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Jon Stanesby, associate director of strategic services, Responsys, discusses how retailers can connect with customers as email messaging evolves in an increasingly cross-channel world.

As retail moves towards a cross-channel model, technological developments are changing communication methods at such a rapid pace that traditional email, text messaging and phone calls are becoming almost old fashioned. Just weeks ago, Google announced the decision to introduce functional buttons and tabs to its inbox so that users can group messages in main, social, offer, notification or forum files, in an attempt to revitalise the way in which consumers access their mail. By offering quick actions in emails, via quick action buttons that integrate Google Now, Google Calendar and Google+, the inbox is being modernised to make it a better place for consumers to be, as Google’s takes the inbox cross-channel themselves. With the modern marketer facing a constant challenge in appealing to tech-savvy customers who receive information from a number of channels, Google’s recent move begs the question how far will we see a cross-pollination of email, social and mobile in the near future?

Considering that email came into common use barely ten years ago, consumers have certainly embraced web communications. Many of us own several email and social media accounts which manage both our work and social commitments. As of the beginning of this year, Facebook boasted around 31 million users in the UK (which is just under half the entire population), while Twitter says it has 10 million UK users tweeting each day. Add this to the number of email notifications we receive on a daily basis, and it is clear that retailers need to find new ways to distinguish themselves in the competitive market. Personalised messaging, which appeals to individual interests, is the obvious way to forge connections with customers that are valuable, long-lasting and create an engaging inbox experience.

The modern day customer is increasingly mobile and retailers are connecting with this audience using a variety of touch points. In the busy cross-channel world, these customers are easily distracted and marketers have to embark upon unified campaigns in order to identify the best online or offline channel to develop relationships with customers and target them with appropriate material. Understanding who your customers are is at the heart of effective marketing campaigns; what they buy and how, their age, gender and other key demographics are crucial and can give retailers holistic profiles of individual shoppers that can be used to tailor marketing content and make customers feel valued.

Email has forged a place for itself as the mainstay of communications based on its capacity to creatively engage individual customers at the right time and the right place, with relevant, personalised content. While retailers can benefit from this kind of targeted email communication by generating lasting, personal customer relationships, crowded communication channels make it essential for brands to think smartly about their marketing campaigns across all channels in order to reach customers with creative content and a clear call to action.

So, how can retailers ensure that they are connecting with the modern customer? Here are four key tips…

Develop a cross-channel strategy

With many digital channels competing for customers’ attention, a cross-channel marketing approach is essential to ensure that your marketing is not lost in the noise. Marketers need to consider that the shopping journey has become more complex and will probably continue to do so in the future. No longer do we simply walk into a shop with a purchasing idea, identify the product and walk to the check-out, but we can be derailed at any point via any one of our communication channels as online offers appear on our smartphone. With increased use of Wi-Fi in stores, retailers are capitalising on the show-rooming trend by offering promotions for Wi-Fi users who share their email addresses, thereby enabling future marketing communications.

Use email to give your customers relevant information

In the midst of uninspired and machine-generated messaging, targeted email communications offer retailers a great opportunity to generate personalised customer relationships. By making use of customer data, retailers can engage individual customers with tailored offers and product recommendations, generating brand loyalty. For example, if a shopper were to purchase a certain dress, she may be notified about shoes or accessories that would complement her outfit, providing the customer with valuable, personalised information which might lead to further purchases.

Get social with your customers

Successful marketers must consider where their customers are. With just under half the population signed up to Facebook alone, social media is an important communication channel for marketers, and it is likely to become even more so as location-based marketing moves into the mainstream. An effective social media strategy can garner valuable customer insights and also turn customers into powerful social advocates for brands, helping boost loyalty and awareness.

Think about how individuals access information

As we witness the expansion of the mobile and tablet market, brands need to consider how, when and where customers are receiving their content, whether that is via email or social media notifications. Retailers need to prioritise design to optimise their messages for mobile devices, therefore building better experiences for customers, enhancing the brand and achieving long-term loyalty in the competitive retail market.

Innovation is, and will continue to be, necessary to engage tech-savvy customers in the busy retail market. Brands must ensure that their cross-channel strategy enables meaningful integration between channels and a consistency of messaging and approach. Email, social and mobile will continue to perform different functions, as customers prefer to be contacted via different channels, but retailers need to maintain their presence across all touchpoints in order to capture customers at the right place and in the right moment. Those retailers that can create a collaborative and interactive environment, providing engaging, relevant and personalised content, will be the most successful in this new marketing era.

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