Last week at this time, I was relaxing poolside with a prickly pear margarita at our timeshare resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. All the time I was sitting there working on my Email Insider column, I kept seeing how my resort experience underlined some key email lessons:
Lesson one: Timing is everything. The experience: We sat through a long presentation on our ownership and opportunities for additional weeks at some new resorts. Another timeshare was quite tempting, but it was not the right time for us. However, we couldn't pass up a special promotion being offered at our home resort.
The lesson: Your customers might not be ready to buy when they read your email message, or to buy exactly what you're selling, but studies show they often use the information to shop later. Be sure your email message value lasts longer than the day it arrives in their inboxes and provides alternatives. Not everyone is going to pull the trigger on that $200 cycling helmet, so make sure you include the $20 sweat-cap and box of energy bars as alternatives.
Lesson two: Don't hard-sell subscribers on a soft-sell list. The experience: One of the resort pools is for kids and more boisterous activity; another is set aside for relaxing. While I was outlining this column, a group of young men was goofing around in the "adult" pool and clearly annoying some of us "relaxers." A cabana worker was alerted and they were kindly asked to settle down or leave.
The lesson: Make sure your email program stays consistent with subscribers' expectations. If they opted in to a trend or thought leadership newsletter, don't start adding hard-sell content. Instead, launch a new email program specifically geared to product information, specials and discounts where the focus is clearly on sales. Otherwise, you risk losing subscribers who turn to you for news or advice, and you tarnish your leadership reputation.
Lesson three: Align your email program with brand identity. The experience: I love a good mojito, a Cuban-influenced cocktail made with rum, sugar, lime juice, crushed mint leaves and club soda, partly because it's so satisfying to watch a bartender muddle the mint leaves to create a unique drink each time. I expected that kind of custom work when I ordered one at the poolside bar, but watched in dismay as the bartender used a bottled mojito mix. While it was happy hour, my expectations were nonetheless consistent with this resort's brand — but it fell short of the mark.
The lesson: Understand what your brand represents to your customers and what they expect of you. If your brand speaks of quality, craftsmanship, or reliability, for example, don't use your email program solely as a discount channel.
Lesson four: Don't make readers work for benefits. The experience: I had gotten my own drink from the bar when I entered the pool area one day, but when it was time for a refill, I couldn't get the cabana worker even to look my way. It wasn't until I almost tackled her that she took my order.
The lesson: Analyze your customers to see who your best ones are. One customer might open every message but never buy; another might open one in five but buy something every time she opens one. Also, make it easy for them to buy without working too hard. Start with a message design that delivers key information in the preview pane and without images disabled. Next, clearly label buttons with the desired action: "buy," "download," "subscribe." Finally, send those who click your links to a dedicated landing page; don't make them hack their way through your site to find the offer.
Lesson five: Use customer-provided information to their benefit. The experience: The corporation that owns our resort probably spends millions on its customer database, but doesn't give that information to its sales reps. We had to supply even the most basic information, that we were already owners at this resort, for example. Someone tell me the marketing strategy for this, because it violates one of the basic tenets of good marketing.
The lesson: If your customers have taken the time to fill out detailed demographic or preference pages, use that information to populate new forms so that they don't have to repeat the information every time they interact with you. Also, use their past buying history to segment and create relevant messages. Don't send a loss-leader introductory offer to someone who has bought from you for years.
These tips should help you create an email program more closely focused on your subscribers' needs and wants, so that they come to believe working with you is as pleasant and relaxing as a day spent poolside.