Email Marketing and Social Data: The Beginning of a Beautiful CRM Friendship

We all know by now that CRM is concerned with capturing and leveraging a 360-degree view of each and every customer. Yet sometimes this "holistic" ideal gets lost in the ever-growing number of channels, tactics, and technologies that now enable businesses to engage with consumers.

Your company, of course, has an email marketing strategy in place, and most likely a Facebook page and outreach program. There are also Twitter and YouTube campaigns to think about…maybe even a customer-facing blog. Each of these communication channels has value, and some, like email, are downright essential, but there needs to be an overarching strategy encompassing all of your organization's customer relationship-building efforts. If, for example, your email marketing team isn't up to speed on your social strategy and vice versa, your company could be missing out on some compelling opportunities to understand your customers better.

As a CRM expert, you need to be able to leverage all of the many channels through which customers are engaging with your brand, and one obvious place to start is by tapping into the natural synergies between email marketing and social media. Here are several ways to leverage the capabilities and data generated by these distinct, yet complementary, customer channels to drive smarter, more targeted, and ultimately more successful campaigns:

1. Share. This one is pretty simple, folks. Your email and social marketing teams absolutely must be able to easily take advantage of all the data captured about consumers, whether information has been generated by a loyalty program, through a customer's history of online purchases, or posted to the social Web. Facebook alone has access to lifestyle and demographic information on more than 800 million people worldwide. That's more than most traditional data providers will ever have. Not only are social data streams vast, they are also highly valuable, specifically because information is self-reported. Details on consumers' interests, passions, and product preferences, paired with email subscriber data, can be mined to build rich profiles that enable more targeted marketing messages. Conversely, email data can be used to target loyal customers and encourage them to discuss their experiences with your brand via social channels. (Product reviews are a great example of this.) The key here is being able to match email addresses (or even name and location) with social data so that the information can be leveraged and queried as an integrated whole.

2. Scratch each other's backs. The email-social media relationship is mutually beneficial beyond just data sharing, however. Each channel can be used to drive increased customer loyalty and engagement by marketing the multiple ways that consumers can interact with your brand. This means that your social media should promote your company's email loyalty program and prompt "followers" and "friends" to sign up for email offers and deals. And, of course, email can play a vital role in alerting consumers to your social media efforts in the first place. As your business launches new social content, it can use email subscriber lists to jump-start participation in these channels, create buzz, and increase ongoing traffic. Integrating banner ads promoting social media links into existing email programs is an easy first step. For a more targeted effort, services provided by companies that track social data can identify which members of an email list are active on which social networks, thereby enabling marketers to develop stand-alone campaigns designed to get them to like, follow, or otherwise interact with the brand on those pages.

3. Develop multichannel campaigns. At the end of the day, a customer relationship-building campaign is a customer relationship-building campaign, whether it's being run on Facebook or Twitter, through a dedicated Web site, or via email. So why not build multiple channels into the mix from the get-go? All too often, strategies for social media or email outreach are developed in a vacuum, with one group working on social, another on email messaging, and so on. But the power of these channels to build lasting customer relationships is amplified when they work together synergistically. A great example of a successful integrated strategy is a loyalty program developed for Castrol, a leading marketer of premium lubricants. Taking care of automobiles and maximizing car performance is a big part of Castrol's business, but rather than attempting to reach consumers with communications about motor oil, the company sought to engage key influencers by tapping into their passion for cars and racing. Out of this objective, Castrol's "Liquid Engineering Crew" (LEC) was born. Anchored by a loyalty Web site, www.castrolcrew.com, this innovative communications and community-building campaign spans social, email, and online channels.

Here's how it works: The LEC Web site brings together a number of unique social communities that Castrol has launched on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, with consumers rewarded with "Castrol Credits" for their participation. The credits—which may be redeemed for Castrol merchandise, racing memorabilia, and tickets to racing and sporting events—can be accrued by members for joining forum discussions, signing up for racing alerts and LEC newsletter emails, and participating in Castrol's Engine Warranty Program. Through the Liquid Engineering Crew campaign, Castrol has been very successful in driving engagement, sharing, advocacy, and sales for its brand. Since the program's launch, posts on discussion forums and Castrol blogs have increased by 400 percent; delivery, open, and click rates of the monthly LEC newsletter email have gone up; and sweepstakes and product promotions have seen increased participation. Most astonishing, Castrol's social communities grew by 2,000 percent in just nine months, and received five out of five stars for post quality on Facebook. (The Facebook rating compares engagement across similar fan pages of similar size.) Castrol's email and social media effort now leads all other channels the company uses for communication and represents one of the most successful campaigns for cultivating customer relationships, igniting conversations, building community, and ultimately driving purchases. It's a compelling testament to the power of an integrated approach.

Today's CRM practitioners need to harness ever more varied and numerous engagement channels to learn more about customers and build lasting relationships. A great place to start? Introduce your email marketers to the social media experts across the hall. It should be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Kara Trivunovic is global director of strategy at StrongMail Agency Services, a provider of interactive marketing solutions for email marketing and social media.

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