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Using e-mail to boost customer engagement

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E-mail service provider StrongMail in December released its 2011 Marketing Trends Survey. The survey, conducted online by Zoomerang with feedback from 925 business leaders, reflected good news. Half the respondents said their marketing budgets will increase this year, while 43% said it will remain the same. Most important, 65% said they would be increasing e-mail spending. Only social media came close to that kind of projected increase, with 57% of respondents reporting they would be boosting spending in that area.

When questioned about what they would be spending their money on, 52% of respondents pointed to increasing subscriber engagement. Ryan Deutsch, VP-strategic services at StrongMail, offers the following advice for companies looking to boost engagement.

  • Understand what's at stake. It used to be that hurdles such as spam complaints and unsubscribes interfered with deliverability. Now, getting into the inbox is becoming increasingly linked to engagement, Deutsch said. “If someone receives 15 e-mails from you and doesn't open any of them, [the e-mail server or ISP] might start blocking subsequent e-mails,” he said. “ESPs and enterprise e-mail software are using engagement or lack thereof to block e-mail messages before they even get to the end-user.”
  • Segment your list. Even if you've been segmenting by vertical, title or past purchases for a while, it's important to add another category to your segmentation strategy: those who are unengaged. “You have to talk to those people in different ways,” Deutsch said. “You're not going to send the same subject lines, the same content to those who are opening your e-mails and those who aren't.” Your definition of inactive will depend on how often you send out messages. A marketer with a once-a-month newsletter might define inactive as one click or less over the past six to 12 months, while one that e-mails weekly or even daily will want to pull out addresses that haven't clicked through in the last month or so, he said.
  • Survey the landscape. If someone isn't clicking, it's up to you to find out why—whether by sending out a survey or getting the sales force to pick up the phone and ask. Surveys should include a link to your online preference center so recipients can select the topics and frequency that work for them, Deutsch said. You might also want to see if they are interacting with your brand elsewhere, such as following your Twitter feed or checking into your Facebook page.
  • Send out a great offer. Sometimes all it takes to get someone clicking is an offer they can't refuse. But that doesn't necessarily mean a discount, Deutsch said. “It might be access to unique content free of charge,” he said. This is also another opportunity to push your social media strategy, he said. “Online communication is no longer just e-mail-specific. It's online communities, your website, online customer service interactions, Facebook and Twitter. There are software tools that can connect the fact that someone posted in your online forum three times in the last six months. Customers tend to proliferate across the channels.”
  • Create a welcome series. While you might not be able to re-engage all idle subscribers, you can avoid future problems by creating a welcome series that helps your new subscribers understand the value of your e-mail communications. “Thank them with your first message in real time; follow up with a second e-mail two or three days later that gets them to anticipate what's coming; and then a month or so later solicit feedback to make sure you're giving them what they expected.”
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