Sending relevant e-mail to customers

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Using e-mail to contact existing customers with relevant content is proving effective for b-to-b marketers, according to agencies and their clients.

"The ability to get a lot of bang for the buck out of third-party lists has dropped dramatically," said Lauren Goldstein, director of account strategy at Babcock & Jenkins, a Portland, Ore., demand generation agency. "You have to have relevant dialogue with an installed base."

Goldstein said Babcock & Jenkins is having the most success with a "second-touch" e-mail approach, in which e-mail is used to follow up on an initial piece, such as direct mail or e-mail, sent to an existing customer.

"The combination of a first touch with a direct mail followed up by a second touch with an e-mail is increasing response rates by about 200%," Goldstein said.

She pointed to a campaign Babcock & Jenkins developed earlier this year for Microsoft Corp. Business Intelligence software. The campaign was aimed at business decision-makers and influencers.

The first touch was a direct mail piece with a call to action to go online and download software, a white paper or other content, depending on the target audience.

The second touch was an e-mail following up on the direct mail piece, again trying to drive users to a microsite where they could download content or request information. The campaign had a response rate that was 500% higher than a conventional direct mail campaign, Goldstein said.

"Direct mail provides brand credibility and puts a call to action in front of the target," Goldstein said. "The e-mail gets to them a few days after the direct mail piece and reinforces the call to action."

Moxie Interactive, an interactive agency based in Atlanta, has also seen success with relevant e-mail sent to existing customers.

"The e-mails that have the greatest response and the lowest unsubscribe rates are those with content that is relevant to the recipient at a specific time," said Bob Conquest, chief creative officer at Moxie, whose clients include Verizon Wireless and Saks.

In developing e-mail campaigns for clients, Moxie segments customers into lifecycle groups, such as brand new customers and existing customers.

"When someone becomes a customer, as soon as possible we try to get an e-mail out that thanks them, summarizes their order [if they have placed an order], and gives them information such as how to contact customer service," Conquest said.

For longer-term customers, Moxie develops e-mail campaigns that contain relevant information the customer needs at a specific time.

For example, for Verizon Wireless, Moxie developed an e-mail campaign that was sent to customers shortly before their printed bill was due to arrive, encouraging them to go "paperless" and set up an online account and pointing them to an online demo that showed them how to read their bill.

For customers further down the lifecycle, such as four or five months into a relationship, Moxie sends e-mails that are relevant to their product usage at any particular time.

For example, it developed another campaign for Verizon Wireless based on customers’ usage of text messaging.

"We can send them an e-mail saying, ‘We notice you are sending a lot of text messages out, and here is a less expensive package,’ " Conquest said. "The key is providing relevant information at the right time that will be helpful to them."

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