Give Holiday Sales a Boost with E-mail
The fourth quarter of the business year has traditionally been a critical sales period for scores of businesses, particularly retailers and their suppliers. It has been no secret that this holiday shopping season was shaping up to be a potentially challenging one, and the international uncertainty that began with the tragic events of September 11th has further muddied an unstable economic outlook.
But challenges also can be opportunities. An opportunity to reinvent the way things are done. An opportunity to think more strategically about the upcoming holiday season. An opportunity to try new things and build on the things that have worked in the past. An opportunity to take control and make this holiday season a success, in spite of the challenges and pressures you face in today's environment.
So where do you begin? Try a trip back to holidays past. Although Old Saint Nick and his crew have been making their trip for hundreds of years, many people still choose not to emulate Santa's ways, waiting instead until the last possible minute to make their lists and check them twice. In turn, these poor souls typically find themselves with the post-holiday blues, in a funk due to lost sales opportunities that last well beyond New Year's Day.
I say to you: Think differently. Think strategically. Think integration. Think e-mail.
Various industry pundits continue to point to significant year-over-year increases in the acceptance of the Internet as a powerful and cost-effective shopping and buying channel as well as its impact on offline sales. But it's never all or nothing. E-mail is part of an integrated approach that can help marketers drive marketing return-on-investment this holiday season.
By utilizing the pinpoint targeting, text messaging capabilities and real-time optimization abilities of e-mail, marketers can reach their customers and prospects with cost-efficient communications that can dramatically stir buying activityand ultimately improve a bottom line. Beyond its recognized up-sell/cross-sell, customer retention and branding abilities, e-mail provides marketers with unparalleled flexibility and timeliness. Whereas traditional offline marketing can take weeks or even months to execute, e-mail offers unprecedented speed-to-market along with a complete range of data for campaign testing, optimization and analysis that can feed future online and off-line marketing efforts. This speed and flexibility, coupled with an ability to produce timely ongoing
customer intelligence, bestows e-mail with the power to stimulate sales right up until the last minute this
But e-mail can do much more than stimulate sales this holiday season. It can build relationships through an ongoing dialog throughout the entire customer lifecycle. From holiday promotions and product availabilities to shipping notices and last-minute shopping tips, e-mail enables timely and actionable conversations with customers. So if you're ready to think differently this holiday season, here are 10 tips to get the flames roaring.
Collect customer e-mail addresses
Audit every method of communication that you have with your customers for an opportunity to ask for their e-mail addresses. You can't speak to your customers if you don't know who and where they are. Start building your list by asking for these
addresses on your Web site, in your retail store, on the telephonewherever you can.
Consider appending e-mail to existing customer files
While the growth of e-mail marketing is undeniable, a large gap still exists between a company's traditional, or offline, database and its e-mail database. An e-mail append program consists of attaching permission-based e-mail addresses to corresponding postal names and addresses on your customer file.
While there is no official or complete industry position on e-mail appending, most agreeif done properly by following best practicesthat e-mail appending to existing active customers is acceptable. By following best practices and working with a reputable provider, e-mail appending can offer one of the easiest, fastest and most cost-effective means to grow your e-mail database, while respecting the privacy of your customers.
Build your customer profile
For those of you who are ahead of the game in building your database of e-mail addresses, consider how rich your customer profile is. How much information do you have about
customer purchasing patterns? Do you have historical data from last year's holiday shopping period that you can use to target and profile your best customers? Do you know how often your customers prefer to receive e-mail messages from you and in what format (HTML or text-only)? If not, start capturing this information and amend your customer files.
Segment your customers
Who's been naughty? Who's been nice? Analyze your customers by segment to get a better understanding of their purchasing patterns.This will give you incredible information about who your best customers are and the products or services that trigger their purchases. All customers are not good customers. Know what constitutes good customers; you can target them with messages that have an impact and ring your cash register.
Survey your competition
I could always count on my Aunt Louise to buy me flannel pajamas each Christmas. Like my extended family, your competitors are usually consistent year after year. Take a look at what the competition did last year; it will give you a sense of what they'll do this time around. What was their focus? Their value? Did they have special offers or express shipping?
By calculating their moves, you can better plan your
efforts. Study history, learn from it and come out ahead.
Understand your best customer profiles
You have an incredible opportunity to acquire many more customers this year if you plan ahead. By understanding who your best customers are, you can survey other list sources to find shoppers and buyers that fit your profile, then launch opt-in efforts to convert them to your customer file. You might even catch your competition sleeping right through the New Year.
Frequency and consistency gets results
After fathering three children, I can tell you that most kids are
beacons for effective advertising. My kids always had the power of repetition on their side. When they saw something they liked, they would not hesitate to remind me over and over that they really, really wanted it. All of their marketing and advertising got them Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmos galore. Take it from the leaders of persuasion (a.k.a. kids): If you want to be effective this holiday season, you need to use e-mail communications and all other media with great consistency and focus. The optimal frequency of messaging will yield greater brand awareness, preference and sales. Infrequent, unfocused and frivolous efforts will not get the job done.
Ask and ye shall receive
The biggest disappointment each holiday season typically comes from people such as you and methe ones who don't make our preferences known. In crafting your offers this holiday season, make sure that your product and services are clear and focused on customer benefit. If you are selling a product, make sure your e-mail provides the necessary information so a customer can actually purchase the product. Too often we see campaigns that are vague in terms of their value proposition and, as a result, miss the sales mark.
Integrated marketing builds success
The best marketing builds off the learnings and success of previous efforts. Integrating your marketing efforts across media, where one leverages the other, is the ultimate win. Remember: E-mail is yet another powerful tool to build marketing
success and lower marketing ROI.
Now more than ever it pays to be creative. Engage recipients with thoughtful out-of-the-box creative that will break through the clutter and get higher response rates. While HTML and rich media e-mails frequently produce better results than text-only messages, use them only when appropriate for your target
audience. More importantly, craft your e-mail campaigns with customized content based on the recipient's preferences and personalize the subject line if possible. Ultimately, relevant content is always the big winner.
One final tip for the folks who have gotten a late start on fourth-quarter direct response marketing: Start planning and executing your strategy now to leverage the most cost-efficient and effective customer retention tool in your marketing arsenale-mail.
Al DiGuido is chief executive officer of Bigfoot Interactive, a provider of strategic, ROI-focused e-mail marketing technology and services. Previously, he served as executive vice president at Ziff-Davis, and Publisher of Computer Shopper, where he launched ComputerShopper.com, a groundbreaking direct-to-consumer e-commerce engine. A pioneer in online direct marketing, he is a frequent speaker at national and regional conferences. DiGuido can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 295-3000.