Target the Message, Not the Brand

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Personalization and segmentation are the two latest buzzwords to hit the e-mail marketing community. They are the industry's latest answer to falling click-through rates, questionable open rates and subject lines that aren't the eye-openers we expected them to be.


And it's true. You can achieve results by personalizing your next e-mail marketing message and segmenting already highly targeted lists. But the inexpensive cost of online personalization sometimes makes even the most experienced marketer turn his back to brand building and brand preservation. The lure of high conversion rates, talking one-to-one with consumers and the ability to produce creative quickly can cause marketers to push brand management aside.


Marketers should balance the desire for personalization with their need for overall brand building. This is especially true of new online sites and those that want to reach a wide variety of consumers and deliver multiple, highly targeted messages. In this crowded market in which there's at least one other site doing what you do, and there are at least a few consumers confused about what it is you do, establishing a brand is crucial to success.


Luckily, there are several ways to establish and maintain your brand while maximizing the ability to personalize within


E-mail marketing:


Make it consistent -- If e-mail marketers don't coordinate their messages with their sites, potential customers will shy away from surfing the site and/or buying the product or service. There is a level of trust associated with consistency. If the e-mail and the site flow, chances are the consumer will see the site as a credible outlet for shopping and buying (translation: a secure site to which to release credit card information). If not, the consumer is more likely to exit.


For example, an online stock trading site sends an easy-to-understand, highly personalized stock update that leads consumers to a site that can be meant only for Wall Street's best analysts. Startled and discouraged by the inconsistencies, even the most interested consumer is likely to exit the site.


Personalizing helps get customers through the door, but brand awareness and consistency help keep consumers after the e-mail. We can master personalization by addressing the consumer by his first name, talking to him about his opt-in interests and adjusting offers and product information to best reflect behavioral profiles and demographics. But we need to be mindful of the brand image before it gets lost in all that personalization. Use consistent colors, tones and syntax within the e-mail and site to establish and maintain your brand amid the personalization.


Make it memorable -- An inconsistent brand image or a lack of brand establishment can damage the lasting impression of your product/site. On the other hand, showcasing a brand while personalizing the message can be extremely effective.


For example, Ikea, the home furnishing company from Sweden, successfully integrated its brand while personalizing at the same time. Opening a store in the San Francisco Bay area, Ikea targeted only those in that area and opened its e-mail with: "Ikea is coming to the Bay Area, and we're bringing something for everyone." At the same time, this HTML e-mail maintained the look and feel of Ikea, with its logo prominently displayed in the upper right corner.


Following the short and targeted introduction, the e-mail reinforced what Ikea does by highlighting its ability to offer affordable home furnishings and accessories. Then, when an e-mail recipient clicked to the site, he was greeted by a jump page that further explained the grand opening (directions, catalog ordering, festivities) before being sent to the Ikea-USA site. The overall message "of better living" was maintained so potential consumers were able to remember the personalization and, most importantly, the brand.


Easier said than done. It seems relatively easy to integrate a brand within the e-mail message. Sync up the colors, drop in the logo and insert the highly personalized message, right? Wrong. What about text e-mails where colors and logos can't be integrated, and mundane text messages that differ greatly from your colorful site? Or how about HTML messages for which bright background colors seem to improve click-through rates but don't reflect your site? In such instances, it is even more important to "talk the same talk" as your site.


With both text and HTML messages, maintaining a consistent tone (serious, fun, informational, promotional) is essential, as is incorporating your overall brand message into the highly personalized e-mail. As with the Ikea example, it is equally important to send a potential consumer to an area of a site that displays both the brand and the personalized information.


Lastly, integrate brand awareness with your e-mail campaign by utilizing all the different online marketing vehicles available. Choose an ad network that offers e-mail marketing and can deliver brand building (banner ads, buttons, text links) across the targeted group as well. If successful, you can build and reinforce your brand while still utilizing the power of personalization.
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