviors, such as repeat purchase. These programs are not universally applicable in business, but they have their place, particularly when the purchase cycle is short and purchase behavior can be tracked.
    Rewards programs are typically applied in businesses that mimic consumer purchasing behavior, like office supplies. Staples, for example, runs a thriving business rewards program targeted to its small-medium business customers. Financial services and telecom have also done well with frequency marketing programs in SMB, examples being American Express OPEN, the MasterCard Business Bonus program and Verizon’s BusinessLink.

New Developments in Loyalty for Business Markets
In the last few years, B-to-B loyalty marketing has benefited from the arrival of new tools that support the goal of deepening relationships with business buyers. Social media, for example, has created an easy, low-cost way for companies to build communities and foster engagement. Social media is being applied across the B-to-B marketing spectrum, from prospecting via viral pass-along, to enhancing customer relationships, to surfacing and solving customer service problems.

In the area of enhancing customer relationships and fostering loyalty, the power of social media is being felt throughout the B-to-B marketing world:

  • Companies build the ranks of their followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, their “likes” on Facebook, and their RSS subscribers to blogs and YouTube channels. These connections then become another set of media channels for staying in touch, introducing new products, sharing ideas and case studies, and otherwise building an ongoing relationship.
  • Within social media environments, companies establish communities of customers and prospects around certain subjects, like technologies, products, events and other shared interests. In these forums, chat groups, blogs and other formats, like-minded people share ideas, expand their knowledge and make valuable connections.

One of the most exciting new developments in B-to-B loyalty marketing is the new concept known as gamification. The idea here is to build on people’s natural enthusiasm for games involving prizes, competition and recognition, and turn that motivation into a loyalty driver. The goal of gamification is to add gaming elements to otherwise boring processes and tasks, converting them into something fun, competitive and addictively engaging.

Marketers who want to introduce game design and mechanics to their loyalty programs can now take advantage of several new software platforms, like Badgeville, CallidusCloud and Bunchball. These tools are taking loyalty programs to a new level of interactivity, real-time feedback and social interaction, with some promising early results.

If you’ve experimented with loyalty programs in B-to-B, please share your experiences.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Email to Repair Broken Customer Relationships—What J.C. Penney Got Wrong

Email is one of the more personal forms of electronic communication. Notes from friends and family are co-mingled with marketing messages. This makes it an excellent vehicle for repairing broken relationships. When done well, email apology letters drive sales in addition to mending relationships, but can they save a company from a death spiral? The management team at J.C. Penney is hoping that the recent note from CEO Ron Johnson will reverse (or at least slow down) the sales free fall for the last two quarters.

Email is one of the more personal forms of electronic communication. Notes from friends and family are co-mingled with marketing messages. This makes it an excellent vehicle for repairing broken relationships.

When done well, an email apology letter drives sales in addition to mending relationships. A few years ago, a client had a system failure that resulted in delayed shipments of holiday orders. An email was sent to every customer who had placed an order that season (even the ones who had already received their orders.) The message explained what caused the problem, apologized for any inconvenience, promised to expedite shipments of remaining orders, and offered a gift certificate for future orders.

The immediate response was so positive, the President quipped, “We should plan a problem once a quarter so we can apologize!” The revenue from the apology letter more than covered the expedited shipping. Furthermore, the relationship between customer and company became stronger. The people who received the letter consistently outperformed their counterparts who didn’t get one in both sales and lifespan.

Personal letters help salvage relationships but can they save a company from a death spiral? The management team at J.C. Penney is hoping that the recent note from CEO Ron Johnson will reverse (or at least slow down) the sales free fall for the last two quarters. In May, the first quarter results revealed a 20.1 percent drop in revenue because shoppers didn’t like the new pricing and marketing strategy. Second quarter was worse with another revenue drop of almost 23 percent. Traffic was down 12 percent.

When things are going south at this rate, quick action is required. Johnson admitted to pricing and marketing mistakes when speaking with investors, but his letter to customers is more like an introduction than an “Oops! We goofed.” The letter reads:

Dear valued customer,

You’ve probably heard about recent changes at jcpenney. I’m honored to
say that I’m one of them.

I’m Ron Johnson, and I came here because I have a lifelong passion for
retailing—and jcpenney has been one of America’s favorite stores for
over a hundred years. My goal is to make jcpenney your favorite place
to shop.

