July 31, 2011, 12:00 PM

Sponsored Supplement – August 2011

Social and mobile marketing aren't replacing e-mail. But the one-on-one workhorse of digital marketing is going through a major overhaul to keep up with big changes in shopper behavior.

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Social media and mobile may be the glamorous new darlings of retail marketing, but e-mail remains the tried and true marketing tool in retailers' arsenal. The reason is simple: E-mail is deeply ingrained in the daily lives of consumers as a one-to-one communications tool.

Unlike the one-to-many nature of social media, where public comments are posted on a Facebook wall or Twitter page for all to see, e-mail allows retail marketers to convey their marketing messages in a personalized way. This enables retailers to tell a story in a way they can't through other marketing channels.

"Even though retail marketers are using social media and mobile to do many of the activities they used to do through e-mail, such as send coupons or post notices of sales, they are not replacing e-mail. E-mail is firmly entrenched in consumers' daily lives," says Manny Ju, director of product management for e-mail service provider BlueHornet. "As new marketing channels emerge, e-mail is evolving to another level as a personalized communications tool that integrates with social, mobile and other marketing channels."

Personalized e-mail based on consumer data from social networking sites is the next frontier for e-mail marketing. By tapping into information consumers post about themselves on Facebook, retailers can create e-mail messages that promote brands consumers have positively commented on, offer accessories to recent purchases mentioned or pitch products their friends like or have purchased from the retailer's web site or Facebook shopping page.

Retailers can also use that data to avoid pitching products or brands for which the consumer has expressed dislike. Knowing what a consumer dislikes reduces the chance of e-mailing promotions about products and brands that are unlikely to appeal to that customer.

"Integrating social media data into e-mail is a very powerful and personal marketing tool," says Diane Buzzeo, CEO and founder of Ability Commerce, provider of integrated e-commerce and personalization solutions whose services include building Facebook applications. "It can give a big boost to click-through rates and increase conversions through e-mail."

Facebook's valuable data

Getting at a consumer's personal information on Facebook can be tricky, because not all Facebook users make their profiles public, or they may choose to significantly limit the data available for public consumption. To gather the necessary information it is recommended that retailers encourage consumers to connect with them through Facebook.

Facebook Connect allows Facebook users to privately share their profile and friends with retailers or any entity. Sending an e-mail that requests a Facebook connection allows consumers to opt in to the program, and affords a retailer the opportunity to reassure consumers about how their information will be used.

"By electing to connect with a retailer through Facebook, consumers aren't just saying they like the retailer, they are saying they are willing to share information with the retailer, and that can take e-mail marketing to a whole other level," says Rachel Bergman, general manager and senior vice president for e-mail provider Experian CheetahMail. "As powerful a marketing tool as this is, retailers do need to take it one step at a time, because it is new to consumers."

Consumers that connect with a retailer through a social network can be encouraged to tell stories about their shopping experiences with the retailer or write product reviews on the retailer's Facebook page. Those consumer stories can be excerpted and included in e-mail campaigns.

Filofax, a retailer of personal organizers, ran an e-mail campaign asking customers to share their stories about how they felt when they lost their Filofax. Their customers responded with emotional, passionate and authentic stories on the social networks.

"Consumer-generated content plays well with other consumers because it tells an authentic story about a situation consumers can see themselves in or an experience they can relate to," says Nick Heys, founder and CEO of Emailvision, a provider of e-mail and social marketing software. "Once the stories are shared, they build on themselves, because consumers want to be a part of the community and tell their own story. This generates a steady flow of fresh content that can be used by the marketing team in e-mail and social marketing promotional offers."

Know your customer

Retailers can also use e-mail in conjunction with social media. They can promote exclusive sales on their Facebook page through e-mail, often requiring the subscriber to "Like" them in order to gain access to the special promotion. Some retailers up the ante and run a series of promotions to sway subscribers, such as "5 Days of Deals" in an effort to drive revenue and grow social followers.

Conversely, retailers can include sign-up forms on their Facebook pages or link to sign-up forms via Twitter to encourage social followers to receive more exclusive e-mail offers in the future.

"It's all about leveraging the advantages of the different marketing channels," says Kristen Gregory, manager of strategic services for marketing platform provider Bronto Software. "Social and e-mail can work together to extend a retailer's marketing reach. Retailers can gather additional information about people based on social profiles in order to e-mail to them in more relevant ways. Social platforms enable retailers to include more engagement points in e-mail; providing opportunities for subscribers to click through and speak with other customers, share stories and feedback and participate in fun events like photo or video sharing."

The more a retailer understands about how a consumer uses social networks, and how often, the better the merchant can tailor e-mail marketing messages to that shopper.

"Knowing the behavior patterns of a consumer that is a Facebook user helps retailers understand how to better engage them through both channels," says Kara Trivunovic, senior director, strategic services for e-mail service provider StrongMail Systems Inc. "Retailers want to avoid sending e-mail promoting the same value proposition that is on their Facebook page. If the customer primarily interacts through Facebook, then the goal of the e-mail should be to entice them back to Facebook, especially if they have not been there in a while."

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