I’ve spent the last few months doing lots of personal travel and got on the mailing list for a number of online travel agencies and airlines. So this weekend, I went through my inbox and unsubscribed to a number of weekly, sometimes daily, travel emails but kept the one that stood out from the rest. Most of the travel companies treated me as a transaction – Sale, Special, Save, Book Now, etc.
These companies continue to use old-school interruption marketing of Plug and Pray – plug your brand over and over again and pray that I buy from you. The problem is my attention span is very short and I’m a Boomer – I can’t imagine how Millennials react to these kinds of emails. I actually go out of my way to subscribe to newsletters and distribution lists that add value to the things I’m interested in. The one travel agency that I did keep in my feed does exactly that.
World Nomads is a travel agency that sends me regular emails but most of the content is interesting and valuable with travel tips, stories of great travel adventure and community members’ experiences. Sure, they promote their tours from time to time but they’ve earned my trust to stay in my feed.
It’s time for brands to move away from transactional emails and take a more strategic content marketing approach to email marketing. Email is still one of the most important arsenals in the marketer’s toolkit but we’ve got to get better at nurturing our audience instead of hitting them over the head with our offers and promotional content.
Some tips for transitioning from transactional emails:
- Focus on the customer – know what your customers want or like. What is valuable to them? Yes, I want a good deal and competitive prices, but having the same promotional messages week after week in my inbox is infuriating. If I’m already a happy customer, don’t make me want to drop you from my inbox. Make me want to subscribe to you.
- Create content along the Customer Journey – If you’re constantly pounding away with specials and offers you’re only hitting the latter part of the sales cycle. The problem is I’m not always in the buying mode. By creating content along the customer journey you will have content that you can nurture me with and when I am ready to buy, you can move me down the funnel. Make sure you have the proper tools in place, such as Marketing Automation and content personalization, so that you can take action when I’m ready to buy. Follow the 4-1-1 Rule of Content Marketing – Popularized by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, the 4-1-1 Rule says to create four bits of content that the customer cares about, one that is soft sell and one that is more of a promotional hard sell. That’s a good cadence to keep me interested in what you have to offer.
- Create content that will make prospective customers come to you – How awesome is marketing when the customer searches you out instead of you having to always push it in front of them. Create content that is so compelling that customers will come to your site, social channels or join your community so they can consume, engage and share it. Great content can be repurposed across many of your communication channels including your email.
- Measure and Optimize: Define and track KPIs that help determine the health of your email program over time. What is your open rate, how often are people taking action with your content, what is the unsubscribe rate compared to the add-on rate, etc. A/B test content and continually adjust your program to optimize your email effectiveness. Find a balance between short-term sales and long-term life time value of your customer.
- Think across the Customer Experience – Integrate content across all of your company touch-points with a focus on keeping it interesting for your customer. You can include common questions from the Support team, interesting content that your Social team, great behind the scene stories from your community efforts and content from employee & customer advocacy. Your mail list is a valuable asset to build your brand reputation – don’t let it live in a silo of self promotion. Create a strategy on how to best mix in content that will ultimately drive revenue and nurture the customer at the same time.
Your subscriber list is marketing gold. Protect it with everything you’ve got. If you’re creating content that’s pissing off your audience and making them unsubscribe, it’s time for a change.
I haven’t seen many companies who effectively use SMS marketing to engage their potential or existing customers. I’m not saying they’re not out there, I’m just not their target audience and treat all unsolicited text messages as spam. So it was a pleasure when I ran into a restaurant who did a great job of using SMS to facilitate my dining experience and provide an opportunity for continued engagement. I was told by a fellow tourist to check out the food at the Crab Shack while visiting Savannah, GA. I love a good crab boil so it was a no brainer.
When I arrived at the restaurant I was told there was a 10-min wait by the host. I was asked for my phone number and permission to text me when my table was ready. I thought it was an interesting alternative to giving me a pager, so I was happy to have them text me. When my table was ready, they texted me to return back to the host – so far, interesting but no big deal. My favorite part was when I left. Before I could step out the door they sent me a third text thanking me for the visit and provided me with a way to get on their VIP list for discounts and updates. Wow, a timely text that made me feel appreciated and provided me with a channel to become a loyal customer. If I visited Savannah often enough I would have taken advantage of their program.
Some thoughts about SMS marketing based on my experience:
- Reimagine your customer experience and think of new ways to engage your audience. I like the idea of replacing the restaurant pagers with my cellphone since it’s one less thing to carry around. There are lots of customer touch points that we might be able to change using new technologies or processes.
- Engage in a timely manner. What made this a great experience was the text I received as I was leaving the restaurant to thank me for dining there and offering me discounts in the future. It would not have been as effective if they texted me the next day.
- Look for ways to engage in complementary channels. My guess would be their VIP program was SMS based as well, but it would be great if they executed it through email or social channels. You don’t need to stick with the channel you first made contact with your customer. Don’t treat your marketing channels as a silo – integrate them so they work in synergy.
- Be authentic. The one downer of this experience was that the host told me the wait was 10-mins and they texted me one minute later telling me my table was ready. I got the feeling they artificially raised the wait time just to get my phone number. I’m fine if you’re faster than the time you quote me but please be in the ballpark.
