The sought-after utopia of marketing is recognizing that the formula for success is to generate the right mix between contextual and promotional content. The e-mail channel -- even with all the bad press and threats from legislation, consumer backlash, and new technologies like RSS -- follows the same principles of any marketing medium, and has and will continue to have consumer value for many years. What's changing is how smart, considerate, witty and "out of the box" we must be to compete within the overloaded inbox.
Thus, I'm continually looking for opportunities to communicate with consumers in ways that are not necessarily promotional in nature. For years, I have provided re-marketing activities (re-sending e-mail campaigns to non-responders) as a method of testing timing - for example, they didn't open it on Tuesday, but did when I re-sent it on Friday. Through this technique, you can get to know which consumers you can possibly reach, and try to eliminate all the barriers (pole position, filtering, etc.). We've tested subject lines as well, balancing the promotional theme with a message that is more simple and personal, such as "Sorry we missed you" or "While you were out." I've used this tactic across many clients and many industries, and in many cases I've had a 30 to 50 percent better response rate than I did using a traditional promotional subject line.
I'm continually amazed at the success of what I like to call "honest" approaches to communications. You see this all the time with apology messages, which often return a 200 to 300 percent better response than the norm. Why? Well, for one thing, most consumers are conditioned to incentives, so they feel any apology or disclosure will deliver some reward. But perhaps most importantly, the messaging is honest and to the point -- it's personal instead of promotional.
Promotional messaging alone will create a numbing effect on your audience over time. And you can, in many cases, condition your users to expect increasing offers before they buy; thus, over time, raising the cost of the sale and the "bounty" to gain response. The retail industry is a prime example of how out-of-control this strategy has become. You can hardly sell anything anymore unless you put a SALE sign on it or offer deep discounts.
As a case in point, I had a client a few years ago that was interested in acquisition through third-party lists. They wanted to test couponing and running promotions through the likes of CoolSavings and MyPoints. We felt the challenge with acquiring customers through these sources was that the consumers were conditioned to rewards, and the cost to continue to market to them was substantially more than other direct methods of acquisition. In this particular case, it was true. We tracked the 30,000 names we acquired over a course of 14 months, and the average response rate diminished to a point where only five percent of this list was responsive, quarter over quarter.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use these services and sources, as they have great value. But you should consider how you source contacts-leads, and the curriculum strategy you will use once they enter your digital communications world.
E-mail, while quite linear and static in delivery, is one of the only advertising channels that has the focused brand impact of mainstream advertising (like TV) to communicate unique messages. Yet it has the added value of being inherently measurable, more so than most direct response vehicles. I can hear the advertising strategists screaming now that e-mail will never have the same impact as mainstream advertising, yet those same strategists also don't know the true value this channel offers of alternate channels through complementary messaging and contextual exposure. Life's not a continuous advertisement, so why should your relationship with your customer be one?
By organizing content and messaging into paths that are informational, impact-driven, contextual and peripheral to promotions and offers, you'll begin to find that ideal mix that generates, cultivates and fosters a customer relationship value.