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GUEST COMMENT ‘Help me help you’: what to consider before hitting the send button

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“Dear [Your name],

I wanted to make contact because I believe I can offer a solution that would be the perfect fit for you…”

OK, enough now.

If you’re anything like me, this is about the time you click the delete icon… Or worse, the unsubscribe link. You’d be within your rights, it’s evident the sender hasn’t begun to consider who you are or what would genuinely interest you.

Irritating, generic, sales-led brand emails like this are the bane of inboxes nationwide. But despite their considerable unpopularity (and dire success rate), we all still receive them every day.

Perhaps the worst thing about this situation is that it’s so easy to avoid. Brands have access to more than enough data about their customers to send something much more considered.

Whenever I see yet another infuriating wasted email I’m reminded of a scene from the film Jerry Maguire in which the titular character played by Tom Cruise makes an impassioned plea to his uncooperative client, “help me help you”.

So, while online may feel like a target-rich environment, there are four things brands should consider before hitting ‘send’…

1.Who are you speaking to?

It seems obvious, but understanding this is key to avoiding the junk folder. The reader will switch off as soon as they see another cookie-cutter mass sales pitch. It lacks thought and it lacks sincerity.

Tight, accurate segmentation of your customer database allows for greater authenticity. By grouping contacts by factors such as interest, age, location, buying habits and frequency, you can approach your audience not only with the right subject matter, but also in an appropriate tone of voice.

2,Why are you contacting them?

Of course you want to sell something, but email marketing doesn’t exist purely so you can fling discount codes into the digital ether and hope something sticks.

Before you type a single sentence, first ask what that person has done to indicate they are open to receiving your email. Opting in isn’t enough in isolation, per our first step opt-ins should be segmented into clear subsets based on particular product sets, services or use cases.

The likelihood of success is based on intent at any given time though. So, consider what’s the trigger for your email – have they actively requested further information, whether that’s at point of purchase or online, through gated content for example?

If there’s no legitimate reason to suggest they would be interested in hearing from you, think twice.

3.What are you saying… and why should they care?

Bombarding people with constant sales messages isn’t building a relationship, it’s harassment. From the very beginning of your email, put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

You need to persuade that individual the call to action will actually serve a purpose for them. If you want to build something longer-term, this should go beyond pushing a one-off sale – regardless of how relevant it is. Moreover, the recipient should be able to perceive a net benefit for handing over their data.

If the value exchange is too obviously one-sided then why would the recipient remain opted in? Consumers increasingly understand the value their data holds and won’t give it up for nothing.

4.How do you measure success?

It’s also important to consider your email in the context of nurturing customer relationships. This should be the overarching goal – and it takes time. ‘Direct response’ marketing which encourages the recipient to take a specific, immediate action can be very effective, but it doesn’t work in isolation and it certainly isn’t sustainable.

Constantly pestering people to make a purchase without engaging with them any other way will likely have the opposite effect to what you intended. So rather than always focusing on the immediate sale, think of the bigger picture to consider the customer’s lifetime value. A KPI based on reducing opt-outs can prove more valuable over time than generating short-term revenues.

Nurturing customers means treating them as more than cash cows – not every email needs to have a sales message. Instead consider what other useful content aligns to the product and fits with a customer segment’s lifestyle or aspirations.

This may not be very Tom Cruise but bear with me… Let’s imagine I’m selling fishing equipment and supplies. I’ve set up an email list for novice anglers, which is populated by customers who have purchased entry level fishing rods, starter packs and so-on.

They probably don’t need a bigger boat just yet, but they might be interested in a map of local fishing spots complete with a guide to the different species they might encounter. Next, factor in the details of the types of bait, lures and reels they will need for each and you have the opportunity to upsell/cross-sell without putting any immediate pressure on the recipient.

When it comes to what additional incentives a customer would appreciate, the devil is in the data. Pay attention to whether they are primarily an online or an in-store shopper and tailor promotions accordingly – it might be a discount voucher for your ecommerce site, or an invitation to a physical workshop.

The ‘spray and pray’ approach of generic mailouts is a risky business, after all you can’t just expect customers to show you the money without good reason. Moving away from this thinking will not only boost sales in the short term, it will lead to longer lasting and more mutually beneficial customer relationships.


Mike Fantis, vice president, managing partner at DAC Group

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