By Sam Cece, CEO, Strongmail
Marketers need to rethink their email strategies in order to remain relevant. 'Right-time' communications, which respond to online behaviour, could be the answer
Email marketing has become the most reliable direct channel for online brands. Even as a plethora of new communication options descend upon the consumer (think Facebook, Twitter, online communities, mobile, etc) email remains the preferred channel for permission marketing. However, businesses that rely on email marketing need to look at how they are delivering value and creating trust with their subscribers, or risk a decrease in engagement that will eventually impact top- and bottom-line performance.
Consumers are inundated with content on a daily basis. Tools such as Google's Priority Inbox are being created to allow subscribers to automatically filter communications within the inbox. This works by dropping any unopened communications from specific senders to the end of the inbox queue. Having your email opened is now just as important as low unsubscribe rates, making right-time email marketing, critical.
Defining right time email marketing
Right-time email marketing is not only about delivering relevant content, it is about delivering the relevant content at a pace that is driven by the subscriber, your brand community or environment. Right-time email communications originate based on online activity, purchases, in-store behaviour or environmental situations that are important to the brand and those it communicates with. Brands must move away from defined marketing calendars and campaign schedules and create a mix of communications that are behavioural in nature.
Only with this mix of relevance and timing will email programmes stand out within the inbox. Marketers considering a move to right-time marketing must look at a number of areas within their business and optimise them for the journey.
Subscriber initiated right-time communications
The best place to start is identifying those behaviours that a consumer or subscriber initiates which result in the need for communication with the brand. Purchase confirmations, travel itineraries and other transactional messages have been identified as some of the most profitable opportunities to cross-sell services and value.
Many marketers have taken behaviour-based messaging even further by leveraging shopping basket abandonment programmes to drive increases in online sales. If an online consumer adds a product to a basket but decides not to purchase, the email marketer triggers a communication with incentives to complete the transaction.
Other brands look at browser activity and use the simple act of searching for specific products or browsing certain pages to trigger a targeted communication.
The challenge with these communications is integration. To enable the above scenarios, a brand must integrate the email channel with everything from e-commerce systems to customer service tools. This means that email solutions must be flexible and secure enough to connect to these business critical systems.
Industry initiated right-time communications
Most brands are experts in the industry in which they operate. This insight can be very valuable to consumers and subscribers alike and can introduce right-time communication opportunities.
Consider a retailer that specialises in sporting goods. It is likely that the retailer maintains relationships with experts in football, tennis, golf, etc. These experts have knowledge that subscribers can benefit from. Brands must find ways to tap into this knowledge base and share it with consumers in real time. The result is increased trust in the brand and increased engagement with the email programme.
The same holds true for almost any industry. The challenge is identifying content providers and giving them an incentive to participate in your initiatives. Remember, these experts live within your company and its partners; offer them an outlet and recognition for their insight, and they will jump at the chance to participate.
Community initiated right-time communications
Perhaps the greatest opportunity for right-time messaging is in response to trends and topics within the subscriber community. The social web has introduced an almost endless source of information from an equally endless number of content creators. Right-time marketing requires a brand to track topics and trends in real time and be the first to inform and engage audiences within the community.
The challenge is two-fold. First, your brand needs tools that will allow it to listen to the social web and identify topics and trends as they emerge within your community. Second, once trends are identified, marketers need tools that quickly allow them to be part of the conversation. Look for tools that enable the creation, execution and tracking of social and email programs in tandem.
Regardless of how it is initiated - from the subscriber, from the industry or from within the community - brands must understand the triggers for right-time email marketing and begin to transition from traditional 'batch and blast' strategies immediately. Waiting will result in lost subscribers, revenue and overall brand equity.
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