5 Tips for Winning the Inbox Contest in 2009
While reflecting on the tough economic times in 2008 and the related opportunities and challenges e-mail marketers face this year, I remembered a homeless man whose marketing prowess rivals most CMOs I've met.
I gave money to this man as he waited, holding a cardboard sign at a traffic intersection. Near him were two other men, also with pleas scribbled on cardboard. Yet, what stood out for me was this one man's message. It said, "Spaceship Broken — Need Parts." His was a unique message. It stood apart from the others. It caught my attention, and I donated to his cause. It also connected us in a way and made me smile. Hopefully, I did the same for him.
While 2009 likely will be a challenging year for marketers as well, it brings along the prospect of renewal, recovery and growth. For e-mail marketers, the next 12 months are a crossroads. One path leads to "more of the same." The other begins with a plan to build your e-mail program by honing a unique value proposition and making an emotional connection with your subscribers.
Here are five tips to help your e-mails stand out in the inbox this year:
1. Differentiate to survive. This year, differentiation is a must. Nearly half of those marketers responding to a MarketingSherpa survey last fall said they plan to increase their e-mail marketing efforts in 2009. So this coming year likely will be one of more crowded inboxes rather than less. Thrice weekly e-mails on "saving 10 percent" are what your competitors will send. What unique call to action will you use? How can you add and create value? How's your cardboard sign different?
2. Honor the subscriber. The most important thing your e-mail program can do is elicit an emotional response. The best way to achieve this is to make an emotional connection with each individual customer. Do this by honoring customers' unique preferences for content, interests and behaviors. These are not new concepts, but in 2009, they become critical. Marketers who forget to honor unique subscriber preferences for communication, content, frequency and channel can kiss the inbox goodbye. Visit the ExactTarget blog, SUBSCRIBERS RULE!, for more details.
3. Leverage the 'unmarketing'. ExactTarget's 2008 Channel Preference Survey showed consumers are more receptive to receiving thank-yous and confirmations via e-mail than any other channel. Using current customer interactions to fuel communication, foster dialog and drive sales is a must. I call it the "unmarketing" because it happens in the background. Whether it's a welcome e-mail, order confirmation, statement, notice or customer service response, each communication holds promise to retain a customer, make a sale and/or improve your standing in how customers see you.
4. Engage or cut bait. Rohit Bhargava, author of "Personality Not Included," recommends appealing to executives to "reach the right 500 people instead of the wrong 5 million." This is a great message for your e-mail program. Subscribers who aren't opening or clicking are either ignoring you, which is costing you money, or complaining about you, which is destroying your deliverability or your brand. So, start by sending only to people who opt in to your program, but monitor opens, clicks, sales and complaints, and either cut or attempt to get those subscribers to opt in again.
5. Leverage e-mail marketing technology. It's come a long way. Want to integrate your e-mail system with your CRM system, track customers' surfing behavior after they leave your e-mail and then send them a relevant message based on their behavior? Many companies in multiple industries use these tactics now to great success. If you don't start doing so, 2009 could be a long year.