Despite the naysayers claiming email marketing is on the way out thanks to the snowballing impact of social networking and new forms of communication, the facts are very different. Email continues to play a vital role in both business and customer communication. 

According to Epsilon, email is used more regularly than social networking for personal communication, while 30% of organisations in Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Industry Census claimed an ROI from email in excess of 500%.

Where I think the challenge lies is in understanding how to engage
customers using email marketing, integrating with other channels like
social media, instead of relying on blast broadcasts and hoping that
someone will respond because you’ve taken the time to email. There is
so much noise in the world, you need to understand how to make your
email communication relevant and worth reading.

Here are my tips on what you can do with your email strategy to help improve performance in 2010…

1. Drive clicks with customer reviews

Research from Manage Smarter (September 2009) found that 74% of people are influenced by the opinions of others when buying products. 47% of the 1,000 shoppers polled said they look to on-site reviews when making a decision. 

The first goal is to get customer reviews on your website. Not only good for on-page conversion, this has the added benefit of supporting SEO as major search engines like Google now place greater value on rich snippets like customer reviews.

The second goal is to drive site traffic by promoting your reviews. Email is a perfect channel. Start simple by sending an email with a relevant top rated product and link through to the product and a ratings and reviews landing page.

The next step is to increase sophistication and segment your email audience so that individuals receive review content based on their browsing/buying behaviour.

2. Increase engagement with social media

Every time you contact a customer, you have a chance to offer them your social media services. To make social media presence worthwhile, you need an audience to engage with. The more people signed up and staying in touch, the greater your chance of getting their attention when the wallet is open.

Have a standard button in each email that points to your social profiles. Educate your customers on the benefits of following you. Feature comments from other customers to demonstrate the value. Why not add a screenshot of your current Twitter feed?

Buying cycles can be long, especially when people are more cautious with spend in the current economic climate. Keep people engaged with your brand during ‘quiet’ times, providing added value content via social forums like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Mindshare can lead to walletshare.

Social media can play a quid pro quo role – you can highlight newsletter sign-up on your social profiles. For example, it is possible to add a newsletter sign-up box on your Facebook business page.

3. Improve relevance with event triggered emails

This can be effective if you integrate with on-site functionality like wishlists and bookmarking – an email trigger alerts your customers to the ability to create a birthday wishlist on your site and bookmark to their friends.

Set-up customer email preferences to support event dates, allowing customers to tell you when something special is happening. Use automated emails and dynamic content to tailor messaging to the customer e.g. if a customer has given you his Mum’s birthday, make sure the content contains gifts relevant to the mum.

66% of companies don’t send emails on specific dates like birthdays – how can you use event triggers to improve customer service and engagement via email?

4. Don’t ignore abandonment emailing

As I explored with Charles Nicholls of SeeWhy in my last blog, retargeting is an effective way of driving conversion by email. Adestra research shows that two thirds of UK companies fail to send emails to customers who have abandoned their baskets.

There are many reasons why people abandon baskets – not all you can counter but some simply leave due to frustration with the checkout process or because they’ve been distracted. Abandonment emails offer a route to tackling the issues immediately and striking while the iron’s hot.

According to Silverpop, Diapers.com experienced an increase in email open rate of 48% for abandonment emails and a net conversion rate of 129% higher.

5. Increase activity with a lifecycle approach

If I’m a new subscriber to your newsletter, what can I expect? Why should I instantly think of opening, clicking and buying?

As a loyal lifetime customer, how do you provide me with a differentiated service that recognises me as an individual based on past behaviour? A lifecycle approach can start by splitting customers into 4 segments: 

  • Nursery program for newbees 

Welcome emails, introductory offer to incentivise activity, highlight key elements of the website

  • Activation program

Test subject lines to drive open rates, test offers and content to uplift click through and purchases.

  • Retention program

Use dynamic content to personalise email content and segment your database to increase the relevance and impact of your emails. Don’t bore people into inactivity.

  • Data cleansing

You need to reactivate lapsed customers with timely offers and messages. Purge ‘dead’ contacts from your database and focus your time and money on those who are interested in what you’ve got to say.

6. Increase reach with viral triggers

Make sure that every email you send has a send-to-friend button enabling people to share your content with their friends. This button should land them on a branded form page allowing them to enter multiple email addresses. Re-assure people that you will not use their friends’ email addresses for marketing purposes as from a Data Protection angle you can’t do this.

On-site add social bookmarking. This enables visitors to bookmark key pages (product and content) across their social networks, increasing content reach. Add This provides a free tool that is easy to implement.

This is not an exhaustive list – there is always room for improvement with email so I recommend maintaining a continuous dialogue with your customers to find out what else you could be doing to improve the quality and relevance of your email marketing. Don’t let the Web2.0 and social media buzz words distract you – you need to define how they can support your commercial goals and enhance existing marketing channels like email, not replace them.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and other suggestions for delivering effective email programs.