The 3 Levels of Follow-Up

When it comes to communicating and engaging with customers, email remains a significant channel for marketers. In fact, in the recently released results from its State of Data Quality survey, Experian Data Quality found that email remains the top channel for doing this. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, customers are not just opening emails from a desktop or laptop, but from a number of mobile devices as well.

ExactTarget's "Mobile Behavior" report states that 91 percent of consumers check their email at least once per day on their smartphone, making it the most used functionality. This means that they are opening email communications throughout the day, including at what Google calls the zero moment of truth (ZMOT): the online decision-making moment when consumers are preshopping (or passively browsing online). According to the data, such preshopping takes place while consumers are doing other activities—88 percent are on a smartphone when they're watching television, and 66 percent use a smartphone and a laptop together, or a laptop and a TV together.

From a sales cycle perspective, this is a critical moment for marketers to capitalize on, as it provides an opportunity to present consumers with relevant, timely information via email to tip the scale in their favor. Email newsletters that offer a mix of product and general interest information can serve as the perfect vehicle to disseminate content to consumers at the ZMOT to drive further engagement.

According to IMN's Second Annual Content Marketing Survey, more than two-thirds of marketers consider monthly newsletters an effective content marketing tactic to engage with customers and prospects. Additionally, companies that deliver relevant content are not only strengthening relationships with the recipients, but also providing an opportunity for follow-up, which can turn casual newsletter readers into purchasers, no matter where they fall in the sales cycle.

Consider this: Fifty email subscribers clicking on a piece of content means 50 people interested enough in your newsletter to open it and, potentially, 50 people at that ZMOT in the buying process. Armed with this insight, what can marketers do to drive the best results?

The key is in the follow-up. Here are three levels of follow-up to consider using to keep an open line of communication with customers and prospects after an email newsletter campaign has gone out:

  • Manual follow-up.This nonautomated type of follow-up consists of an email to a newsletter recipient that is not triggered by a specific action, but sent manually after assessing how a recipient engaged with the newsletter content. If a recipient clicked on a lifestyle article about "the country's best road trips" in an email newsletter from an auto dealer, for instance, a manual follow-up might just be an email that says, "Hi, I noticed you read an article we had in the newsletter on the country's best road trips. It's a good time to think about preventative maintenance," and then pair that with some kind of relevant offer for service.
  • Follow-ups within email newsletters. In-newsletter follow-ups are automatic emails generated after a consumer clicks on a specific article or link within an email newsletter. By clicking through a link, the consumer has indicated interest in the topic, providing an opportunity to continue the conversation. If an email subscriber clicks on an article about the benefits of wheel alignment, for example, the follow-up may direct him to a scheduling page to book an appointment, along with an offer for that service.
  • Marrying email newsletter behavioral data with other insight. There is a wealth of data at marketers' fingertips, and merging information for multiple sources can allow for more effective and targeted marketing campaigns. For instance, in the automotive industry, dealers rely on their dealer management systems to manage finance, sales, parts, inventory, and administration data. Using tools that marry this data with behavioral data in the newsletter, dealers can set up queries that say "Give me all the people who clicked on the article on new convertibles, who also serviced with us in the last six months, and are nearing the end of their lease term," and then create a campaign based on that query that results in a much higher conversion rate.

With each level of follow-up, there's an opportunity to maximize the ZMOT and encourage further customer interaction. Using digital behavioral cues to drive communications strategies and content marketing efforts, companies can truly move the needle and increase sales, attracting consumers and prospects to them in the process.

Craig Fitzgerald serves as editorial director for IMN, managing a team of writers who develop content for 1,900 automotive dealers. He also writes for the Boston Globe, Concord Journal, and AAA Southern New England. Previously, he was the editor in chief for Hemmings Motor Sports, an automotive magazine publisher.

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