Strategic email marketing campaigns are a vital marketing tool for pleasing consumers, building loyalty, and keeping interested customers engaged, according to Peter McCormick, co-founder of one-to-one communications firm ExactTarget, who suggests a five step plan for engaging customers via email.
For marketers that have their own opted-in customer email lists, and who are serious about building and sustaining the loyalty of those valuable customers, there are five key steps that have the potential to make or break a customer relationship:
- Express gratitude
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. That's why the first rule of building subscriber loyalty is to say "thank you" for subscribing. It's an easy thing to do, but research shows that fewer than 50% of marketers take the time to send a welcome email to new subscribers saying "thank you" for inviting communication from the brand.
For most marketers, the welcome email should to be the most important communication because it sets the tone for the brand or company's relationship with the subscriber. But beyond showing good manners, the welcome email also provides an unrivalled opportunity to learn more about the subscriber's needs.
If you're a B2C marketer, you should thank consumers for subscribing by providing a discount code or coupon that can be used on the customer's next purchase. Or, if you're a B2B company, provide a free download of a new white paper, case study, or research report. So long as you provide relevant offers, these are the little things that ensure your relationship with the new subscriber sets off on the right foot.
- Take a genuine interest
One of the most compelling - and easiest - things you can do to build powerful loyalty with subscribers is invite them to tell you about their communication needs or interests. Then, use this data to serve the subscriber more effectively by delivering content that is relevant to their defined needs.
To obtain this insight, set up a subscriber preference centre. When you send your welcome email, invite new subscribers to visit the preference centre to identify their information needs and preferences. Explain that this information will be used to personalise email content and provide offers that are relevant to their interests. You should be very clear that this information will be kept private. Subscribers need to know they can trust that their information will remain confidential.
Customers now take longer to research suppliers, read user reviews, and narrow their choices, in order to obtain the best deals. As a result, email is a vital tool for nurturing leads and aiding the buyer's decision-making process. By making your email content more relevant and timely, you can better demonstrate to the customer how much you care, and avoid being considered as 'spam'.
- Let subscribers do the talking
There are two ways to give subscribers a voice: sharing, and inviting.
First, enable your subscribers to share email content. Nothing is more powerful than word-of-mouth marketing. And 'social sharing' is a simple and impactful means of enabling subscribers to share information and offers they receive via email. By embedding social media icons for top social networking sites - such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn - directly in the content of the email, subscribers can click on the icon and share a specific article or offer with friends and colleagues. Research shows that shared email has higher open rates because it comes from a known source.
Second, invite subscribers to contribute to your blog. Nothing has more influence on a prospective customer's purchase decision than the product endorsement of another customer. And one of the best outlets for these endorsements is a blog.
- Know your brand advocates
All customers are equally important - but some are more equal than others. Marketers can engender deeper loyalty by identifying and rewarding their brand advocates - those who share email content, post opinions on social networking sites, and blog about their product usage experience.
It is possible to score customers based on their level of brand engagement, making it easier to measure overall subscriber and brand loyalty. Brand advocates who measure high on the index are invited to participate in special events where they can discuss their experience with the product, and many brands invite these consumers to sit on customer advisory councils or collaborate with product research and development teams on new ideas for product enhancement.
Using email and word-of-mouth marketing in combination with an engaging website and a strong social media strategy enables a company to attract and develop relationships with brand super fans who are vocal and influential.
- Build a VIP area
There's no question that social media such as like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have become hugely popular public venues for brands to attract new customers. But as social networking continues to emerge as a powerful tool for engaging customers and prospects, many brands are beginning to add value to their relationships with email subscribers by creating private social networks to provide subscriber-only access to user groups, invitations to events, and access to other resources that address the needs of current or prospective customers.
By creating a private subscribers-only social network for your brand, you extend the value of being an email subscriber and enhance the service you provide. The added benefit to private social networks is that brands can monitor who is there and what resources they are using. They can survey customers and invite feedback on issues affecting product design and use. Used properly, this insight can enable brands to stay closer to their customers and respond more quickly to customer needs - particularly during times of crisis.
"Subscriber loyalty is firmly rooted in the commitment to serve customers better. And service has become the primary force for driving their retention and creating brand advocates," concluded McCormick. "Brands are rightly cautious about opening up a dialogue with consumers, but if they want to keep up with those that have demonstrated the requisite agility and desire to fearlessly engage the people that buy their products and services, then it's a must."