What the Heck Is Gonna Be Relevant?

While “it depends” is the stock response to the question “when is the best time to send email?,” “deliver more relevant content” is the stock response to just about every question regarding a good email strategy -- and I believe it is just as vague.

That’s not to say there is not good advice out there on the topic of relevance, but it seems to me that most of the examples that get cited are about retailers. If someone buys X, they will likely buy Y. True, cross-sell emails that trigger off past purchases are one way to deliver relevant content.

But what if you’re not a retailer? What if you don't have a stockpile of historical purchase data from which you can create basket analysis models or develop customer look-alike models? Can you still be relevant?

I believe so, but there are a few things to consider:

1)   Preference Centers Aren’t the Holy Grail: Preference centers promise to collect all sorts of information on what subscribers will find relevant. In addition to the insights provided on the topic by fellow insiders Loren McDonald and David Baker, I’ll add the following. According to a recent study by LoyaltyOne, 78% of consumers don’t believe they gained any benefit from sharing their personal information with companies in 2012, up from 74% last year. Getting information our of individual subscribers is only going to get more difficult, since the majority don’t trust companies to reward them for the effort -- further reinforcing that preference centers aren’t likely to be the holy grail for relevance any time in the near future.



2)   Know Your Value Proposition: Running an email program without a definitive and clearly stated value proposition is like driving a boat without a rudder. Unfortunately, it’s also common. Ask someone what the purpose of their email program is and they are likely to talk about performance objectives. In other words, what the company hopes to get out of running an email program. The value proposition asks, “What are subscribers going to get in exchange for giving us their email address?” How are you going to enrich their life? Answer this, and your chances of delivering “relevant” content go up exponentially.  

3)   It’s Not What Someone Else is Doing: Perhaps the most important way to be relevant is to deliver unique content. Your company has a unique value proposition -- hopefully your products or services provide solutions to real problems. Talk about those problems and solutions. Talk about the broader topics surrounding your products. For example, Pampers talks about babies and parenthood (highly relevant to the people buying diapers). Kraft provides recipes based around “meal solutions” (e.g., kid-friendly, healthy, quick-and-easy). In both instances, these companies provide content that expands on the “solutions” their products provide.

4)   Identify Problems Worth Addressing: Your customers expect you to address a specific set of problems given the nature of your brand. If you are in insurance, they expect you to address one set of challenges. If you are in high tech or heavy machinery, they expect you to address other challenges. Fortunately, I have found that people are more than happy to tell you what these expectations are if you are willing to do some digging. A few useful tools that can be used are:

  • Social Media: What are people saying about your brand online? What questions are they asking? How are people talking to each other about your brand? In my experience, perhaps the most valuable thing you can gain from social media is the ability to learn what customers think of your brand and what topics they believe you should be talking to them about.
  • Surveys & Focus Groups: While not as simple as asking customers and prospects what topics they think we should be addressing, we’ve had extraordinary success asking them to partner with us on determining “what is relevant?” Present them with scenarios, ask for candid feedback on historical marketing materials, ask what challenges they are facing, ask where they think you need to invest more. All of these can yield insights that will help focus your attention on the things your customers (and subscribers) think are important.

As marketers, we are constantly faced with new challenges, but none is more important than figuring out what the heck your subscribers want you to talk to them about. While this will likely be different for different segments, I have found that more often than not, there are more similarities than differences. Most importantly, once the core problem/solution combinations are identified, segmenting and personalizing content becomes a less daunting exercise.

1 comment about "What the Heck Is Gonna Be Relevant?".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 21, 2012 at 4:22 a.m.

    +1. Exactly. Also you can combine A:B testing with analysing customer behavior, such as what which emails they open and what products they look at subsequently, to determine which features of emails are relevant.

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