If retailers' emails are to be effective, they must be relevant to each recipient and sent via their mobile phones and Facebook pages, said Mike Hilts, president and general manger of Yesmail, an email marketing service. He cites StarTrek communicators to illustrate his point. When online retailers sit down to craft an email and marketing communications strategy, it may help to consider StarTrek's Captain Kirk and the origination of his request to be beamed up, said Hilts. "When Captain Kirk called Scotty and said 'Beam me up,' it was Captain Kirk initiating the call, not Scotty," Hilts noted. "Scotty didn't ask him every hour if he wanted to be beamed up."
Today's most effective email campaigns work in a similar way. Hilts pointed out that they fill a need or request initiated by a consumer, rather than simply blasting out messages en masse, hoping a few lead to sales. One way merchants can ensure the messages they send are ones consumers want to read is to simply ask customers what information they want. For example, an online retailer may offer a sign up form on its home page, where visitors can register for specific email alerts. Consumers could choose to be notified, for example, when the retailer adds specific items such as a particular type of footwear or brand of kitchen appliance. Emails of interest are sure to be read and more likely to convert.
Hilts is not alone in seeing this as a trend. A recent report from Forrester Research predicted that marketers will begin using more triggered emails in the coming years. "They provide a service to consumers: pertinent information when they most need it," stated the report, which is entitled, "U.S. Email Marketing Volume Forecast, 2008 To 2013."
"Traditionally email has been a push medium, but email and the web are interactive tools," Hilts said. "What you are starting to see now is email as more of a dialogue. Marketers are realizing that it is about communication and not about just sending out a blast." Furthermore, that communication between marketer and consumer is expanding outside the traditional email mold. Hilts said his firm works with many leading online retailers and brand marketers, such as Hewlett-Packard, Macy's, Kodak, Avon and Coca-Cola, on integrating and optimizing email with new and innovative channels, such as social media and mobile.
"We've accomplished a key step within our mobile initiative over the past year, offering the capability to detect, format and send emails that render correctly on mobile devices," Hilts reported. "We've been focusing on presenting content that will look friendlier on a mobile device, versus an eye chart of text with links to web pages."
The end goal is about effectively reaching consumers on their turf, which is increasingly on their handheld devices, via their mobile phones with text messages, or on their social networks, while giving them something they want. Widgets, for example, actively engage the users, whether they find it and sign up, or opt into it. It offers consumers something fun and useful in the context of information they would be asking for, or at a location they would visit anyway.
In the future, Hilts envisions a variety of elements of messaging and branding working together. For example, a footwear retailer may send an email announcing a new, "Shoe of the Day," widget that promotes a discount on a particular shoe each day. Users could add the application to their Facebook pages, and sign up for text message alerts that would tell them when a chosen footwear style or brand is featured.
"I'm really most excited about social media," Hilts said. "It's based on human behavior. It's getting the customer involved in the process. But the best way for marketers to use these new systems is by integrating two or three different types of communication for a campaign across different channels." Research confirms that consumers are embracing social networks and text messaging. One third of consumers received or sent at least one text message per week last year, according to Forrester. That's an increase from 29 percent in 2007. In 2008, 16 percent visited a social networking site at least weekly, which is up from 13 percent a year earlier.
A new product module from Yesmail, called the Conversion Optimizer, helps marketers determine who to send emails to, based on redundant purchase data. For example, a marketer can tell the Conversion Optimizer that it plans to send an email with a discount on women's gold pendants. Then, the marketer can set parameters, such as only send the email to those it shows having a 75 percent chance or better of opening the email and making a purchase. Hilts reported that one online retailer using the Conversion Optimizer generated 20 percent more revenue per email campaign, targeted an additional 52 percent of subscribers that were likely to buy, and at the end of one month of campaigns, generated $100,000 of incremental revenue.
However, Hilts cautioned that marketers should be aware of the differences between email and these new forms of communications. For example, while tracking open rates, click-throughs and conversions is standard practice with email marketing campaigns, comparable data may not be available for every social media application, depending on how the program works. In some cases, the aim of the program may be exposure and brand awareness, which are harder to measure than email conversion, although they may in fact drive sales. Other challenges are the cost of text messaging, as marketers have to pay both to send the message and the fee a consumer would normally pay when opening a text from a friend.
Those challenges notwithstanding, marketers must evolve with their customers, as Star Trek's voyagers adapted to their changing circumstances. For more information on Yesmail, visit www.yesmail.com.
This article was edited from a story by Hilts on Internet Retailer.com
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