Don't Forget the Strategy

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Clients and colleagues are always eager tell me what element of the marketing mix they worship: "Decent TV and a top notch media buyer--that's what drives sales!" "Targeted direct mail? There's nothing like it--it works every time!" "See the lines at my cash registers? All thanks to my point-of-purchase program." "Listen to this 30-second radio spot--nothing's more economical, or effective, than smart radio." But here is my favorite: "Gotta love email--it's the killer application." Which, to my ears, begs the question, If email is the killer app, what/who's it killing? What/who is the victim? I think I've found one. The victim, it seems, is strategy. Email marketing cannot solve every marketing problem. Email does some things very well; other things, not so well. Obviously, the same is true of direct mail, banner ads, radio, TV, and billboards for that matter. Yet placing boundaries on email's powers, for many email marketers, understates its contribution. Expectations are very high. The promise of email -- a promise proclaimed and reinforced by many email marketers -- often extends beyond email's true domain. Email is not always faster, better, or necessarily cheaper than direct mail. The true role of email marketing is the brilliant supporting role it can play in online, broadcast, or print media campaigns, as well as with other operations based customer retention activities. We shouldn't confuse tactics with strategy. Don't swap email deployments for coordinated, multidimensional campaigns. So what's a script for email's supporting role? Here's the scene. Let's say that your client is Bill's House of Cheese (BHC), a food retailer suffering from a slump in sales. As a respected marketer, the firm has contracted you to drive traffic to its store with a modest budget. You have completed the client interview, conducted some category research, and devised a plan of action. You propose a print campaign in weekly newspapers, with POP support, and an event to kick things off. You also know that BHC has been collecting email addresses because "they thought it was a good thing to do." However, these addresses are of indeterminate age, and their accuracy has never been confirmed. In addition, let's assume that BHC's clients have consented to allow the company to send them emails, and that BHC's Web site is set up to accommodate email registration. Now comes the key ingredient to generating more sales for BHC: the email strategy. Here are three ideas that BHC can integrate into its marketing plan. 1. Use all print campaign assets to help build the email list. In each print ad, and all POP, place secondary emphasis on a call to action driving readers to the BHC's Web site, where they can offer their email address in exchange for a benefit/reward. The benefit, in this case, would be to sign up for Bill's "Cheeses of the World" e-newsletter, where he informs his customers on cheese history, cheese recipes, and his schedule when he's receiving his new shipment of exotic cheeses from around the world. The customer now feels "special" and has knowledge that others may not. Let us go beyond simply placing the URL in print. Be proactive and place the copy "sign up for our newsletter at for exclusive offers and news" in the print piece. Give the readers a reason to go to BHC's Web site and sign up. If the ad does not drive the prospect to the store, at least capture some benefit from the media purchase by giving the reader an alternative to "buy cheese now"--and set the stage for email communications to follow later. 2. Use point-of-purchase to drive customers to staff and the till.
Use secondary messaging on POP to demonstrate the value of becoming a recipient of the Cheeses of the World newsletter. For example, secondary POP copy could read "Want fresher cheese? Ask our staff to sign you up for our monthly Cheese alerts program." In this case the call to action is to ask a salesperson, not to drive them to a Web site. This provides sales staff an additional opportunity to engage the customer, inform them about the benefits of being on the company's email list, then lead the customer to immediate sales on the floor. 3. Use event marketing and contests to expand your in-house email list. Again, if Bill has planned an exclusive "Cheese of the World" event, you might engage a contest as a way of creating interest, participation, and same-day sales. Include email address as a requirement of entry on the forms; encourage staff to collect email addresses as part of their event management objectives. While you may collect a number of email addresses of customers that are only interested in entering contests, you will also collect addresses of prospects that are genuinely interested in cheese. Your cheese newsletter is a great way of engaging the customer between purchase events. It also encourages loyalty and helps position BHC as a knowledgeable and credible authority on cheese. It should also help Bill sell a ton of cheese, even if it is only a few pounds at a time. So, where's the strategy behind this? If sales are in a slump, email marketing can help Bill develop a personal relationship with his customers between their purchase events. The benefit of this strategy is that when they do purchase, their knowledge of stock and inventory may compel them to increase their order value. As well, the email communications may encourage them to increase their purchase frequency, as they learn about new product offerings. That is how strategic email marketing--through a newsletter vehicle--can work to keep customers and snag new ones. Saying yes to BHC's newsletter allows a potential new customer to get to know Bill's products, and more important, get to know Bill. The e-newsletter signup has moved the prospect one big step closer to becoming a customer--by transforming his relationship with Bill's House of cheese from that of gleaning awareness through a print ad, POP or contest, toward a more intimate insight via a direct response, one-to-one, regular email communication. Therefore the tactic, ideally, ought not to necessarily drive the bus. Email marketing is still in its infancy as a marketing tool. As I stated earlier, strategic email marketing is not a magic bullet that can cure all of marketing's woes. However, in the case of Bill's cheese it is the catalyst that can take an ordinary marketing plan to extraordinary levels. About the Author Keith Dundas is vice president, marketing, MethodMail, the full-service strategic email-marketing arm of RareMethod Capital Corp.
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