10 Strategies For Email Marketing In A Down Economy

Smart businesses keep marketing in down economies.  Many analysts are already reporting that dollars are shifting to the highly efficient channels like email, still the highest ROI channel and earning $45+ ROI for every dollar invested, according to the DMA (2008).  

There is a dumb way to use email now, and a smart way.  The dumb way is just to send more of the same.  It's certainly easier to do this -- but mindless increases in frequency will not improve revenue growth in the long term.  Increased frequency usually leads to subscriber fatigue and increased list churn.  Then response flattens, while unsubscribe requests and complaints increase.  Inbox deliverability for all your email goes down.  Net effect: your entire program flounders and it will be very difficult to earn respect back from weary subscribers (and the ISPs who are blocking your mail due to high complaints).

The smart way is a different strategy than the one most email marketers employ today.  The formula for success is simple:  Make each email count.  Consider these ideas:

1.    Get the tone right.  Consumers and business professionals are worried about budgets and job security.  You don't want to stoke that fear, but you can embrace it.  Fear is a great motivator.  In fact, messages that speak to those fears resonate.  Position your products and services in a way that connects with customers amid the new reality of our times.  Avoid frivolous promotions and glib subject lines.



2.    Discounts are not the only motivator.   Email certainly has a history of offering lots of discounts -- it can be hard to get relief from this when the subject lines that work best typically include a percentage-off offer.  But email also works great when providing value: Information, helpful tips and timely offers can boost response and protect margin.  How can you adjust or improve your Q4 offers based on current climes?

 3.    Add value.  Which of your partners would best help you offer a great "double the value" promotion this month?

4.    Integrate channels.  Use email to start a conversation.  Sure, that conversation can continue in a social medium -- a discussion forum, a Facebook Wall or a micro-blog series of Tweets from your board room or production floor -- but it starts with the familiar and comfortable inbox.  Email is where we all turn first to get news, connect with friends and share our concerns.

5.    Reach the inbox and break through.  Seasonality and recession pressure will significantly increase the amount of email sent.   In response, ISPs may throttle back delivery speeds, strengthen filters and lower volume caps to protect our inboxes.  Twenty percent of permission-based email never reaches the inbox.  If you can move your deliverability up even 10 points, think what that alone will do for your response rates.  If you have a good sender reputation, get credit for it by signing up for as many whitelists as you qualify for.

6.    Ask for feedback in every email, after every ecommerce purchase and in every retail or phone transaction.  Make it a goal of your sales team to gather insights.  Monitor and participate in the right social networks.  Listen, and then be sure to communicate back. 

7.    Be truly interested in helping.  Are some of your products more relevant when wallets are pinched?  Do your customers want smaller or larger volumes?  Can you help by pairing up certain products with another?   

8.    Celebrate flexible terms. Make it clear if you offer delayed billing, loyalty points or higher service for certain order sizes or frequency of purchase.  

9.    Thank your customers.  Send whitepapers, user tips or a coupon to good customers and new buyers.  This is a great chance to encourage them to tell their friends, too.

10.    Test timing to increase relevance.  Test different cadence, rather than just higher frequency.  A cadence of three emails in one week when I'm in-market may be welcome, but not so when I've just purchased or am between contract renewals.

These strategies take corporate will and discipline, but they're what separate the smart marketers from the rest.   If you haven't started shifting your focus from generic broadcast messages (aka: "batch and blast"), then now is the time.  The opportunity is high -- but the bar for relevance is higher.

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