Engagement grown with a humble 'sig'
The humble and often-overlooked email signature could provide marketers with an effective communication channel that exploits existing investments in marketing and loyalty to drive greater engagement and interaction between employees, customers and suppliers. So why, asks Chris Brown, marketing director for Exclaimer, are so many companies not exploiting this obvious - and perhaps most importantly - free channel?
With the continued search toward one to one, highly personalised communication, organisations are spending a fortune on innovative, social media promotions, digital advertising and eCRM campaigns. Yet how much of this activity is actually seen by the right people? And how much of it is targeted, relevant and personalised? Yet a simple, accessible, valued, trusted and, all importantly, free way to dynamically communicate with customers, suppliers, prospects is being ignored by the majority of organisations.
How many thousands of emails does your organisation send each day? And while some of those may half-heartedly promote the brand in the email signature, how many are treating it - the humble email signature - as a comprehensive communications channel in its own right?
Brown suggests that the email signature as a communications tool possesses all the attributes of a valuable marketing channel. And with a centralised approach to managing email signatures, marketing can create a highly dynamic interaction and achieve far more compelling and personal day to day communication.
Dynamic communication Corporate email has been the primary means of communication with customers and prospects, suppliers and business partners for at least a decade. Today, each employee sends an average 30 emails every day, and that is set to increase with figures from Radicati predicting global business email volumes will rise from 89 billion per day in 2012 to 143.8 billion by 2016. These corporate emails are highly relevant, sent to a defined and known business specific audience and, as a result, have open rates in excess of 90%.
Given the power of this direct communication method, it is no surprise that over the past few years growing numbers of organisations - or perhaps individuals within organisations - have recognised the value of adding a corporate logo or other branding to the standard email disclaimer and signature.
However, the approach remains essentially static. There is no personalisation of message and no exploitation of the immediacy of communication to create a more valuable interaction. How many employees, customers and suppliers follow the company on Twitter or LinkedIn, for example? Are they aware of the latest corporate award, reading blogs or contributing to conversations about new products or services or a key legislative change that is affecting the market?
Email offers three huge advantages for marketers looking to transform the effectiveness and relevance of communication: trust, timing and personalisation. Recipients already have a relationship with the business, or are in the process of building one; either way, the email includes information that will have value and, as such, should be eagerly awaited. This is an audience that is receptive and interested, making the email the perfect place and time to introduce a new promotion or social media content.
Furthermore, email provides a very simple way of targeting the message based on recipient, sender, or timing of communication. For example, different email signatures can be used for customer sales and pre-sales support to personalise the message to each customer segment or reflect the timing within the sales process. With this approach, it is incredibly effective to plug an event or introduce a social media resource that truly reflects the current interaction with customer, employee or supplier.
Social value This approach is particularly compelling for social media, enabling organisations to build on the immediacy of social interactions. With social media increasingly dominating marketing spend and social networking accounts set to rise from 2.7 billion in 2012 to over 4.3 billion by year end 2016 according to Radicati, there is a clear value to be gained by showcasing social content within every email.
At even the most basic level, using a signature to connect social with email is proven to work. For example, Unilever reported an increase in its LinkedIn connections from 40,000 to 235,000 in only ten months after adding a simple 'Follow' link to employees' email signatures as part of its branding strategy.
Extending this to include blog links or Twitter feeds provides a huge opportunity to create a dynamic brand engagement, encouraging those within the business network to extend the way they interact. For example, existing customers are receptive to emails - they are often waiting for them - but may rarely check out the company's social activity. Adding a Twitter Follow and blog link, as well as time relevant promotion of events or webinars, can transform the way in which organisations engage.
Centralised control It is, however, important to avoid any abuse of the email signature that detracts from the primary objective: the essential information embedded within the email. It is also important to impose control to ensure consistency of message. And this is simply not possible if the business relies on individuals to update email signatures within Outlook. With the majority of employees perceiving email as a personal communication, even when used exclusively for business, far too many organisations have very inconsistent email signatures - from a lack of basic contact details to highly variable branding.
A central control mechanism takes the onus away from the individual and enables marketing to manage the process. Simply creating a template and hoping it will be adopted is fraught with risk, especially given the 'frustrated graphic designer' lurking behind many a salesman. And with social media content generated typically on 72 hour timescales, it is not feasible to expect users to continually update email signatures to reflect the latest blog.
Instead, a central approach to signature creation and deployment ensures any dynamic email branding automatically reflects current corporate messaging - from current promotions to the latest social media activity. Signatures can be tailored to specific audiences - for example the sales team can be offered two or three approved, and unchangeable, signature options to reflect the nature of the mail recipient, based on customer type, perhaps, or supplier. Date specific promotions enable the use of dynamic banners relating to the current product offer or event with full control over the timing of the activity.
"Using email to reinforce the brand is great - especially when the company gets it right. It provides a chance to plug the latest award and reinforce quality standards and accreditations. But there is so much more that could and should be done," concluded Brown. "With the right approach to email signatures organisations can create a new, highly effective communications channel that exploits existing investment in both off and online marketing to drive greater engagement and interaction with employees, customers and suppliers. Why wouldn't you?"