I’ve asked our team to innovate in many ways—to help you look and live
better—and to make shopping more enjoyable.

While you will see many changes, you can rest assured that we’ll never
lose sight of our founder’s values. When James Cash Penney built his
first retail stores over a century ago, he called them “The Golden
Rule,” because treating customers with respect was his highest
priority.

One of Mr. Penney’s guiding principles was offering low prices every
day—instead of running a series of “special sales.” We’re honoring Mr.
Penney by returning to his pricing policy, so you’ll find great prices
every time you visit.

We’ve also made it easier to return items, we’re bringing in more
great brands, adding excitement to our presentation, offering free
back-to-school haircuts for kids, and much more.

Basically, we’re putting you and your family first, trying to give you
new reasons to smile every time you visit a jcpenney store.

You’ll see many innovations in the coming months, and I’ll keep you
informed in a series of letters like this. I hope you’ll let me know
how we’re doing, and share any ideas that could help us do better.
Just click the link below to send me a note.

On behalf of the jcpenney team, thank you for shopping with us.

Ron

I’d like to hear from you.
View email with images.

*Please be advised that any information disclosed or submitted will
become jcp property and may be used in public communications.”

The timing of this letter is off. It should have been sent prior to the pricing changes. Now is the time for J.C. Penney to be open about the issues and invite people to share thoughts without the threat that they “may be used in public communications.”

Email messages designed to repair relationships are different from marketing emails. They have to be simple and personal. The J.C. Penney email is designed to look like a letter from the CEO, as you can see in the first picture in the media player at right.

Unfortunately, it looks like the second picture in the media player when it lands in the inbox. The letter is an image instead of text. It isn’t very inviting to a loyal customer much less an unhappy one.

Do’s and don’ts for creating personal relationship mending messages:

  • Do personalize the name. “Dear valued customer” says “I don’t know who you are.” The individual who shared this email with me has been a loyal catalog shopper and had a J. C. Penney credit card. They should be on a first name basis.
  • Don’t use a ho-hum subject. You have to catch people’s attention in a flash. “A letter from our CEO” doesn’t do it. Wouldn’t “Our CEO wants your advice” be better?
  • Do identify the problem and take responsibility for it. “Oops! We goofed!” followed with an explanation and sincere apology is the first step to mending the relationship. If the recipient doesn’t feel your sincerity, additional damage is done.
  • Don’t limit responses by qualifying. Mr. Johnson asks for feedback and then states that the information shared may be used in public communications. Some apology emails offer a discount based on a specific order size. Relationship mending emails have to do two things: Take responsibility and offer some form of restitution. A discount is a promotion. Basing it on a dollar amount is adding insult to injury.
  • Do use text-only emails. A picture paints a thousand words and most of them send marketing signals and awaken spaminators. The purpose of relationship building emails is to restore the relationship. This won’t happen if the email goes to spam or looks like a bunch of boxes with red X’s.
  • Don’t ever forget that relationships with customers are a privilege not a right. When you are truly grateful for the opportunity to serve your customers, it resonates in your messages. Make sure that your marketing team (including the copywriter) has the right perspective when creating messages.

Introducing ‘The Integrated Email’ Blog by Debra Ellis

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

My experience with email marketing began shortly after Hotmail launched the first Web-based email service in 1996. A client had compiled approximately 11,000 customer email addresses and wondered what we could do with them. Our first test was a 25 percent discount on any order placed that day. A text-only message was sent using the mail merge functionality in Excel and Outlook. It took over two hours to send all the emails.

Those two hours were quite exciting. We had two computers in close proximity so we could watch the progress of the outgoing emails and monitor sales on the website. Within minutes of starting the email transmissions, orders started flowing in. By the end of the day, more than 1900 orders were received. A handful of people asked to be excluded from future mailings. Over 200 people responded with personal notes. Some were grateful for the discount. Others apologized for not placing an order and asked to receive more emails.

Things are much different today. The novelty of receiving a personalized message from a company is long gone. Spam filters make getting emails delivered a near impossible mission. And the competition for recipients’ attention is at an all-time high. Even so, email marketing remains one of most effective marketing and service vehicles available.

The emails that deliver the best return on investment are the ones that are integrated with the other marketing channels to provide information and service to the recipients. They create a connection between company and customer that motivates people to respond. A successful email marketing strategy builds loyalty while increasing sales.

