E-commerce Link: Bypass the Inbox
E-mail marketing may not be in a state of crisis, but it certainly is not as productive as it once was. Every marketer knows that it’s getting more difficult to get a message into the inbox of suitable customers, and harder still to make the recipients act on it. To supplement e-mail marketing efforts, aggressive online marketers are tapping into new tools and technologies that consumers now are finding valuable. These new approaches provide marketers with a great opportunity for highly targeted marketing communications with individual consumers.
The Problem With E-mail
Traditional e-mail marketing messages increasingly are more difficult to deliver to the consumer. Every Internet service provider (ISP) seems to have different requirements that change daily, and failure to comply can mean non-delivery and far worse—blacklisting. Even if you can identify and follow the ever-evolving best practices for e-mail creation, your best-crafted message could meet an undeserved fate in a spam filter. In a recent Jupiter Research study, 60 percent of marketers polled said spam filters reduce the effectiveness of their e-mail marketing campaigns.
If that isn’t enough trouble, diligent marketers who work to stay on ISP whitelists still may face what amounts to an e-mail tax. AOL recently announced it would require marketers to pay for Goodmail’s e-mail certification if they want to remain on AOL’s whitelist. E-mails from marketers who don’t pay will be subjected to the tender mercies of AOL’s spam filters, and this could mean blocked messages and lost sales. Many in the industry expect other ISPs to follow AOL’s lead, increasing the cost of e-mail marketing for everyone.
Another major hurdle is the unpredictability of a human audience. E-mail addresses change regularly, making long-term contact tenuous. There also is no guarantee that any given e-mail will be compelling enough to make someone open it.
E-mail has by no means reached the end of its useful life. But its nature as a “push” marketing tool makes it vulnerable. However, there are new tools available that allow consumers to pull highly relevant information, receive reliable marketing information from trusted sources and easily shop for products and services.
Let’s take a look at these alternative marketing tools, and discuss how you can use them to supplement your e-mail marketing efforts.
RSS, or really simple syndication, enables your marketing messages to bypass the e-mail system entirely, landing right on your customer’s desktop with 100 percent guaranteed deliverability. There are no spam filters or crowded inboxes to contend with.
Consumers respond well to RSS because it gives them the ability to subscribe to and receive highly relevant and personalized content that automatically is updated by their favorite marketer, devoid of any spam. For example, one customer may want to hear about all new products and promotions, while another only wants notice of closeout shoes and handbags. While it’s up to a consumer whether or not she chooses to read the content, she knows the information is accessible whenever she is ready to make a purchase. And purchasing is simple via a plug-in reader on her computer.
Given the untapped marketing potential for RSS, marketers should begin testing RSS feeds on popular merchandising groups like “on sale” and “new arrivals.” These have been successful for the early marketing adopters of RSS. Additional content to test may be “top rated,” “price changes” or “trends.”
Although Forrester Research reports that only 2 percent of American Internet users employ RSS, it also found 7 percent of all online consumers are interested in getting RSS feeds from their favorite marketers.
One of your most powerful marketing tools is the positive opinion of your customers. With the growing acceptance of social computing tools, and with consumers more eager and trusting of user-generated content, advanced viral marketing applications are allowing online marketers to effectively use their customer base in new ways—as advertisers and evangelists.
Marketing messages from a trusted source, such as family, friends or peers, generate higher acceptance and conversion rates than traditional advertising and other marketing campaigns. In 2005, Yankelovich reported 76 percent of consumers don’t believe companies tell the truth in their advertising. People trust others, with the greatest trust placed in people like themselves. This trust extends to product advice, with 92 percent of respondents to Edelman’s 2006 Trust Barometer study citing word-of-mouth as the best source for product ideas.
True viral marketing can be incredibly effective in reaching high numbers of new qualified customers and creating high ROI. But it has to be implemented properly. You have to carefully evaluate how you will use these new tools, and create a methodical, studied approach to your creative.
In a recent webinar sponsored by MarketLive, Jim Calhoun, CEO of PopularMedia, a viral marketing solutions provider, warned online marketers about potential pitfalls encountered in executing viral campaigns.
“It’s the things the marketer neglects to consider that ultimately guarantee a viral flame-out. They fail to test messaging, different versions of the creative, ways of framing the pitch, or calls to action. They don’t analyze how their audience reacts to the creative, explore rates and methods of pass-along, or test for the optimal viral user experience. Finally, they don’t provide tools—even simple instructions—making it easy to share their offer, game or video with friends.”
Live chat is now turning into a proactive communication tool for marketers. Like the ever-attentive sales person in a physical store, online marketer Overstock.com will initiate a live chat window if a customer has been idle on the Web site too long or visited too many pages without adding an item to his or her cart.
It’s time marketers started taking advantage of these customer engagements not just to build trust in the brand and to provide customer service but to cross-sell, notify customers about promotions and specials, and encourage registration for e-mails and for RSS feeds. However, take a low-key approach when employing this tactic at first to avoid alienating customers with an overly aggressive approach. Test this strategy only in product categories that have extremely low conversion rates or require expert advice. And, of course, a key to success here will be a well-trained customer service team.
There’s been a good deal of hype about blogs in the past few years, but like RSS feeds, their marketing potential is only now becoming apparent. Anyone can publish a blog, and fortunately for marketers, one of the favorite topics is consumer goods. People love to talk about stuff they buy. According to Forrester Research, 12 percent of U.S. online households read blogs, and 14 percent of blog readers say they are interested in blogs from their favorite marketers.
Marketers can take advantage of the popularity of blogs by contributing content or advertising to external blogs, or by running an internal blog. While internal blogs give marketers control of their content, it may be more difficult to establish credibility with finicky blog readers. Advertising on a good external blog will expose you to a larger audience. To find out which blogs are talking about your company, visit Blogpulse.com and enter your company name.
SMS, or short message service, sends text messages to mobile phones. This medium is seeing growing adoption in the United States. Marketers can benefit two ways. First, many online consumers say they would be receptive to advertising that helps defray the cost of their monthly phone usage fees. Second, multichannel retailers can keep in touch with customers through brief order confirmations, sale notices, date reminders and other pertinent messaging that can drive traffic back to a Web site or physical store. And, new technologies also are being developed that will further extend SMS applications by enabling payments through mobile phones.
We are still in an extremely explosive growth period for Web technologies across the board. E-mail will remain a core communications tool but RSS, blogs and other exciting new marketing tools undoubtedly will become increasingly important to marketers. Your customers are ready to use these valuable applications, so make sure you don’t overlook them as a way to supplement your current e-mail marketing efforts.
Ken Burke is founder and CEO of MarketLive (www.marketlive.com), an e-commerce technology and services provider based in Petaluma, Calif. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.