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E-marketing and the customer experience

The web has become a global storefront, providing consumers with infinite choice and freeing them to pick and choose from a huge range of products and services. This transparency has broken down trade barriers, removed the luxury of operating in a local market and made it increasingly challenging to compete on lowest price or even product uniqueness. Instead, more and more companies are seeking to differentiate via the customer experience they deliver to consumers.

Marketing plays an essential role in the delivery of exceptional customer experiences regardless of whether it is the first time a consumer has been contacted by the company or as part of ongoing communication.

Adoption of e-marketing is accelerating and, done correctly using campaign management solutions offering intelligent multi-channel, multi-stage, event triggered campaigns, it can be a highly valuable way to engage new and existing customers and collect the information needed to ensure future communication is relevant and tailored. The question for marketers is how to stay ahead of the competition and maximise this tool to deliver value back to the entire business. This includes effectively tracking customer contact, preferences, buyer behaviour and the effectiveness of the campaign.

Five steps for successful e-marketing campaigns

Companies need to create clear, strategic criteria around their email marketing efforts to ensure that they contribute to the wider customer experience.

This criteria needs to encompass all elements of the email marketing process: from design, to testing, to distribution and feedback, as well as integrating with sales and service operations. By building a strategic campaign, organisations have the best chance of overcoming some of the challenges associated with email, including the sheer volume of email campaigns in the marketplace, and spam.

For those who do incorporate an email component to their marketing, the following checklist will help to deliver clear, concise and effective communications.

Permission to contact

Marketers need to focus on strengthening the bond they have with their audience. The first way of doing this is to avoid adding email addresses to lists without permission. The second is to take into account communication preferences, if a customer opts out of email communication, it seems obvious, but don’t annoy them by ignoring it. Failure to do this can result in customer complaints or worse, customer abandonment. Work on the principle that marketing isn’t a right, but has to be earned.

Format and design

Where possible, opt for HTML. This format tends to achieve higher response rates; it’s also more attractive and engaging to read. From the perspective of measuring campaign success, with HTML you can also track open rates, click-throughs and forwards. Multimedia emails can be more involving, but you really need to assess your audience before wading in; don’t assume all recipients will have the technology to view them. Also, remember not to overcook your design. An ‘all singing, all dancing’ email may fulfil your inner artist, but it can be very off-putting and distracting for the recipient. If your content stands up, just a sprinkling of the fancy stuff will be ample.

Relevancy and content

Marketers need to be known for sending high quality messages that are relevant to the recipient. An integrated marketing campaign that uses knowledge sourced during sales and service calls will ensure you’re personalising e-marketing interactions based on a consumer’s past purchase history, behaviour and preferences. If knowledge is used correctly it is possible to interact with customers in an intelligent, intentional and compelling manner. Ignore this at your peril—we all know how easy it is to click the delete button. It goes without saying that content quality is of equal importance. Content has to be distinctive, insightful, engaging and, where possible, exclusive—there’s really no point in using up precious email space with information readily available elsewhere—if they’ve already seen it, they won’t read it. Remember the viral capability of marketing; aim to provide content that the recipient will want to share.

Frequency and size

Achieving a balance between overburdening consumers and falling off their radar altogether is tricky and often dependent on the nature of your business. A general rule of thumb is to start gradually, perhaps monthly or bi-monthly before increasing to weekly campaigns. Regular surveys soliciting feedback on frequency can help find that balance. Size is important, so don’t overdo it. Emails should be short, punchy and packed with value. Inboxes are groaning with the sheer volume of emails sent every day, amid all that ‘noise’ it can be challenging to grab the consumers’ time and attention so make every word, graphic and link work towards enticing the recipient to take action.

Test, communicate, monitor

When it comes to e-marketing it’s essential to test everything with a small group first, before rolling out the campaign en masse. The subject header, content, promotion or offer, pricing, delivery day and times all need to be tested, as do any call to action required of the recipient. This will help you refine areas for improvement and remove mistakes prior to reaching a wider audience, heading off embarrassing errors that could affect response rates.

Ensure your marketing team communicates its efforts to the rest of the business and isn’t working in isolation. A good customer experience needs to be seamless so your service and sales departments need sight of any campaigns you intend to run. There’s nothing more frustrating for a consumer to receive a great offer only to call customer service or the sales department to find no one there knows anything about it and can’t help.

You also need to monitor recipient reactions and assess any feedback you receive, both the good and the not so good. This will allow you to continuously improve your communications. If you are sending HTML emails then open rates will be a good indicator of subject header relevance while click-throughs are an essential barometer of your content quality. Likewise, analytic tools can help you track and measure investment returns on any campaigns you run.

E-marketing: the bigger picture

Remember, campaign management solutions are not just about marketing. Yes, they do include marketing offers, and can even incorporate special tools to suggest the best offers for targeted up-selling and cross-selling to improve your share of their wallet. But they do more than that. Really, these tools are about pushing information and content out to customers at the right time and through the right channel. This not only includes marketing offers, but also includes periodic newsletters, product or service notifications, account notifications, and special alerts. Get it right and you can develop deep, long-term relationships and customer advocates.

* Alison Higgins-Miller is vice president Asia Pacific at RightNow Technologies.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of DYNAMICBUSINESS.com or the publishers.

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