How To Mass-Customize Email Marketing

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growth14.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the value of email as a marketing channel. A marketing report from Shop.org, State of Retailing Online 2008, reveals that 92% of online retailers rely on email as their primary marketing tool. Retailers who participated in the study, conducted by Forrester Research, also reported that 52% of their customers opted-in to receive email, indicating that consumers are comfortable receiving email communications from familiar brands.

Despite all of the positive news, deliverability challenges may be the Achilles heel for email as a direct marketing tactic. The DMA’s Q2 2007 National Email Marketing Benchmark report flagged a second significant consecutive drop in deliverability, with retention email deliverability dropping a steep 80% and acquisition email deliverability sliding by 68%. Fortunately, the solution to the deliverability conundrum may lie with evolutionary changes in email technology — already underway — that will enable marketers to increase their sender credibility, trim lists, and reduce the volume of email sent, all while boosting effectiveness and ROI. Two of these evolutionary changes, email automation and mass customization, promise to help marketers improve deliverability rates, create more successful campaigns and build stronger relationships with customers and prospects.

Email automation ushers in a new era of mass customization

Email automation builds on personalization, the best practice of addressing emails directly to recipients by name, which allows marketers to go beyond one-to-many broadcast emails to establish one-to-one relationships with customers and prospects. By allowing marketers to send the right message to the right person at the right time in the buying cycle, email automation improves the likelihood that recipients will open and click through your emails.

With personalization and email automation, marketers can take the daring step of sending less email to smaller, more targeted lists. This approach improves email relevance and the timeliness of message delivery, and is ushering in a new trend in email marketing called mass customization.

Mass customization enables marketers to design email campaigns that take advantage of demographic, behavioral and transactional data they have collected about customers and prospects. This data not only provides the tools for targeting and segmentation, which can improve campaign performance; it also improves the customer experience of your brand by ensuring your email messages are relevant to the consumer. By combining the enabling technology of email automation with mass customization, marketers can quickly design and automatically deliver campaigns with customized messages based on recipients’ preferences.

While most companies collect data about their customers, actually integrating the data and using it in campaigns has taxed the capability of most email marketing solutions designed for small-to-medium sized businesses. New, affordable email automation tools are now on the market that support event and action-triggered automation, integrate with customer relationship management (CRM) and lead-generation tools, and feature robust reporting and analysis to give marketers an end-to-end view of their campaigns. These solutions level the playing field by making it possible for companies to plan and implement sophisticated email marketing campaigns using automation and mass customization techniques that were once available only through enterprise-class solutions.

Event and action-triggered automation

Personalization, segmentation and targeting are well-understood by most marketers. They are also the first steps to creating email campaigns that take advantage of email automation and mass customization. Advanced automation technologies include event or action-triggered email campaigns and integration with CRM and lead-generation tools.

Event or action-triggered automation complements segmentation, which targets campaign content to specific list segments, enabling marketers to automatically send compelling email with relevant content and offers tailored to consumers’ needs. With event triggers, these emails are automatically delivered at the right moment — for example, when a customer abandons a shopping cart, an email can be triggered with a relevant offer that also enables the customer to complete the transaction in the email.

Marketers can plan an entire campaign around automated event triggers, mapping out workflows and events including:

– The event, action or specified time that initiates the sending of an email
– Filters to include or exclude contacts
– Timer delays for scheduling and initiating message delivery
– Select customized email campaigns to send to specific contacts or contact segments
– Post-condition settings to assign value fields for tracking specific contacts once the campaign series has been executed

With today’s simple-to-use, Web-based email tools, automated trigger campaigns are within the reach of marketers without requiring IT support, giving marketers another tool to increase the ROI and effectiveness of their email campaigns.

Integrate email with CRM and lead-gen applications to speed the sales cycle

For some small-to-medium businesses, email applications have served as a CRM application, making it simple to reach out to customers and prospects while gathering basic data. However, CRM and lead-gen solutions are now available on a software-as-a-service basis, bringing advanced capabilities for collecting and managing customer data and nurturing lead pipelines, within reach of businesses of all sizes. The challenge now becomes integration of data within email campaign management, CRM and lead-gen applications.

Fortunately today’s evolved, web-based email tools can help marketers sharpen their games by speeding the integration of email campaigns with Web-based CRM systems and lead-gen applications. The advantages are clear – increased revenue-building opportunities, reduction on sales cycles, more opportunities to touch the customer or prospect, better control of messages, the ability to qualify leads and time savings.

In fact, Aberdeen Research, in a report entitled Success Strategies in Marketing Automation (July 2007), surveyed marketers who revealed various benefits of integrating email and CRM systems:

• 95% of those surveyed said they were able to reduce the sales cycle by integrating email campaigns with lead management solutions

• 66% of respondents indicated they used marketing automation tools, including email management solutions, to facilitate sharing of leads between sales and marketing – increasing opportunities to qualify, follow up on and prioritize prospects most likely to make a purchase

• 42% of those surveyed use automated email to follow up and qualify leads, improving the lead qualification and sales process.

For marketers, the opportunity to speed leads through the sales cycle with email campaigns has never been better.

Getting started with email marketing automation and mass customization

As we’ve seen, email marketing delivers results, has a superior ROI and has evolved to provide marketers with easy-to-use tools that complement the best practices of personalization, segmentation and targeting many already use. Email automation, which enables mass customization, provides the tools to improve the relevance and timeliness of your email campaigns – strategies that will improve the customer’s experience of your brand while delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right point in the buying cycle.

To get started with email automation and mass customization, consider these tips and best practices:

Start with personalization – Talk to your customers and prospects at a personal level by ensuring that all campaigns are addressed to a person – and also make sure the mail comes from a person, with a personal signature.

Harvest customer information from all sources – Collect data everywhere — in email management, CRM and lead-gen applications, for example — and look for opportunities to add profile information from other sources to create a rich database that includes demographic, transactional and behavioral information. This data will help you personalize, segment and develop tailored content for automated email trigger campaigns.

Use reports and analysis to understand buying behavior – Track and evaluate every customer interaction and build a profile of buying behavior. This information will provide the basis for trigger email campaigns that cross-sell and up-sell at the right point in the buying cycle.

Integrate email, CRM and lead-gen data – Synchronize the customer data in your marketing applications. You’ll benefit from a richer database of information that will support more sophisticated marketing, including trigger campaigns and mass customization.

Keep sales in the loop – Give your sales team regular updates on email campaigns, and pass on demographics such as opens, click-throughs and forwards that will help sales prioritize follow-ups.

Plan campaigns around automated workflows – Today’s email campaign management tools support detailed workflows that support the entire sales cycle. Plan every step of your campaign with action triggers, and watch your results improve.

Use the one-to-one communication channel of mass customization – You’ve collected data on customers and prospects, you have data about the buying cycle, and you have sophisticated email campaign tools. It’s time to use mass customization techniques to build campaigns that deliver tailored messages, at the right time, to the right person. Watch sales grow!

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