Making the most of customer preferences, Part 1

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As a marketer, you should know exactly how your customers want you to communicate with them. But, according to e-mail service provider ExactTarget’s latest white paper, “2008 Channel Preference Survey,” figuring out what to send via e-mail has never been more difficult.

The report, which was based on an online survey of 1,555 U.S. Internet users who own cell phones, found that 95% of respondents said they have given permission for a company to send them information via e-mail, and 85% allow direct mail contact, but only 7% have given permission for SMS (text message) communications and 5% for IM (instant message) communications.

We spoke with ExactTarget’s Morgan Stewart, director of research and strategy, and discussed the white paper as well as what marketers can do today to make the most of their e-mail marketing based on customer preferences.

EMI: Why was this study done at this time?

Stewart: There have never been more one-on-one communication options—e-mail, mobile e-mail, SMS text messaging, instant messaging, messaging through social networking sites, direct mail, telephone. And with so many choices, marketers are faced with trying to figure out how to deliver the right message at the right time through the right channel. We wanted to give them the answers that they are probably looking for right now.

EMI: What was one thing that came out of the survey that every b-to-b marketer should understand?

Stewart: While we didn’t ask questions that pertain directly to b-to-b, the insights, I think, still apply. One concept, especially: the concept that e-mail is clearly a preferred channel—not the preferred channel. Online marketing is not a competition where “e-mail is better,” as some folks seem to have gotten into. There’s a layering effect where all of the different marketing methods complement each other. You don’t have to choose one over the rest. In fact, you shouldn’t choose one over the rest.

EMI: Can you give us examples of how different technologies are complementary?

Stewart: If you look at some of the new channels that are emerging—SMS, social networking and IM, which has been around for a while—you can use e-mail marketing to help these evolve. I had a conversation with some marketers last week and everyone agreed, for example, that in order to get people into a social network you need to pull them in with e-mail. Facebook and MySpace learned this early on, and they let people send out e-mail messages. For b-to-b social network communications, you need the same type of hooks. It all comes back to the inbox. This is really important if you’re trying to build your own mini social network on your site. We do this, our clients participate and it becomes a living organism. But in order to build it up, you have to provide updates [via e-mail] when people post to it. These social channels are still fairly closed networks, and that’s where e-mail comes in.

Look for part two of Stewart’s interview in next week’s issue of E-mail Marketer Insight.

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