Email is ubiquitous in American culture. It saturates every aspect of our lives, even more so now that the iPhone’s relentless march toward becoming a handheld PC seems just about concluded. Email has been an exploited market sector almost since its inception in the internet’s infancy, but the bulk of email marketing has always been the ever-frustrating Spam, unsolicited messages from unscrupulous people or programs looking to chisel a buck out of naïve Web-goers. So what’s the industry like today? In a word: Changing.
In frank terms, Email marketing is the direct marketing of a corporate or otherwise commercial message en masse via email. While any email shared by a corporate entity with its customers or potential customers is email marketing, but more specifically the term refers to emails incorporating ads, requests for patronage, donations, or an email meant to increase loyalty by supplying special offers or deals. This also serves, of course, to keep brand identity at the forefront of the consumer’s mind. But why use opt-in email marketing as opposed to other online marketing techniques? Because it engages the customer, and, as we’ll see, that has become a frank necessity.
What is Customer Engagement?
Customer engagement (CE) is an umbrella term referring to the interactions between groups of customers and between customers and a brand or other business entity, all concerned with the brand and its advertisement. CE has occasionally sprouted up as consumer-led (campaigns to return cancelled television programs to airing is an excellent example), but most such endeavors are undertaken on corporate initiative. CE is closely related to the principles underlying a successful application of email marketing.
Unlike comparable market analysis terms like Positioning, customer engagement is multivariate and its origins are difficult, if not impossible, to determine. It is an area of intense study by financial and market-theory journalists, and as a topic it has been very much on the minds of industry professionals. Customer engagement, in short, is a marketing practice that places a high priority on long-term strategic thinking especially as it relates to conversions.
It is built upon the idea that focusing an agency’s energy into optimizing conversions will decrease the occurrences of repeat conversion. CE focuses on securing customer loyalty, procuring advocacy through organic word of mouth, and general long-term thinking in that vein.
How Does Engagement Function Online?
Online CE and its offline equivalent are horses of different colors entirely. An online customer’s experiences with a brand, and with other customers, differs substantially from their analog experiences in real life. An excellent illustration of one of the essential differences between live and internet CE is the permanence of online acclaim.
Blog posts, thread comments, user reviews all live forever in digital space while conversations fade from memory. Online CE focuses on creating as much of this content as possible, supporting blogs, chat spaces, and user-generated content related to the brand.
This last point, the importance of supporting positive user-generated content, is an especially pertinent one. With the fragmentation of audiences in the internet age and the enormous bulk of user-generated and community-generated media online, businesses and corporations no longer own the metaphorical airwaves.
The discussion is a shared one, and that’s not a bad thing. A message of support from a third party with no vested interest in your brand’s success can positively influence sales and site traffic by adding a personal element to transactions.
Engaging Your Customers
Email marketing, specifically its opt-in merchant to customer model, is a unique market venture in many ways. Firstly, it is a collaboration between providers of goods and services and the consumers they depend on. Customers choose whether or not to engage in the additional tier of marketing with a favored business or agency, and those entities in turn attempt to reward the customers who do choose to engage.
Brand Loyalty Isn’t a Monarchy
Brand loyalty has suffered in the 2000’s and the 2010’s. Competition is fierce in the online market, and massive bazaar sites like Amazon and Ebay make brand loyalty tenuous at best. Customer choice, low (to no) costs in switching providers/servicers, and widespread access to comparison shopping sites as well as data about products and their suppliers/manufacturers, all combine to make customer loyalty a slipper prospect at best. So what’s to be done?
TV was the internet of its day, a whole new world for advertising to run free in. Captive audiences, passive consumption, a new medium in which to try out advertising theories, all this and more led to an advertising boom that’s just now dying down. The internet, fittingly, has replaced its predecessor as the new go-to medium for advertising. It’s a different beast, too. Users can manage their ad consumption, the audience sizes are broken up. Trust in peers is on the rise, and trust in advertisers is trending downward. Increasing customer loyalty through CE is a great tool for making sure your customers are satisfied and loyal.
Where Does Email Marketing Come In?
Email marketing is a versatile field, and Customer Engagement via email marketing is a business technique that’s been polished to a fine sheen over the past decade. Keeping customers in the loop, addressing them as interested individuals, and rewarding them for continued engagement helps to keep them committed to your brand and increases the likelihood of achieving organic word-of-mouth recommendations. An email as an advertising medium helps to foster a sense that there is no advertisement, that brand and consumer are part of a community that stays in touch and engages in fun, rewarding activities together.
An email newsletter can be a great way to get that feeling of communal engagement across, though the longer format may put some subscribers off. Low-key emails with a few central points and a statement or form letter to all subscribers are an ideal approach. They are best sent out on a regular basis to maintain an air of constancy and dependability.
Transactional Email Marketing
A transactional email is, typically, an automatically sent message pursuant to a customer’s actions. Order confirmations, e-receipts, and other forms of commerce-based correspondence all fall under this heading. A transactional email’s ostensible goal is to convey a piece of basic business information: Your order has shipped, X is now in stock, etc, etc. However, the exceptionally high rate of open-and-read (over fifty percent according to market research) that accompanies these emails makes them an effective medium for marketing delivery and achieving Customer Engagement.
As an extension of a brand’s relationship with its customers, transactional emails can naturally and easily include cross or up-selling opportunities as well as FAQs or related tables. Third-party vendors of email newsletters frequently provide transactional email support, providing companies with the option to build promotional messages into the structures of transactional emails. Targeted transactional email messages and custom referral campaigns are also available services, though expensive because of their comprehensive nature.
Knocking on Doors: Direct Email
Emails concerned solely with communicating promotional messages like sale announcements, special deals, and catalog offers constitute direct emails. As the most basic tool for CE a company possesses, direct email should be used sparingly to avoid frustrating customers or motivating them to ignore subsequent messages. An essential part of CE is knowing how to maintain a careful balance between restrained and communicative. Your customers have to feel like they’re being respected, and email bombardment can feel like an invasion of privacy.
A direct email can accomplish everything that an email newsletter does, but in a concise and targeted format. Specialized marketing is also much more practical with direct email, as short message size allows for easy customizability based on the customer’s interests as determined by their browsing history, their purchase history with your brand, etc.
The brands that form strong bonds with their clients now, while the market is in flux, will be at a tremendous advantage in coming years. Customer power is on the rise, and the companies that adapt to the trend stand to benefit: namely, a loyal core group of customers providing support and positive word-of-mouth can help to build and establish a brand. With this in mind, CE should be a top priority for any serious market contender. Getting the talent together to form a strong email-based relationship with your client base isn’t hard, and it is important.