- Monitor the social channels. I love to tweet or update my Facebook with photos of food I love. What if I tweeted a photo of my meal and they acknowledged it while I’m still eating? What if they gave me a desert or free soft drink just for checking in on FourSquare? Don’t advertise it, make it a surprise to delight. I don’t know, maybe too creepy? But if done well I think it would work.
- Provide excellent customer service. For me, this only works well when all of the other parts of your business are in great shape. If the food is not top notch or the staff is not friendly, all of the marketing technology will not help, and with the empowered customer it can do more harm.
SMS marketing will only work with a certain percentage of your audience. Not all of them will have SMS-ready phones and many wont give you their phone number for many reasons. So look for great alternatives or do the usual processes very well. It’s important to know your customer – understand if this is something that they would appreciate and enhance doing business with you. Try it out and get feedback as you roll out the program.
Have you seen any other great examples of companies who have effectively used SMS to improve their customer experience?
The most effective marketing story isn’t the one you tell to someone in your audience, it’s the one the person tells himself. – Seth Godin
Good storytelling is less about “telling” and more about starting a conversation in your audience’s head. Most of my favorite movies and books are not those where they spoon feed me the plot or action but those that make me think and replay the story over and over long after it has ended. Seth Godin has a good post on creating The Theater of the Mind.
As you create your marketing story – are you telling your audience about your features or does it start an internal conversation about the challenges they have in their business and how your solution can help resolve it?
[This is a reprint of a guest post I made to the INXPO Virtual Event Blog]
Virtual and Hybrid events can be much more than a digital extension of your in-person event program. The field of content marketing has been evolving quickly for both large and small businesses. Companies have always used content of various types in their marketing efforts but new digital, social and mobile channels have made organizing and communicating the content much easier. Instead of treating content marketing efforts as siloed experiences, marketers need to integrate their efforts to tell a story that resonates with their customers.
There are several advantages of using digital events (virtual/hybrid events, webcasts, live chats, etc.) as a centralized point for content marketing:
Digital events are a natural integration point for traditional and new marketing channels
. When developing a virtual and hybrid events we already leverage many types of rich content and marketing channels:
- Traditional marketing – e-mail, newsletters, whitepapers, case studies, etc.
- Social media – blogs, micro-blogs, online communities, etc.
- Digital – streaming & on-demand video, websites, banner ads, etc.
- Mobile – streaming video, apps, location-based services, etc.
- Partner integration – leverage your existing vendor/partner ecosystem
- A regular cadence of digital events is a good source of fresh content for building and nurturing a community. One of the challenges of keeping your community active and engaged is providing valuable content on a frequent enough basis to keep them coming back to your site or social account. Developing a spectrum of low-cost to high-quality digital events can help you increase your frequency and provide value to your audience.
- Fish where the fish are. Digital event content can be distributed in places where your audience naturally congregates – that could be your company’s website, social media site, or 3rd party sites. Live streamed events and on-demand content can be syndicated through a number of channels with calls-to-action back to your assets.
- Nurturing your existing customer community. Content marketing is not just finding and converting new prospects. Rich, customer-focused content is a great way to build advocates, thought leadership and build lasting relationships. Digital events can add real-time engagement with your company’s subject matter experts and provide a proactive way to build customer satisfaction.
- Build a 365 environment. Digital events are a great starting point to build a year-round ecosystem for customers to find out about your products, get support, find knowledge base information, engage with your community, etc. Look for ways to mash-up many of your other content marketing efforts to intersect with your dynamic digital event efforts to create a vibrant customer engagement environment.
Content marketing can be an important touch point for marketers to engage with their audience by providing information customers value in a number dynamic ways. Look at ways to leverage your digital event program to bring your content to life and drive traffic to your sites. But what if you could take that engagement to the next level and use your digital events to power your content marketing strategy? What would you create?
Good resource for learning about content marketing: Content Marketing Institute
With digital, social and mobile changing customer expectations and marketing – don’t forget to walk through your marketing campaign or experience with the fresh eyes of a new user. Sometimes, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of a project and it’s a relief to hit the launch button and get it out the door. But before you do that, make sure you step back and walk through the experience from the beginning as if you were seeing this for the first time. I experienced a number of digital campaigns over the past few months that included steps which didn’t work at all or were confusing.
One of my favorite reminders is – “I am not my customer.” I can’t assume that my audience thinks the same way that I do or have the same expectations. Look through their eyes and run through the program. Better yet, get someone who is your audience test it for you before you launch.
Some things to consider:
- Walk through the user experience – make sure that each of the details of the customer journey are working properly. Do the components of the website and campaign work properly?
- Does the experience resonate with your brand objectives? Does it portray the right message you want to the customer? I frequently see campaigns or videos that are trying to get their content to go viral through social channels but in the process of pushing the edge, make sure it fits the image you want to portray to your audience.
- As our customers become more empowered and connected does your campaign fit their changing expectations?
- Are there ways to simplify the user experience? Can you reduce the number of steps the customer needs to take as they walk through your site? I’ve seen campaign owners fall in love with their grand experience and not realize that simplifying the process for the user would be better.
Make sure your vendor or agency tests everything and it’s working as expected. Then double check and go through it yourself – maybe a few times. Do you have any best practices for seeing through your customer’s eyes?