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Your 3-Step Plan to Continuous List Growth & Engagement (part 3)

by Karen Talavera

08 26, 2010 | Posted in Audience & List Growth, Digital Marketing, Email Lists, Email Marketing | 0 comments

If it’s true as I mentioned in Part 2 of this series that “the gold is in your list”, then not only do you need to prevent that gold from losing its luster with good email list hygiene and data management, you also need to recognize, respect and reward your valued email list members for the treasure they genuinely are.In Part 1 of this series I explored ways to attract new prospects to your list.  Still, the reality for many marketers and business owners is that the majority of their email list subscribers are customers, not prospects.  They are people with whom we have an existing (and hopefully, positive) business relationship.  All the more reason to value them as the precious asset they are.

Protecting your treasure means honoring what you promised to deliver when you first invited your customers to receive your email, but it goes beyond just living up to expectations.  It’s about “keeping the romance alive” by continually finding new and unanticipated ways to engage with your audience through email.  Don’t just inform, surprise and delight.  Every now and then (as in any great relationship) pull out all the stops, catch them totally off guard, and downright dazzle ‘em!

Here are four specific suggestions for delighting, surprising, and amazing with email:

1. Anticipate Needs
Keeping a finger on the pulse of your customers is as much art as science, and takes a desire and the ability to listen well.  Don’t wait for them to ask, pay attention to their behavior on your site or blog and listen to what they’re saying on social media and across the Web.  Invite feedback through surveys and in the course of doing business.  Don’t miss those face-to-face opportunities for live conversations.  Then keep your email one step ahead of what you promised.  Staying in touch with what’s happening in the world at large helps you foresee how macro events will affect your customers, and craft offers and products that fit the times.

A great example of this is Disney’s Birthday Special – a campaign launched by Walt Disney World parks in late 2008 during the peak of the economic downturn.  Anticipating consumer belt-tightening but realizing that compared to other cities Orlando remains an affordable vacation option for many, Disney awarded a free park ticket for promotion registrants (email address required) on each registrant’s birthday.  Disney followed-up registrations with email reminders a few weeks before recorded birthdays, and sent an email birthday card on each subscriber’s actual birthday.

2. Give Exclusive Treatment
When was the last time you showed your customers some preferential treatment? Do you treat all customers alike?  First, customers should be treated differently than prospects, and second, all customers don’t hold equal status.  Recognizing your most loyal customers or subscribers and rewarding them for their fidelity is not only a proven customer retention tactic, but also a strategy for which email is ideally equipped.

You don’t need well-crafted loyalty and rewards programs to show your customers some email love.  Email list exclusives are practically expected these days, and retailers like Horchow, 1-800 Flowers and Pottery Barn routinely provide advance sale notice and list-exclusive discounts to their email subscribers.  They control these offers with strictly limited deadline dates, and deploy with an unpredictable cadence.

3. Mix It Up
Don’t’ just send them the usual e-newsletter, weekly specials and new product announcements.  Instead, practice pattern interruption from three different standpoints:  a) content b) frequency and c) creative.  Pepper your regular communications with thank-you’s, holiday greetings, unexpected incentives, freebies and contests.  Some marketing email (like newsletters) thrives on regularity and continuity, but there needs to be another side to your email program because predictability = boredom, and bored subscribers tune out.

I love what a new favorite frozen ice shop near me, Rita’s Ice (new to my area but a national franchise) has been doing with their email.  A recent email campaign invited subscribers to their local Rita’s on Saturday March 20, the first day of spring, for a free ice.  A campaign two days later enticed email subscribers to become Facebook fans with an entry into a “free ice for a year” sweepstakes.  The same message reminded list members of Rita’s new seasonal ice flavor (marshmallow “Peeps” for Easter) and announced that local Rita’s stores would be giving away chocolate covered actual Peeps candies (one to a customer) a week before the holiday. That’s what I call giving customers plenty of reasons to come in for a visit (online AND in store) while keeping them guessing in the process.  Yum!

4. Dazzle ‘Em
Then there are those special campaigns you pull out all the stops for.  They don’t happen all the time nor should they.  Although we’ve seen plenty of them around Christmas, I say reserve them for other seasons or reasons relevant to your business and less expected by consumers in general.  Sometimes they’re tied to major contests or sweepstakes, but in other cases, it’s the content that makes them shine.

Which reminds me of how Vail Resorts’ email campaigns build over ski season.  The company (which owns seven ski resorts in Colorado including Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge) begins ski-related email in early fall with advance season-lift-ticket promotions and factual information but ramps up the program especially after the new year as spring ski season and spring school breaks get into full swing.  Email featuring spring (end-of-season) vacation deals and Olympic-worthy video of boarders and downhill skiers completes the program.  They certainly have the scenery for it, and it’s dazzling to watch.

All marketers have different strengths, but no matter what they are we all have hidden gems that when revealed, make your email program shine.  Be sure you’re sharing those gems with your list.  When you do so frequently but unpredictably and demonstrate you’re listening to them in the process, your list members will reward you not just by engaging with your email, but better yet – converting and buying.

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