E-mail marketing: Bells and whistles vs. customer data

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Though no longer a new concept, the potential of e-mail marketing remains largely untapped. Marketers too often are enamored with e-mail's promise of ease, affordability and relevance, and lose sight of the best practices required to deliver on that promise.

Customer-centric marketing — regardless of channel — depends on unfettered access to complete, reliable customer data. The bells and whistles of a particular e-mail marketing application shouldn't distract marketers from that core principle. Many marketers are convinced that simply adding a recipient's name to the subject line transforms a generic offer into a personalized offer — but even Nigerian con artists can use first names.

Merging customer data into an e-mail offer is only effective if it adds value to the customer.
For example, nonprofit fundraisers might remind donors about their last donation and how that donation was used. They could say: “It's time to give again.” Or: “We remain deeply grateful for your donation of $300 on July 21, 2007. It helped provide art supplies to several area schools. Can those budding young artists count on your support again this year?”

Customer data helps personalize images, formatting and entire blocks of text. Signature blocks and photos of a branch manager or agent can give a corporate message a more intimate feel. Other benefits to using customer data include the ability to determine who will receive an offer in the first place. When did you last contact customers and by what channel? Do they have a preferred channel? Do they have a seasonal purchase history or an interest only in a specific product line? Data of this type can help insure that customers get fewer, more relevant offers.

Some might argue that with e-mail so inexpensive to send, why not just blast the entire list with every offer? Why not tell Boston residents about cheap flights from Tucson to Columbus? Customers quickly recognize how little these companies value their time and this only leads to decreased customer satisfaction, increased opt-outs and lowered expectations of value for future communications.

Customer-centric e-mail marketing requires more than just the standard name and address fields. A great e-mail marketing application must be seamlessly connected to a larger CRM platform with rich customer data spanning multiple systems (campaign history, billing, shipping, service requests, etc.) and every employee who interacts with customers, such as sales agents, service reps and field personnel, must have real-time access to all e-mail marketing history and content. In the end, customer-centric marketing is all about the data.

Walter Lamb is marketing solutions specialist for Oracle. Reach him at walter.lamb@oracle.com.
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