Email Marketing Redefined: Service With a Side of Sales

The multichannel marketplace has blurred the line between service and sales. People expect to get answers to their questions while they are shopping and on-demand after an order is placed. Redirecting them to another channel or platform for pre-sale and post-order information has a negative effect on the buying experience and long-term loyalty

The multichannel marketplace has blurred the line between service and sales. People expect to get answers to their questions while they are shopping and on-demand after an order is placed. Redirecting them to another channel or platform for pre-sale and post-order information has a negative effect on the buying experience and long-term loyalty.

Unfortunately, technology has changed faster than the corporate organizational chart has adapted. Marketing and operational departments aren’t integrated enough to provide the seamless shopping and service experience that people want. It’s time to make the shift to integrated messaging across all channels, platforms and departments. The email program is the best place to start, because changes are quick and easy.

Transactional emails tend to be matter of fact announcements of order receipt, shipment and issues. They serve the operational side of the business well but do little to directly improve sales. Branding is minimal and the messages are rarely in the same voice used for promotional information. Failure to include marketing service messages is a lost opportunity.

Marketing is a service when it solves people’s problems. Transactional emails are one to one communication. The right combination of marketing and service messages benefit customers by helping them maximize the return from their investments. The key to successful execution is having the correct processes, careful planning, and good application of business rules. When done well, they keep customers informed and motivate them to buy more.

For example, the order confirmation email should thank the customer for the business, provide specific purchase information, and suggest other items that complement the original products.

An email for an order of earrings could offer a matching necklace or an order for a vacuum cleaner might suggest bags and filters. If the operational process allows combining the orders at the same shipping rate, the suggestion to do so creates a sense of urgency. The only catch is that business rules have to be accurate with personal messaging to optimize the return.

Inserting product images with a brief description will bump sales a bit, but it doesn’t have the same effect as: “Thank you for your order of the super suction vacuum cleaner. It will ship tomorrow. Please remember that the filter needs to be changed every month. Add one on to your order by clicking this link before midnight tonight and there will not be an extra shipping charge.” Of course your copy team will do a better job than me, but you get the idea.

Almost every transactional email sent to customers should include a marketing message. The exceptions to this rule are issue-related emails. Following “your item is out of stock until next month” with “buy this to go with your item” won’t win customer loyalty.

To get started with integrated marketing and service emails:

  1. Review your transactional emails. When are they sent? What information do they include? Is there a follow-up after the sale to encourage people to provide feedback? Do you ask people if they like their purchases? Document all of the transactional emails so you will have a starting point.
  2. Identify opportunities for marketing messages. Add-on sales are good for order confirmation emails. “New items just arrived” works well on shipment confirmation messages. Be creative when thinking about how to combine service and sales, it will provide more testing options.
  3. Select the emails and messages to test. Start small and learn quickly. Testing provides the best information for rolling out your program. Use simple business rules and build from that foundation. Complicated processes are recipes for disaster when you are starting an integrated program.
  4. Verify that the offers are deliverable. Promising your customers that you will combine orders when it is operationally impossible creates mistrust with customers and colleagues. Always under promise and over deliver. It surprises customers and minimizes dissatisfaction.
  5. Measure everything. What effect does the new messaging have on sales? Opens? Clicks? Lifetime value? Lifespan? The more you know the better you can create targeted emails that deliver sales and satisfaction.
  6. Revise as needed. Transactional emails are easy to set and forget. They continue to go out day after day without any maintenance required. This tends to make them a low priority. Scheduling regular updates to rework the emails keep them fresh and informative for customers. It optimizes the return.

Gearing Up for the Holidays: Make Your Email Marketing Deliver Long Tail Results

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy. The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy.

The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers. The first, and most obvious, is the opportunity to increase sales. Bargain hunters everywhere will be snatching up the best deals across all channels. The company with the lowest prices will win their attention—and possibly their business—until a lower price appears at the next store. This opportunity works best for companies with killer price negotiators and heavy volume.

Creating and solidifying relationships between customer and company is the second opportunity. Connections can begin with deep discounts but there has to be a strategy in place to move customers from discount shoppers to loyal buyers. The process starts with understanding how people become loyal to your company. What path do they follow from first purchase to long time customers?

The answer to that question is most likely, “it depends,” because the path is dependent on the customer type and what motivated the first purchase. Discount promotions attract bargain hunters, hit and run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters tend to watch for discounts before buying again while hit and run shoppers buy once and disappear. Active customers stay around during the off-sale season and build lifetime value. Only a small percentage of customers acquired during high promotion periods will become active customers without intervention.

Email is an excellent tool for converting bargain hunters and hit-and-run shoppers into active customers. It is inexpensive and effective when used to strategically move people into the buying cycle. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Review newly acquired customer data from the last three to five holiday seasons to identify bargain hunters, hit-and-run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters rarely buy full price items. Hit and run shoppers buy once or twice, usually within a thirty day period, and disappear. Active customers are the ones who predictably buy throughout the year.
  • Define the path from original source to last purchase. This is where you’ll start seeing some patterns. For example, hit-and-run shoppers typically originate as online shoppers that found your site using search engines or social networks. Identifying them early and adapting your strategy accordingly reduces the resources that will be invested in additional marketing unlikely to generate a return.
  • What paths do the active customers follow from first purchase to their current buying activity? How do they differ from the bargain hunters and hit and runners? Did the people who became active customers receive different marketing promotions? The answers to these questions will help design new campaigns to keep new customers coming back.
  • Create test campaigns that personalize the shopping experience. Holiday time is hectic for some, crazy for others. The easier you make it for your customers, the more likely they will return. Use transactional emails to keep people informed every step of the way. Instead of the perfunctory “your order number 123 shipped today and will arrive in 3-5 business days,” try using more friendly language. Your copywriters can make transactional emails informative, engaging, and entertaining.
  • Follow up after the sale. If the products or services aren’t used, there will never be a second order. Personalized emails that ask about the items and service are a rarity. They will stand out in a sea of incoming messages. In addition to establishing successful relationships, you’ll learn about problems that need resolution.

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.