Customer engagement vital to email strategy

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Direct Marketing News: What are some of the ways you are acquiring new email addresses?

Wasserman: We just started doing some ECOA, which frankly I've done list appends in the past at other companies and have not really felt it's a best practice for the industry. I was sort of nervous going into the ECOA piece of this, but we did it in a way where we made everybody feel comfortable. We looked at people who are active within a certain time frame.  We went through a firm, and they came back with matches that we reengaged with an email saying that “we noticed you've not been opening our emails; would you like to continue to receive them?”  I was pleased with the results. We had a very, very tiny opt-out.  We are in the process now of doing a longer term study to see how they perform as a separate list. That was a nice way to reactivate the list.

Berman: When people make a booking, whether it's by phone or website, they usually want a reservation confirmation. We get emails pretty quickly that way. I think the hardest thing for us is one of our biggest market segments is business travelers, and a lot of times we set up with a company, where we will get into a corporate travel program and we have a relationship with a corporate travel manager who may never actually travel. They may have hundreds or thousands of employees who we have no relationship with. How do we prospect those people? We haven't really figured it out. We are trying a couple of things virally to see if we can encourage people who are loyal guests of ours to be willing to share and potentially even try to get some of their coworkers to be aware of us.

We are going to be using points for our points-based program to try to incentivize people to share their colleagues' email addresses.

Kissinger: We've really started to look at that contextual way we can bring people in. If you're on the outdoor section of HGTV, you're going to get an outdoors newsletter. With those people, open rates are much higher. The other thing that's been really successful is we put a tab on the Facebook page that was in our newsletters and made that the default tab for different time periods and then drive to it at times. It's a much younger audience versus our network or our websites. 

Sugarman: Our market is sixty, sixty-five plus and there is that trust factor that we struggle with. They are still very leery, so we are concerned about what's happening with Epsilon.

Delma: Providing content immediately upfront is a great way to get people to provide their email address. People aren't likely to share an advertisement with their friends, but they will share a playlist. We are now doing a function where they can come up with their own playlist of their own favorite songs that they can download and keep. Then we are just powering and white labeling behind it, and we're working with Facebook and a couple of ESPs to provide this.

Sugarman: We have free reports that are dealing with [specific] conditions.  I think that is a great idea, and maybe we can offer that as an incentive. You can get a free report.

Deutsch: Mint.com ran a program about a year and a half ago where they asked their customers to share the Mint.com experience with them. They did two tests, and they offered as a reward two things: One was a free iPod Nano. The other was access to beta features on the site that allowed you to do financial planning. The access to the features for financial planning outperformed the iPod by about three to one because the customer base was much more interested in content, access and insight to financial services information than they were free stuff. I think that's an excellent idea.

Direct Marketing News: How are you integrating social media with your email marketing strategy, and what has worked and has not worked?

Jackson: Twitter is huge for us. We find that's a highly responsive audience to email type offers. Not only do we do the share icons and all of that on our email campaigns, but we actually post every email offer on Twitter. We also do things where we'll monitor our Twitter feed and if people are saying great things about us, we will match them up manually with our data and try to find out who they are, so we can engage with them directly to share with them great news and information and give them something to use. We also do the opposite: if people are very unhappy with us, for whatever reason and voicing it on Twitter, we will find there account and direct message them or email them and try to resolve the situation so that we can in some cases turn them into advocates through customer service. That's been really successful.  

Wasserman: One thing that has worked for us is we have a TGIF promotion. We put that up and promote that on our Facebook page and get that word out. When it's not Friday, that link is still there and people come through there and we actually take them to an email signup so they can take advantage of that promotion and they can get it the next time. 

I can say one thing that hasn't worked which was, we've done a nice job about creating content on our blog and that's been part of our strategy for about a year now and we did have an easy way of creating a daily digest. We wanted to be able to sort of recap what was happening on the blog daily. We didn't want to add to the workload, so we used one of these third party email sign-up tools and digests.  Interestingly enough, the response on that email list has been very small. We are looking at potentially switching out that email sign up and integrating it back into our full list file.

Direct Marketing News: Amy, you have such a rabid fan base, and the sports folks are really active on social.  What does NHL do to integrate social with email?

Ray: We do have active social platforms. Sports lends its self to that. All day, you have the water cooler effect, people wanting to talk about last night's games and debate. Then at night the games are actually happening, so people are talking about that.

We are able to use our Facebook page to keep people talking pretty much constantly about content, and then very strategically we throw in marketing messages.  We don't want to do too much because it is obviously supposed to be a forum for fans, but it does lend itself to passing on offers that are going on in email or other places. We are implementing a lot more “like” buttons on our site, so that then we can see that activity between what they're interacting with on our site and then remarketing to them via email depending on certain things that they like. Lots of times the [social media] offers will be different from the email, because you want something that is Facebook only or Twitter only but they are generally in line with the campaign. 

Direct Marketing News: Is everyone else doing that too?

Delma: It all comes back to music; “like” us and get a free track. Then when they go to sign up for the track, they have an option to opt in to our newsletter. As soon as you like us, you get something immediately. We don't do that in email.

Scheiman: We've been talking about how to share content across both channels and integrate that.  Has anyone thought about integrating data back into the customer database from these channels and from some of the listening tools that are out there in order to positively impact the content that goes out in your emails?

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