Response Management: It's a Two-Way Affa

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E-mail is a marketer's dream. The channel is low-cost, and, if used effectively, it can generate a return on investment that dwarfs returns achieved through traditional direct marketing methods.


For today's marketers, the key steps to developing an e-mail marketing campaign include scrubbing your list, developing personalized copy and sending high-volume mailings. However, what do marketers do when recipients respond? And not only with click-throughs to a Web site or acceptances for an offer on a Bruce Springsteen CD in their inbox, but with questions that require personalized attention?


Too many e-mail campaigns are developed and executed without a clear plan for how to address customer responses to messages and offers. For the campaign to be effective, e-mail must be leveraged as a two-way channel.


While today's direct marketers recognize the value that e-mail offers as a direct marketing tool, few leverage e-mail's true value as a two-way medium - one that if leveraged as a response channel as well as a 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; and, if ignored, the result can be the swift termination of those relationships through the dreaded opt-out request.


Developing an e-mail-based campaign is no different from other forms of direct marketing in that it requires careful planning. Unlike its traditional counterpart - direct mail - the e-mail medium enables recipients to reply to your messages quickly and simply with the click of a mouse. As a consequence, 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 customers' 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. If you know your audience, you can often predict the responses your mailings will solicit.


Always place yourself in your customers' shoes: Think what it would take for you to be delighted to open an e-mail, whether it's information on an event you are attending or a review on a book you are considering buying. Moreover, think what questions you might ask, and plan your response-management program accordingly.


Be thorough. As with most relationships, e-mail marketing requires that you establish your audience's trust and demonstrate to each person 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. But it only takes one opt-out request to lose a customer permanently.


Deploy technology. From the beginning, ensure that you have dedicated technology in place that can sift through the first layer of expected responses. Then, 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.


Also, you 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 ad hoc questions, you stand to increase customer loyalty substantially. Conversely, unanswered questions can mean the end of the relationship.


Humanize the campaign. Your customers must feel 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.


Simplify saying "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. The following is an example:


Doubleday's Book-of-the-Month Club tracks its customers' interests and preferences, keeping records of their purchase history and preferred authors.


Before the release of Frank McCourt's book "Tis'," the sequel to "Angela's Ashes," Book-of-the-Month Club members receive a personalized e-mail: "Dear Jim, by virtue of your membership, we would like to offer you an opportunity to purchase Frank McCourt's new book, "Tis' " prior to its release to the general public. If you would like to accept this offer, please reply to this message and type 'yes' in the subject line. In addition, please review your shipping information below to ensure that it is correct."


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. Another tremendous aspect 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 can 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 response-enable your campaigns, you can tap into tremendous returns on investment that far exceed send-and-forget approaches. By ignoring this critical aspect of your e-mail marketing planning, you have only your customers to lose.
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