The Never Ending ROI Story, Part III

Last week, I talked about Financial Returns and their place in the ROI story. The remaining keys to your ROI story lie in customer value, internal efficiencies and learning and progression. This week I'm focusing on customer value.

Every ROI story must have a customer angle. This doesn't mean including a customer quote or an insightful market impact study to justify your e-mail marketing program. It means wrapping your ROI story around a value statement for your customers. There isn't a marketing program out there that tells success stories solely with statistics, so your ROI story shouldn't either.

So, how do we go from an open rate or click through to customer value?

A colleague of mine referred me to the book, "Squirrel Inc.," which describes the art of storytelling and how historians have used metaphorical animal stories for centuries in order to persuade, influence, and rise to leadership positions. Taking this into consideration, I reflected on the ROI stories that have really caught my attention and what has meant the most to me: They've all been based on content that I can grasp and contextualize. As the book states, everyone can relate to animals. In a business, relatable metaphors should be your customer experiences.

If you focus on your entire 50,000-member list and try to decipher what the 20 percent open rate and 5.7 percent click-through rate means, you'll never get there. With all the deliverability issues, legal issues, and technical issues surrounding e-mail, it is getting easier and easier to paint a consumer and business picture of e-mail and its place in society. Bringing this to life in the context of your business will be the key to insightful, meaningful ROI stories that win.

A low-cost channel doesn't mean you'll have low customer value.

How do you get past this surface-level view of e-mail and get to the fact that e-mail is mission critical in our business and consumer lives? Our relationships with the brands to which we are most loyal are fostered through this continuous electronic dialog that, these days, we use almost more than telephones.

I've found that by modeling your highest-value customers, you can build stories around small sub-segments that are highly recognized by large audiences. You can then tie those results to meaningful considerations like lifecycle, switch points, funnel migration, multi-channel impact, or competitive/market criteria.

Some programs have very definitive lifecycles and prime opportunities to tell these stories. Some don't. But you should always consider the idea that a 200-word story has more impact than a single number.

We use personas to tell a story of a customer's experiences with a Web site, and how, when, and with what motivation might they interact with a business electronically. I haven't seen more than one or two good examples of the customer experience story and what value they've generated by creating timely, meaningful, and directional e-mail communications. Which means we have room to grow.

I presented an ROI story to one of our customers recently and rather than saying, "we have proven the effectiveness of e-mail as a lead qualification and communication channel for your business based on a 5:1 ROI," I mentioned how people looking for home mortgage services, looked for answers predominately at night, when call centers are closed. I put the numbers in context.

Rather than only saying, "It cost you $0.04 per e-mail, $0.40 per impression and $3.00 per click to market to your database," we focused the story on how that translated to business value in the customer's sales qualification process. We also looked at what needed to happen to build a qualification and support channel for this e-mail program.

If you remember one thing from this article, let it be this: The true art of an ROI story is not in the presentation or the results. It is in your ability to bring to life something that everyone can get behind.

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