'Do You Want Fries With That?' -- The Power Of Context

What makes an email successful? Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time on the right device. As a communicator, I like to think of these attributes as context. Here are some ways to get the context right and improve your program.

Meet the customer on his path.  You don’t necessarily need massive customer data files to get messages out that are contextual and meaningful to recipients. Much of your CRM strategy can be based on common sense.

Consider the following emails I’ve received that contain messages that apparently suited the vendor but were wildly out of context for me.

--        Travel offers for a hotel located two miles from my home. (I’ve heard of staycations, but this is ridiculous.)

--        Promotions for pricey sound systems months after I had already bought one. (How many do they think I can use?)

--       An invitation from a local political writer to join a wellness class about essential oils. (I always knew politicians were slippery, but still ...)

In terms of existing customers, the right context for an alluring continuing conversation, such as attempts to upsell, resell, or cross-sell, is along a reasoned path of usefulness. If the customer has just purchased a sound system for her TV, ask her to consider adding or upgrading a different device next. If she bought that sound system three to five years ago, maybe she’s ready now to buy a new one with the latest technology. Timing your offers well is another key element of the context.

The perfect cross-sell line is, “Do you want fries with that?” Because that’s the essence of getting the message in context. They’ve bought the burger, so now they need a side dish or a drink to go with it. They don’t need two hamburgers.

What about new customers? What might they like to hear from you? There’s only one way to find out for sure: Ask them. Every brand’s sign-up page should be both a welcome tour and a preference center. Show them around the range you offer. Distinguish yourself from competitors. When you ask for their email address, also ask them what they’d like to know next. Capture those preferences and apply them to the specific email stream they will get.

Remind them who you are, every time you meet. Another important aspect of context that you need to nail every time is your identity. Don’t be lulled into thinking that in the midst of today’s frantic, fragmented media world, every subscriber remembers your company or why he/she signed up for your emails.

Consumers are bombarded with nearly 1,000 commercial messages per day. The next time the consumer meets you, she may need clues to your identity to enable recognition. Remind her of the context in which she signed up for your emails and brand every email with your unique voice, look, and differentiation.

On your unsubscribe page, use some of the web real estate to reintroduce yourself. It might be just the memory jog a customer needs to stay on your list. 

Leverage the physical context. There are two important considerations here. First is the context of the inbox. Follow best practices to make your message stand out in the clutter. The whole art and science of email is to draw the reader progressively into the message. Pour your creative effort into crafting a subject line, pre-header, headline, hero image, and introductory copy that work together to pull readers in and get them engaged with your message.

The second consideration is the device your customer uses. Behaviors vary depending on whether the customer is using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop/desktop. Find the correlations in your data that show what your customers do on which device: reading, browsing, clicking, buying. Consider how you might tailor the email to take advantage of the context of each device.

Ultimately, your best strategy is to focus on the point of intersection between your audience’s habits, needs, and desires and the products or services you supply. That’s the winning context. 

4 comments about "'Do You Want Fries With That?' -- The Power Of Context".
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  1. Michael David from Michael David, October 27, 2014 at 2:26 p.m.

    Great article that hits on all the key points!

  2. Justin Foster from Liveclicker, October 27, 2014 at 4:54 p.m.

    Cynthia - with regard to context, what do you think about "context" aware services like Movable Ink or Liveclicker that detect location, device, and time of open? Do you think it's important for most marketers to leverage this kind of context as well? Or do you think this kind of technique really only applies to small niches or verticals?


  3. Cynthia Edwards from Razorfish, October 27, 2014 at 7:54 p.m.

    Hi Justin,

    I'm glad you asked that! I love the new context-aware services that are available for email. They are especially useful for time-bounded events (such as conversion emails about limited-time offers) which every retailer can apply. There are of course many other uses for this type of technology which are well worth exploring. Not every marketer has the sophistication, product range, or budget to create, say, geo-targeted offers, but if they do, it's worth going for. Everything that can make an email more special to the recipient should be done.

    - Cynthia

  4. Abby Bandel from Barilliance, October 28, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.

    For e-commerce sites a very effective way to personalize every email interaction is to add dynamic personalized product recommendations to each email. It sounds like a very expensive and time consuming task, but today there are SAAS based personalized product recommendation engines that can be implemented in a matter of days with no upfront cost, and even better with no need for IT support. To start sending personalized product recommendations in email campaigns, all you need to do is copy and paste a few lines of HTML into your email template. The dynamic personalized product recommendations are presented in real time, when the email is opened– not when the campaign is sent out.

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