The elements of relevance

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John Rizzi
John Rizzi

Could you have imagined this 10 years ago?

Today 97 percent of all marketers use e-mail to communicate with customers. The reasons are clear: E-mail offers ease of entry and the lowest cost-per-contact of any marketing tool. But the ubiquitous nature of e-mail is also the source of its challenges.

It has never been more difficult to get messages noticed in a customer's inbox, let alone to get customers to respond positively or take action.

E-mail does offer some rather dramatic technical advantages that, when used wisely, can increase its visibility and effectiveness. Yet few marketers today know what those advantages are, let alone how to use them. Instead, many are broadcasting e-mails like needles in a haystack and hoping that their customers will somehow find them.

What makes a relevant e-mail? Imagine your email “needle” is the size of a basketball, tricycle or subcompact car. Would that increase the likelihood that customers will notice it? That's the idea behind e-mail relevance — applying enough individual significance to your message that it becomes difficult for customers to overlook.

There are several tactics you can take to increasing e-mail relevance, all relying on marketing ingenuity and information contained in your customer database. These tactics can be broken down into six key elements that characterize relevant e-mail, and are guaranteed to increase customer engagement and e-mail productivity.

Segmentation Why broadcast an e-mail campaign if you have the ability to target specific audiences? Use the data you have on customer demographics, preferences, location and behavior to segment individual groups who share the same attributes. Your audiences will be smaller but far more qualified and responsive.

Personalization You would be surprised how many companies are not even marketing to customers on a first-name basis. Use the customer data you have to personalize the content based on profile, attributes, location, status, preferences and behavior.

Lifecycle management Is the customer new to your business, a loyal shopper or no longer active?

Being able to key your messages to a person's place in the customer lifecycle will help you refine your programs and optimize retention efforts.

Triggers Whenever possible, your e-mail marketing should include programs that are driven by customer status and behavior. There are applications that enable you to automate these programs, ensuring consistency in the way you handle welcoming new customers, up-selling certain products or following up with those who abandon their shopping cart.

Interactivity Indulge your customer's curiosity and feed her need to be entertained. Include a clear call to action as well as interactive elements that engage customers, such as a preference center, survey or information links. Always leave the customer wanting more.

Testing and measurement Understand the impact your e-mail program has and how to improve it by employing valid control groups, A/B testing and any available metrics.

Relevance isn't easy. It requires a confluence of customer data, targeting tactics, marketing expertise, process, and technology. But as an email marketing strategy, the impact relevance can have on both customer engagement and profitability makes it worth the effort.

John Rizzi is the president and CEO of e-Dialog in Lexington, MA. You can reach him at

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