A Good Idea Doesn't Care Who Has It

In every crowd there is someone who professes to know something about e-mail marketing. I suppose it's like talking about cancer or heart attacks -- it seems everyone has their own story, good or bad, or has a friend or family member who has had some experience.

Those of us in the trenches who do e-mail marketing for a living are like some doctors who are unwilling to listen to and learn from the layman's experience. Yet I've discovered that some of the freshest thoughts come from those non-digital types. Let's not become a professional community so harried by the need for action and response that we don't see the value in seeking the advice of others outside our field, who aren't as blinkered by the day-to-day demands.

With this theme in mind, I thought I'd share a few unusual ideas related to some often-overlooked parts of our e-mail marketing programs.

Most of us think of forward-to-a-friend, member-get-member or viral campaigns as one-way communication. But that's just because we haven't seen the gold in the hills. Here's a value-added approach that will put a bit of gilt on your brand.



Consumers who successfully convince their friends to join one of your programs are valuable assets, right? So when a successful referral occurs, consider using that as an opportunity to notify the customer via e-mail that their friend has registered and offer the customer a small reward or thank you bonus. You can use this same e-mail to solicit feedback, take a short survey, confirm shipping/profile information, provide an added discount on their next purchase, or better yet - solicit another referral.

In this business, it's not enough just to say "thank you" to your customers. It's the way you say "thank you" that can set you apart from competitors and cement customer loyalty.

Anyone who has set up an e-mail program knows that reply handling can be a nightmare to manage. It only takes one send to 100,000 addresses to it figure out. When 5,000 replies hit your personal e-mail account, you need a system to filter them.

Amazingly, sometimes I still see a single person managing this process manually. If someone takes the time to respond directly to your campaign you should certainly treat them with priority and be as real-time as possible.

One of my e-mail partners has a unique reply handling feature that allows the administrator to control the reply handling. I repeat, administrator, NOT a tech person. This capability has allowed us to be quite creative with routing replies and triggering responses. Here are some clever ideas to ponder:

- "Out of Office" replies. Consider triggering an auto-response seven days from the date of these types of replies, saying, "We missed you while you were out of the office..." and then repeat the original offer.
- "Request for Information." Consider routing an auto-responder to these replies that tells about your company and gives them instructions on how to contact a live person (all the while, routing the request to sales).
- "Change my personal information." Send an auto-responder that either tells them how to change their personal information themselves or to confirm that their request is being processed. While you're at it, you can do some cross-promotion in this e-mail.
- "Take me off your list." Send a confirmation of receipt and ask them to take a quick poll or survey as to why they are leaving. Consider seeking a referral at that point too.
- Any "Personal Message." Set up an auto-responder that tells them their response will be handled shortly and give them a sales number to call for any sales inquiries.

While these ideas aren't necessarily bending lasers, we as communication experts are striving to be smarter in our communications and find real-world reasons to communicate with our customers. And in order to do so, we should sometimes look outside our digital world for refreshing ideas that help us improve and challenge our traditional "blast and go" thinking.

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