Get Ready for 2013: Email Marketing Redefined

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen.

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? If you are like most marketers, juggling multiple channels in an ever changing marketplace doesn’t leave much time for contemplating the whys and wherefores in any area.

Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen. The way people access information and connect with each other is changing rapidly. Your email marketing has to adapt or die.

The best strategy is multifaceted with specific processes that move people for one stage to another. It provides access to the content via the technology that fits your customers and prospects. The people who subscribe to your messages aren’t always at their computers. Your content and how it is delivered has to adapt to their needs.

The first step in creating a comprehensive strategy is defining the purpose of your email marketing. Do you want to acquire more customers? Sell more products and services? Keep customers happy? Reduce operating costs? Or, is it all of the above?

The four primary objectives for email campaigns are:

  • Customer Acquisition
  • Sales
  • Customer Retention
  • Service

Each objective requires a customized strategy designed to move people from original contact to completion. Everything varies from the point of origin forward. The messages that sell the latest products to seasoned customers are rarely as effective with prospects. Creating a specific process for each objective moves email marketing from generic blasts to targeted marketing that connects with people. There can be some crossover, but in general, every email sent needs a specific objective and clearly defined success metrics.

Start the planning for 2013 by reviewing 2012. How many customers were acquired via emails? What percentage of sales is directly attributed to email campaigns? What percentage of sales was influenced by email marketing? How does customer retention for people who subscribe to your emails compare with those who don’t? How do service metrics compare for subscribers versus non-subscribers? You have to know where you are before you plan the journey to your destination.

Next, look at the content of the emails sent in 2012. Does it match the information in your analysis? Are there exceptions? For example, if the majority of the emails were sales promotions, then a low customer acquisition rate and strong sales generation would be expected. If there are any exceptions, try to identify the elements that made people act.

The last part of the 2012 review is looking at segmentation and consistency. Was your list segmented so people received emails targeted by behavior, or did everyone on your list receive the same emails? How often did each group receive messages? Is there a pattern of response in relation to timing? Are all of the emails branded so your company is easily recognized?

The 2012 review provides a benchmarking foundation so you have a reference point for comparison. The review process often triggers ideas and awareness that can be used to maximize the return in 2013. Document your thoughts and any metrics readily available for future reference.

It is time to look forward to the New Year. What do you want to accomplish with your email marketing in 2013? The best strategies have a balanced approach to accomplishing the four primary objectives. They attract new customers, keep existing ones happy and generate revenue while reducing operating costs.

Identifying specific targets provides goals and accountability. How many customers do you want to acquire? What are your direct and indirect sales goals? How much should your retention rate increase? What effect do you expect on service levels and operating costs?

There are many questions to be answered in the process of creating a comprehensive email marketing strategy. The better the answers, the more likely your email program will succeed. Investing the time and resources required to do this right is guaranteed to generate a solid return on investment.

This post is the first in a series on developing a comprehensive email marketing strategy.

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.

Use Social Media and Email to Get More Customers and Keep Them Coming Back

Apathy kills more customers than bad service and poor quality products combined. Loyalty is inspired when people are interested, engaged and valued. The top priority of every business that wants long-term growth and profitability is acquiring customers and keeping them coming back. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

Apathy kills more customers than bad service and poor quality products combined. Loyalty is inspired when people are interested, engaged and valued. The top priority of every business that wants long-term growth and profitability is acquiring customers and keeping them coming back. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

Customer acquisition without retention is expensive. Costs typically run $25 to $75 per customer depending on the industry and competition. Three or more orders are required to break even. Profitability and growth come when people continue to buy year after year. Companies that excel in acquiring customers but don’t retain them will eventually crumble under the high costs.

Retention without acquisition is equally dangerous. Natural attrition will eventually leave the company without customers. When people complete their buying lifespan, they leave. Replacements are vital to keep the company moving forward. Companies without a stable of new customers coming in on a regular basis are dying. It is only a matter of time until operating costs exceeds revenue.

Apple is a good example of a company that has a good balance between acquisition and retention. The company keeps people coming back even when the products offer less performance than those from competitors. Loyalty remains high even after “antennagate” in 2010 because people are so emotionally invested in Apple’s culture leaving is harder than staying. Any company without a customer cult-like obsession for its products would have suffered irreparable damage from a similar challenge.

What if your company isn’t Apple and has little hope of creating an obsessive fan base? How do you continuously acquire customers and keep them coming back? Creating an integrated strategy that uses the best features of individual channels to connect with people and provide an engaging experience is the key to your success. Start by combining social activity with email campaigns and expand from there. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Let people know that you value their business. Neglect is one of two components that make it easy for competitors to snag your customers. Use custom emails to keep the connection between customer and company strong. People know the difference between “personalized” (insert name here) and “personal” (specific messages about orders or challenges). The same technology that creates personalized messages can create personal ones. Make the effort to send custom emails that invite a two-way conversation on a regular basis. Most people won’t respond, but you will still plant a seed that can grow into loyalty.
  • Keep things interesting. Boredom is the second component that opens the door for competitors to steal your customers’ attention with flashy ads, deep discounts, and the promise of something new. Shake things up by injecting new templates in your email campaigns and offering fun activities on your social platforms. After receiving the same format multiple times and repeatedly seeing the same types of posts, people miss the message because their mind tricks them into thinking they’ve seen it before. Avoid this by injecting fresh looks and participation opportunities.
  • Have a plan that moves people from participating in social communities to subscribing to your emails and vice versa. An email sign-up page on Facebook and links to your social platforms at the bottom of emails is not a plan. You need specific calls-to-action that include good reasons for people to move between channels. The process needs to be easy and fun. The more fun you make it, the more likely they will respond.
  • Reward people. Use great offers to get people to convert from prospect to customer. Provide even better benefits for long-term loyalty. Create a special club for people to join when they’ve placed their fifth order or reached a sales benchmark to encourage them to keep coming back. Include membership in private groups on social platforms and exclusive email messages. Let the people who provide the most benefits to your company receive the best offers first.