E-Mail Relationships Require Dialog

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E-mail is a marketer's dream. The channel is inexpensive and can generate a return on investment that dwarfs returns achieved through traditional direct marketing methods.


The key steps to developing an e-mail marketing campaign include scrubbing your list, developing personalized copy and sending high-volume mailings. However, what happens when recipients respond? Too many e-mail campaigns are developed and executed without a clear plan for how to address customer responses to e-mail-generated messages and offers. For the campaign to be effective, e-mail must be leveraged as a two-way channel. While direct marketers recognize the value that e-mail offers as a marketing tool, few leverage e-mail's true worth as a two-way medium - one that, if leveraged as a response channel and low-cost delivery mechanism, can yield tremendous rewards.


Effective response-management capabilities are essential to developing and maintaining ongoing, two-way dialogues with your customers. If you don't respond effectively, customers likely will terminate their relationships with your company through the dreaded opt-out request.


Developing an e-mail campaign is similar in many ways to other forms of direct marketing. Unlike its direct-mail counterpart, however, e-mail enables recipients to reply to messages with the click of a mouse. As a result, e-mail-based campaigns must have technologies in place and skilled people on hand to ensure that customer responses receive immediate attention and accurate, informative answers to questions.


As such, here are key elements to consider when developing a response-enabled, e-mail marketing campaign that will not only reduce opt outs, but build brand affinity and dramatically increase your returns:


Plan, prepare and personalize. Once under way, e-mail marketing campaigns move rapidly and, if you are not prepared, your customer's responses may go unheeded. Understand at the outset of a campaign that effective response management is based not only on technology, but on a powerful blend of software and direct marketing expertise. As a first step, it's critical to understand exactly to whom you are mailing. Through sophisticated tracking and profiling capabilities, you can develop a comprehensive picture of each customer.


Always place yourself in your customers' shoes. Think what it would take for you to be delighted to open an e-mail. Plan your response-management program accordingly.


Be thorough. E-mail marketing requires that you establish your audience's trust and demonstrate that you have something of value to offer. Successful e-mail marketing campaigns will address the full cycle of customer relations, from initial contact in the first mailing, to personalized content, targeted offers and secure e-mail-based transactions. To run that cycle for each recipient takes time and a strategic blend of technology and skilled services.


Deploy technology. Ensure that you have dedicated technology in place that can sift through the first layer of expected responses. Either reply to each response based on existing templates, or route them to the correct person so they are handled immediately. The high-volume outbound messaging capabilities that e-mail offers can be a double-edged sword if you aren't ready for high volumes of response.


You also must have systems in place to parse all ad hoc replies, such as "No thanks, but what about the order I placed last week?" By providing swift, personalized responses to these questions, you stand to increase customer loyalty substantially.


Humanize the campaign. Your customers must feel that they are receiving personalized attention. When your first layer of response filtration fails, you must have skilled people available to answer each customer's questions, or to route them to someone who can respond immediately.


Make it easy to say "yes." One often-overlooked aspect of response management is to ensure that your capabilities can address a recipient's decision to accept an offer. Technology exists today that enables recipients to accept an offer simply by typing the word "yes" in a reply e-mail.


By providing your customers with a secure, convenient, e-mail-based method for making a purchase, you can turn responses into increased returns on investment through "buy-by-reply" e-commerce, removing the unwanted steps of transferring to a Web site and filling out lengthy forms.


Build, measure and evaluate. One of the best aspects of e-mail marketing is that it is 100-percent trackable, if executed properly. E-mail can be tracked to the individual customer, providing you with essential data on each customer's needs and interests And developing robust response-management capabilities is an essential piece of this puzzle. Listen to what your customers tell you, so you may serve them better in the future.


In the end, you must realize that e-mail marketing is a two-way affair. By taking the time to handle responses to your campaigns, you can tap into tremendous returns on investment that far exceed send-and-forget approaches.
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