Many email campaigns today are little more than a systematic generation of one promotional email after another. Discount emails are relatively easy to create and deliver sales with each send, making them a quick way to inject some life into lagging sales. The simplicity of sale marketing combined with solid response rates creates an environment where marketers are reluctant to move beyond the easy, low-hanging fruit.

In addition to generating sales, discount marketing also trains people to always look for the best price before buying the company’s products and services. It is not a sustainable strategy because there will always be another company that can offer lower prices and lure customers away. A better plan is to develop an integrated email marketing strategy that educates and encourages people to develop a relationship with the company. This requires more effort, but it delivers loyalty and long-term results.

Every email that a customer or prospect receives is an opportunity for the company to establish itself as the best service provider and solidify the relationship. Best practices include:

  • Using a valid return email address so the recipient can respond with one click.
  • Sending branded emails that identify your company at first glance.
  • Mixing educational emails that provide “how to” information for products and services with new product launches and promotional messages.
  • Transactional emails that communicate shipping information and challenges so customers aren’t left wondering, “Where is my order?”
  • Highly targeted and personalized emails designed to engage customers and prospects at every point in their lifespan.

Finding the right combination of educational, event and promotional emails requires testing and measuring results for incremental improvements. The resources invested improve relationships, increase sales and create a sustainable marketing strategy.

Note: Over the next few months, we’ll feature winning and losing email marketing strategies and campaigns on this blog. If you would like to share your company’s killer emails, send them to Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

Lights, Camera, Action: Video Helps You Stay in Touch With Customers

One problem that plagues B-to-B sales and marketing is coming up with relevant, timely messages for nurturing customer relationships. A territory-based sales rep may be trying to keep in touch with hundreds of contacts at a time, but struggles to find a steady supply of good-quality reasons to use to reach out—without being a pest. I recently ran across a particularly compelling solution to this problem: Personalized email that links to entertaining, but useful, videos.

One problem that plagues B-to-B sales and marketing is coming up with relevant, timely messages for nurturing customer relationships. A territory-based sales rep may be trying to keep in touch with hundreds of contacts at a time, but struggles to find a steady supply of good-quality reasons to use to reach out—without being a pest. I recently ran across a particularly compelling solution to this problem: Personalized email that links to entertaining, but useful, videos.

Here’s where I ran across this: Glenn Diehl, owner of the New York distributor of Skyline Exhibits, has a team of eight sales people selling custom trade show exhibits and portable displays to marketers and trade show managers in New York City and several northern counties. Diehl came up with a program whereby his reps can send to their contact lists emails embedded with a link to an informative video created by Mike Mraz, a trade show marketing expert with a creative knack for video production.

Mraz was already producing his “Today’s Trade Show Minute” videos every three weeks as a way to promote his own consulting and training services. His arrangement with Diehl includes access to fresh “Minute” videos twice a month, plus a custom landing page with a personal introduction from each rep.

Here’s a sample email (see the first image in the media player to the right) from Skyline rep Al Mercuro, who was the first at SkylineNY to adopt the program and make it part of his regular customer outreach. The cover note is in plain text, inviting customers to have a look at the latest “Minute” video.

Customers who click through find themselves at Mercuro’s dedicated landing page, which includes his friendly face, a short message, the “Today’s Trade Show Minute” video and a call to action (see the second image in the media player to the right).

There are three reasons why I like this program:

  1. The content is fresh, lively and relevant to both the recipient and the sales objective of the vendor. The videos deliver a useful trade show success tip in only 60 seconds.
  2. Outsourcing the video content to a third party like Mike Mraz ensures an ongoing supply of new material for Skyline’s customer communications. The relentless challenge of creating new content is one of the most common impediments (PDF) to long-term communications success for B-to-B marketers.
  3. The program is managed by marketing, but goes out over the name of the sales rep, providing tangible help in relationship building with the rep’s key contacts.

I learned from Skyline’s sales and marketing team leader, Frank Cavaluzzi, that the program is scheduled for some fine tuning this year. Currently, it’s up the sales reps to take the initiative to send out the email. Cavaluzzi is planning to streamline the process, make it more automated, so it’s a bit easier for both sales and marketing to execute.

How about you? Are you seeing productive new ways to keep in touch with customers and prospects?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.