Savvy retailers turn to e-mail to improve P&L in a down market

In this tightening economy, savvy marketers are learning they must evolve their tactics to ward off extinction or at least a downturn. For years, many have relied on tried and true direct mail. Certainly the benefits of a visually stunning, branded catalog can’t be ignored. But in a down economy, the rising cost production has many turning a skeptical eye on the old standby and looking at ways to cut costs, optimize P&L and bolster the bottom line.


Contemporary e-mail outreach has emerged as the single most cost-effective way to maintain customer contact in a slowing economy. By effectively implementing a robust e-mail campaign, marketers can not only increase customer touchpoints, but also gather pertinent statistics about target customers that can help drive product and service offerings, all while cutting the costs tied to paper campaigns.


So, why are some professionals struggling to get over the e-mail hurdle? Historically, print marketing has proven quite effective, lulling some into a comfort zone with direct mail. As consumers continue to shift from traditional channels to the digital zone, this complacency ignores millions of potential leads. In a thriving online marketplace, younger consumers are much more likely to use e-mail and the Internet than print catalogs.


The tangibility and perceived shelf life of a print catalog is also hard to resist. In reality, although not as tangible, e-mail marketing provides a much more direct launch pad to other touchpoints — namely, the company’s Web site. E-mail click-through analysis opens doors to a new realm of customer analytics, one of predicting customer behavior rather than reacting to it.


Gathering useful customer statistics is dramatically simpler and quicker over an Internet channel. With an e-mail, the consumer can visit the Web site in seconds, potentially reducing conversion and ROI time to minutes, rather than days, weeks or months for a mailed piece.


Furthermore, with a print catalog, essentially the only traceable metric is sales data over time. In contrast, Internet consumers leave a deliciously traceable trail, providing valuable customer behavior data that can be used to improve outreach techniques. In a catalog, marketers never know which products customers view, consider or compare to other products. But, by analyzing e-mail interaction and the resulting Web traffic, marketers can design campaigns for specific customer segments based on behavior for improved engagement, profitability and retention.


So, how to make the leap? It takes baby steps to transition into an e-mail marketing campaign. The first may be to become comfortable redirecting revenue to more effective channels. Despite the direct mail comfort zone, learning and adapting is imperative to survival in a down economy. Adopting a business model approach to marketing can be helpful. Devise a strategy to operate more efficiently while maintaining customer satisfaction.


E-mail marketing eliminates the cost of paper, ink and postage — all of the major direct mail expenses – and can deliver 10 to 40 times higher ROI. In the end, it comes down to a simple and definitive strategy: Do it better for less money.


Russell McDonald is CEO of iPost.

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