October 1, 2010, 12:35 PM

Sponsored Supplement: Getting creative with e-mail marketing

Social media, video and mobile marketing offer new ways to increase the effectiveness of e-mail. Just don’t forget the basics.

E-mail became a marketing workhorse during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Now changes in technology and in how consumers use the Internet are opening up opportunities for marketers to freshen up their e-mail campaigns in exciting ways in the century’s second decade.

Smartphones that enable consumers to access their inboxes anywhere, social networks—which rely heavily on e-mail to attract new users—and video on the web are changing consumer expectations about how they interact with retailers via e-mail. To keep pace, retailers must integrate these technologies into their e-mail marketing strategies and learn the most effective ways to use these new assets.

“Social network marketing relies heavily on e-mail, smartphones are enabling customers to read their e-mail on the move, and video is an engaging medium,” says Nick Heys, founder and CEO of Emailvision, a provider of e-mail marketing software. “When used properly, these technologies can enhance the creativity and success of e-mail campaigns.”

Retailers should think of social media as an extension of e-mail, in part because for most consumers their first exposure to a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn comes when a friend invites them to join. In addition, consumers that are part of a retailer’s social community receive e-mail notifications when the retailer posts promotional messages or news on its social media page, creating another link between social marketing and e-mail.

Integrating social media into e-mail campaigns can help retailers enhance their brands, engender customer loyalty and drive sales, which is the ultimate goal of any e-mail campaign.

“Social media is an umbrella marketing channel and e-mail is an effective way for retailers to drive awareness around what they are doing in social media by coordinating e-mail offers to automatically post to Facebook or Twitter,” says Sara Ezrin, senior director, Strategic Services, for e-mail marketing service provider Experian CheetahMail.

What’s more, consumer opinions expressed on social media sites, such as product reviews or commentary about a customer service experience, can be used to enrich e-mail content. Peer-generated reviews incorporated into marketing e-mail resonate with consumers.

“Consumers put value in customer-generated reviews, and including them in a product promotion along with a link to the web page where they can find more reviews enhances the value of e-mail by giving it a more social flavor, as opposed to promotional,” says Loren McDonald, vice president, Industry Relations, for Silverpop, a provider of e-mail marketing and marketing automation solutions. “Including content in e-mail campaigns that direct consumers to fan pages and other social sites on which the retailer has a presence is an effective way to grow online social connections with consumers by giving the e-mail a more social flavor.”

Building a fan base

Creating e-mails that drive traffic to a social media site is an effective way for retailers to increase their fan base on social networks. Sally Lowery, director of demand generation for e-mail marketing services provider Bronto Software Inc., cites an e-mail campaign by a gourmet coffee retailer that wanted to increase traffic to its Facebook fan page. The campaign directed e-mail recipients to an exclusive deal on the fan page; consumers that clicked through to the fan page had to register to access the deal.

“The campaign netted about 1,000 new fans in four days. Over the previous year, the retailer attracted about 900 fans,” says Lowery. “Social media sites should be thought of as strategic partners by e-mail marketers, because they can also be used to encourage consumers visiting a fan page that are not on the mailing list to opt in with the incentive of receiving special information, deals and promotions.”

Retailers can also leverage their social media assets by including buttons in e-mail messages that take recipients to the retailer’s social network pages. “Retailers want to make those buttons prominent, even if they appear at the bottom of the e-mail,” adds Lowery.

Mobile messaging

As with social media, retailers need to understand the nuances of the burgeoning mobile commerce channel to effectively leverage it in their e-mail marketing campaigns. There are two big challenges to e-mail marketers seeking to reach consumers via their mobile phones: The phones have small screens and most consumers access their e-mail through smartphones when on the go, which leaves them little time to read through a lengthy message.

That means messages must be succinct. “Brevity in mobile messaging is important because consumers that are checking their e-mail through a mobile device are in motion and don’t want to read through five paragraphs of text,” says Lowery. “Text-heavy messages are not good for the mobile channel.”

The same goes for subject lines. Exactly how many characters of a subject line a particular smartphone will display varies by device, and e-mail marketers must take that into account. While technology has emerged in recent years that can identify the type of device a subscriber uses to access her e-mail after the fact, creating e-mails for the literally hundreds of different combinations of devices, operating systems and e-mail clients would be overwhelming. As a result, retailers must make compromises and optimize e-mails, including subject lines, so that they render as well as possible across multiple scenarios.

“The job of the subject line is to get consumers to take the desired action, not just open the e-mail. So, especially in the mobile environment, it must convey the call to action or key value in the first few words and powerfully enough to pique the consumer’s interest,” says Silverpop’s McDonald. “Because of the increased usage of mobile devices to view e-mails, retailers need to make sure they consistently use the same ‘from’ name and subject lines that are ‘front-loaded’ with compelling content.”

More concise subject lines means the retailer’s brand must play a stronger role in grabbing the interest of mobile consumers, adds McDonald. “A retailer that does not have a focused e-mail strategy is not going to have as high a brand value as one that does,” he explains. “With space at a premium in the mobile channel, retailers need to think about how e-mail can enhance their brand value.”

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