July 31, 2011, 12:00 PM

Sponsored Supplement – August 2011

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Retailers can use their Facebook pages to encourage consumers to comment on their purchases, and include in their e-mail messages quotes from Facebook users who do offer such comments.

"This kind of content is also effective for retargeting to consumers that have not responded to a prior e-mail promotion as a way to spark their interest in joining the conversation on Facebook," says Trivunovic.

The mobile challenge

If social media is just reaching the tipping point as an important channel for retail marketers, the mobile channel has moved past that point and shows every sign of becoming more pivotal in the years to come. That has big implications for e-mail marketing. A recent study revealed that 20% of marketing e-mails are opened on a mobile device. While retailers are always glad to see their e-mail opened, the fact that consumers are reading marketing e-mail on the small screens of mobile phones poses significant challenges.

The most obvious is how to format e-mail so that it can be comfortably read on those smaller mobile screens. Some retailers create e-mail messages formatted specifically for mobile phones, which can be a time-consuming and expensive approach because there is no sure-fire way to tell whether a consumer will first view the message on her mobile phone or personal computer.

A more practical solution is to find a format that will ensure e-mail messages render properly on a mobile phone and a PC. The standard width for desktop e-mails is 600 pixels and the standard for smartphones is 300 pixels. Creating an e-mail that splits the difference to between 400 and 450 pixels is a good compromise.

"No one can predict the device on which a consumer will view their e-mail, but e-mail marketers can create messages to be viewed on narrower screens, such as a mobile phone, that will look fine on a personal computer," says Experian CheetahMail's Bergman. "The main thing to remember is that most consumers perform e-mail triage on their phone, so there is no guarantee they will scroll to read the entire message. That means the most important information has to be above the fold."

Experian CheetahMail`s services include campaign management; creative, strategic and analytical consulting; and data analysis.

Other tips for creating e-mails that can properly format on mobile phones include using blocky text links that are easier to see and push on a touch screen, and reducing and eliminating graphics embedded in the message. Retailers can also employ technology that automatically formats an e-mail message to the mobile device, such as an iPhone.

"Formatting to mobile devices is a strategic challenge for e-mail marketers, but also a necessity because more consumers are opening their mail on their smartphone," says Ability Commerce's Buzzeo. "It's important that retailers take the time to understand this challenge to create a smoother e-mail marketing experience for mobile users."

Ability Commerce's Connect e-mail marketing software offers retailers a choice of ready-made e-mail templates and the option of creating customized templates. Retailers can place logos and images in the e-mail. Retailers can monitor open rates, click-throughs and forwarded e-mails in real time and compare the results of current e-mail campaigns with previous campaigns.

Marketing everywhere

While formatting e-mails for mobile phones imposes new requirements on retailers, they also have new opportunities because consumers carry their mobile phones with them all the time, wherever they go.

Retailers seeking to capture new e-mail addresses should hang signs in their stores urging consumers to opt in to their e-mail lists by entering a mobile code or scanning a QR code to receive a discount coupon for that day's purchase. (A QR code is a two-dimensional bar code consumers can scan with their phone cameras to obtain information or link to a retailer's web site.)

Once the consumer enters or scans the code, the retailer can immediately respond with a text message asking for the shopper's e-mail address; upon receiving that address, the retailer can then send a welcome e-mail containing a scannable electronic coupon, along with other promotional information.

"The same concept can be used in store by retailers to promote their mobile apps or a rewards program," says BlueHornet's Ju. "When consumers are in the store they are already engaged with the retailer and are more receptive to e-mail marketing."

BlueHornet's eMS Enterprise application is a permission-based e-mail program that enables Internet retailers to improve the effectiveness of their interactive campaigns by using e-mail mainstays such as A/B testing, triggered messaging and dynamic content in conjunction with emerging technologies like social, video, and mobile marketing.

Text messaging

While text messaging can be a useful complement to e-mail marketing, especially for reaching mobile consumers, retailers must also keep in mind its drawbacks. For one thing, it costs considerably more than e-mail and it is harder to track whether the message has been opened.

"Text messaging is great for time-sensitive campaigns, such as sending a reminder to consumers that opened an e-mail about a four-hour sale that only an hour is left, but we are not seeing widespread use of text messaging campaigns," says Emailvision's Heys. "E-mail marketing remains the workhorse for profitable online relationship marketing."

Some retailers send text messages to consumers whose location indicates they are close to one of the retailer's stores. For example, the merchant can promote limited-time incentives to encourage a shopper to walk into a nearby store. "We have seen some experimentation in location-based text messaging," adds Heys. "The speed bump with texting is that it is a more expensive marketing tool than e-mail and consumers are wary about giving retailers their mobile number to get promotions."

Emailvision's Campaign Commander is a software-as-a-service campaign management application that segments e-mail lists by customer behavior. Campaign Commander allows marketers to manage all aspects of their e-mail and social marketing campaigns, including design, planning, delivery, A/B split testing and analytics.

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