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Don’t let the music stop

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The boss is impressed; your colleagues, amazed. You’ve chalked up a major win with a spectacular event that delivered hundreds, thousands or even millions of new customers to your Web site or retail stores. Regardless of the scale of your success, you’ve now got to decide on your second act before the accolades die down, the bubbly goes flat and the music stops. You’ve got to find a way to convert these newbies into brand-loyal, profitable customers.

Fortunately, you obtained e-mail addresses for the vast majority of these new customers and secured their permission to notify them about “what’s new” at your company. Beyond their e-mail address, name and maybe some sketchy preference data, you probably don’t know much about them.

What to do? Do you drop their e-mail addresses into your database and start mailing them along with your more established customers? That may be your easiest option and what most e-mail marketers do, but it’s not the best way to capitalize on the opportunity you’ve created. While these new customers may have a favorable impression, thanks to your event, their relationship with your brand is tenuous and the wrong approach may impede many (maybe most) from making the transition to brand-loyal, profitable customers.

Instead, treat these new customers (and any others similarly acquired) as a separate list in your database. Communicate with them separately and customize your messaging to their unique situation. Your objective is to keep them engaged—don’t let the music stop—so start by reinforcing their positive impression of your brand based on the event that drew them to you. Seek to establish a dialogue by providing a survey, offering information on related products or services, and requesting additional information about their preferences so you can better meet their needs.

In short, your actions should be geared toward initiating a value exchange with these new customers. They’ll open their wallets and tell you more about themselves only to the extent that they see value (relevancy) in what you send them. So read your results carefully and be prepared to continually tune the tonality, content and frequency of your communications. Only transition them to your main database when they begin to exhibit the behaviors you associate with established customers.

Here are some pointers on key principles that will influence your success:

Welcome e-mail. A welcome e-mail is an obvious first step, but one that’s surprising overlooked by many e-mail marketers. Make sure this initial e-mail reinforces the event and your brand. Since your objective is engagement, use mechanisms that will prompt a response or click, such as a survey or informational offer. But don’t push too hard—you haven’t offered much value at this point. Finally, make sure your welcome e-mail is timely: Get it into their hands while your event is still top-of-mind. Your welcome e-mail is your first step in not letting the music stop.

Follow-up e-mails. Your follow-up e-mails should build on what you said in the welcoming. Begin to segment your list and customize your follow-up communications based on who responds and what they respond to. You’ll want to “fast-track” more responsive customers in promoting product and asking for preference data while taking a more deliberate, nurturing approach with others.

Preference data. Don’t make the mistake of asking for too much information too soon. Remember the value exchange. Look at data capture as a continuum and find opportunities to fill in elements of your customer profile as you serve up value to your customers. And never ask for information you don’t need or can’t act on; the last thing you want to do is throw up red flags or build expectations about delivering content relevant to preferences that you can’t fulfill. Last, make sure customers can readily access your privacy policy and that you clearly disclose how you intend to use the data they furnish and whether it will be shared with third parties. Transparency is always the best policy.

Opt-in permission. It’s terrific that you’re starting with opt-in permission, but don’t be naïve about what permission is all about. Your opt-in permission simply affords you the opportunity to initiate a dialog with these customers. Whether you retain permission to continue that dialog will hinge on the relevancy of your content. Permission is never evergreen. It’s something you earn and re-earn every time you mail. In other words, permission is also the result of that ongoing value exchange with customers.

Consequently, you’ll want to look hard at whether you’re achieving the levels of engagement that will culminate in brand-loyal, profitable customer relationships. So be alert to when customers are rescinding their permission through their actions or inactions (unsubscribes, complaints, absence of opens/clicks) and adjust your communication strategies and tactics accordingly.

Yes, you’ve chalked up a major win. Congratulations! Can you now convert it into a boon for your company’s bottom line? Absolutely. As a skilled direct marketer, e-mail is the perfect medium for you to use … and to keep the music going.

Dave Lewis is VP-market and product strategy at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com), an e-mail infrastructure software provider.

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