DM News' Essential Guide to E-Mail Marketing: Lifecycle Messaging: Death to the E-Blast

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One size no longer fits all in e-mail marketing. If you tailor messages to reflect a customer's relationship with your company, you could reap up to nine times the return on investment versus a basic e-mail broadcast campaign, according to JupiterResearch.

Lifecycle messaging is an e-mail marketing program based on a series of messages sent to recipients depending on where they are in their customer lifecycle with your company. It isn't just the latest trend in e-mail marketing, though. Lifecycle messaging reflects how e-mail messaging has matured in the 10 years since it became a viable marketing channel.

E-mail marketing's brief but busy history is marked by four distinct phases. Each phase refined the practice of direct marketing through e-mail and solved specific problems.

Phase 1: Load and send. After marketers saw the potential for direct marketing via e-mail, they focused on capturing as many e-mail addresses as possible and measuring results. Campaigns relied on all-purpose or one-off e-mails sent to the whole list. This basic method delivered good ROI initially, but outside factors such as unsolicited e-mail and recipients' higher expectations forced companies to improve list quality and boost open rates, clicks and acquisitions. However, 24 percent of marketers still base their programs on all-purpose e-mail messaging, according to JupiterResearch.

Phase 2: Segmentation. As e-mail features caught up with database management, marketers found that they increased ROI when they segmented their lists on demographic or customer lifecycle factors (product preference, location, recent buyer, gender) and sent a modified version of the basic message to each segment. Today, 65 percent of e-mail marketers use some version of segmentation or personalization, which was the next phase.

Phase 3: Personalized, dynamic content. As companies' experience with e-mail marketing expanded, many found they could increase their returns and achieve more satisfactory outcomes by adding dynamic content to a standard message. The marketer creates a single e-mail template with various "content blocks" that are personalized dynamically for each recipient based on his individual profile and preferences.

Phase 4: Lifecycle messaging. This pinnacle of e-mail marketing is reached by companies whose dedicated resources include e-mail-savvy personnel and sophisticated software capable of sending a series of automated messages triggered by customer actions or profile data. Eleven percent of marketers use some version of lifecycle messaging, according to Jupiter.

Specific events or profile data automatically trigger a message's release: a prospect signaling an intent to buy, a move to upsell or cross-sell a current customer, a price-change announcement and so on. Thus, instead of sending a single message to all 100,000 addresses on a list, or two versions of the message to each 50,000-address segment, a company ends up with a continuously operating system of e-mail messaging.

Lifecycle messaging is an effective way to move your clientele from basic participation with your organization to the highest levels of involvement. By timing them to relevant points in the customer lifecycle, you eliminate nagging questions such as when and how often to send.

Lifecycle messaging does require more upfront effort. You must map out a basic customer lifecycle, create messages ahead of time and time them for effective delivery. Your e-mail software or service provider must be able to accommodate this more sophisticated e-mail program. However, marketers who move their e-mail programs to a lifecycle-message approach will be rewarded with greater ROI, enhanced brand value and more loyal customers who represent a higher lifetime value.

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