What's in it for me?
In the late 1990s a request for email addresses rarely appeared on forms designed to collect customer contact information. Fast forward. Today, email addresses are often the first piece of information requested following name and mailing address.
The bottom line is that marketers have become much better at collecting email addresses. Where they have failed, however, is in the methods used to collect this information.
For example: Did you ask your customers for permission to use their email addresses? From a legal standpoint, we must
add an explicit opt-in mechanism to every
contact point where an email address is being collected. Check with your company's legal advisors for specifics. The rule of thumb is that as a bare minimum, you need to have a permission checkbox similar to the following: "Yes, I would like to receive email promotions, correspondence, newsletters, and other timely information from ABC company."
If you are collecting email addresses without explicit opt-in permission, you might as well not be collecting email addresses at all. By not asking permission and sending information that has not been requested you may in fact be creating a negative backlash toward your company's brand identity and marketing efforts.
Always take the high road. Once the mechanics of opt-in are established, it is time to start converting opt-in opportunities into sales.
To do this, we need to shift our marketing strategy from "Please give me your email address" to "Here is what we will do for you in return for your email address."
Asking for an email address is no longer enough. Today, we need to add value to the proposition. Put yourself in the customers' shoes. What is in it for them? Why should they provide you with their personal email address?
What Do You Have to Offer in Return for the Email Address?
Most organizations have a unique value proposition--what makes their people, products, services, etc. better or unique from everyone else.
The next step is to cross-pollinate your organization's unique value proposition with the unique benefits and strengths of email marketing. The result is what we call the Opt-In Value Proposition. In other words, if you give us your email address we promise to offer the following additional value (unique value proposition).
Strengths and Benefits of Email
Email marketing offers six unique strengths and benefits.
1. Direct contact (you speak directly to individuals and not just markets)
2. Timely (deployment is rapid and in some cases immediate. Turnaround is much faster than traditional direct mail)
3. Interactive (communication is two-way and not broadcast one-way)
4. Personalized (tailored to each customer's specific needs)
5. Instant gratification (the customers' call-to-action response can result in immediate sales
6. Lower distribution costs (deployment is less costly that traditional direct mail and in some cases the frequency of contact can be increased for minimal additional cost)
Determining Your Opt-in Value Proposition
The key to making a successful opt-in value proposition lies in your ability to identify areas of your organization's value proposition that are best expressed using the strengths of email.
As an example, if part of your value proposition is to provide personalized service, look to the ability of email to offer personalized content to each customer. You will be able to "talk" to customers in terms they can relate to. If providing timely information is part of your value proposition, then leveraging the speed and quickness of email is your ace.
Here's How it Works
Here are three examples of opt-in value propositions that companies can use with email marketing as the medium:
1) As a ski resort operator, a large segment of its product is based on the weather that is difficult to predict and plan for. So when an unexpected snowfall leaves snow conditions powder perfect, a resort can quickly update its customers by email. This timely information is delivered in a matter of minutes, rather than hours or days. The ski resort can also use email to inform its customers about special offers like last-minute deals, exclusive packages, or special events taking place there. When compared to traditional methods of print and radio ads, email's speed and timeliness wins every race.
2) The owner of a hair salon or a health spa can use the timeliness and speed of email to offer deep discounts for customers who are willing to fill last-minute appointment cancellations. This is a win-win. You reward customers who fill cancelled appointments and you recover some of your operational costs that otherwise would have been lost. This approach can work for any retail business that has a perishable product or service. Time is the enemy. Email is the clear winner to carry your message quickly and efficiently to the target audience.
3) Clothing retailers may not wish to sell some of their apparel online. The process of buying clothes typically requires a hands-on, personal approach. It is difficult to make a purchasing decision without trying garments on for size and fit. However, by using email, a retailer can boost its sales significantly. It can personalize messages that meet the specific need and tastes of each customer. If the retailer sells clothing to both men and women, simply segmenting your email audience by gender will improve sales. If you specialize in men's apparel, identifying females on your list will help you tailor offers specifically to those buying gifts for men, versus buying for themselves. By interpreting historical purchasing data and identifying customer preferences, it is possible to build a profile of each customer. In turn, this allows the retailer to offer products in relevant styles, colors, sizes, and price ranges that are specific to each customer.
Opt-in Value Proposition as an Effective Marketing Tool
The key to a successful opt-in value proposition is to identify your company's unique value proposition and express it using email, in a way that sets your organization apart from the competition and enhances your value to the customer. By playing to the strengths of email, you will build more long-term value into your customer relationships.
You need to be practical, but never shy away from "pushing the envelope." Look for ways to create value using email that would be impossible or impractical for any other medium. Also, look for opportunities to migrate what already exists. For example, you may have a customer newsletter that you print and mail. Find out if your customers would prefer to receive a PDF formatted newsletter by email. In this situation, you will save money (mailing and printing costs) as well as save time in assembly and distribution.
Today's most effective email marketing campaigns posses the potential to exceed customer expectations by offering the unexpected and leaving customers with a positive impression. The opt-in value proposition concept gives marketers another effective tool to help generate sales and add long-term value to customer relationships.
About the Author
Mike Allan is vice president, strategy at MethodMail, the full-service strategic email-marketing arm of RareMethod Capital Corp. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org