Recession Buster Ideas for Email

The news these days from Wall Street and the Halls of Congress could not be worse for marketers already worried about the recession and consumer and business spending in Q4.

Can email help? I think so. In fact, I think now’s the time to prime your email program into a powerful revenue channel, before the news gets worse. Come on, we were the “killer app” of Web 1.0. It’s well past time we proved our worth in the Web 2.0 marketing mix

Here are three ideas to test now – and use the data to build your program success for Q4 and into 2009. If email doesn’t contribute more now, then we can’t expect to remain at the center of the marketing mix, or budget.

  1. Expand your Loyalty Program. In a recession, your best buyers and loyal clients are even more important. When customers are easily distracted by lower prices or free add-ons at the competitor, it’s even more important to make clear the benefits of staying with your brand. This does not mean offer more discounts, although that certainly can be an effective short term strategy. Instead, expand your loyalty program and use email to provide both sizzle and steak. Replace just two of your generic, batch and blast messages this month with tailored messages around the benefits of sticking with your brand. Spend time on the subject lines and the copy (keep it brief) to make sure it resonates.

    Then, deliver the benefits via email – a very efficient and effective way to connect. If you are ecommerce, add a Buying Guide or Gift Guide to the loyalty package. If you are B2B, invite your best customers to participate in online events and interactive networking. Help them build their business and they will continue to support yours. Be sure to tap the next tier down of buyers and expand the reach of your program. Invite current members to bring a friend or colleague along, and reward them both.

  2. Sample through email. A new poll from Arbitron found sampling works in the offline world, where more than one-third (35%) of customers who tried a sample bought the product during the same shopping trip. nearly double that (60%) said they would now look to purchase it. Even more striking, 85% of those who had previously purchased said they would purchase it again after receiving the sample, per the poll of 1,857 respondents conducted earlier this year via the phone.

    Sampling, which reaches 70 million consumers every quarter, is great at building a stronger brand connection – along with trial of course. You might be wondering what’s the email equivalent of sampling. Try packaging up testimonials or examples of unusual product utility and feature them via email to encourage a repeat purchase. Allow a coupon code to zero out the balance in the shopping cart (free shipping would likely be welcome but I don’t think is essential). Make it clear that subscribers who get a free sample will be invited to share feedback via email. Invite first time buyers and likely prospects to participate in an online forum, one time survey or virtual user group in exchange for a sample. Free sample emails will also be incredibly viral, so be sure to encourage that additional reach as well as manage fulfillment and govern subscriber limits.

  3. Send less. In a recession, repeated promotional offers to “buy now, buy now” will not be as welcome. There may be some in your organization who feel that sending more of these kinds of reminders is too cheap to pass up. That is short term thinking and could be disastrous for your list quality and deliverability. In fact, subscribers have a lower tolerance for generic, pure promotional messages when their wallet is squeezed. You may find that your unsubscribe requests, complaints (clicking the Report Spam button) and fatigue (subscribers completely ignoring your messages) all rise during a recession. Who wants to be reminded to spend when we are worried about their financial health? Instead, take an active interest in helping your subscribers, and make sure your content and contact strategies are aligned with what the subscriber needs, not what you have to sell.

If you can, test it with a control group this month. Segment a small portion of your file (maybe 5%) and send half as many promotional messages, but replace 25%-50% of them with relevant content, tips or interactive offers. See if revenue increases or decreases. Also watch deliverability, complaint rates and activity per subscriber. Let me know if you want help constructing the test and measuring results.

Use the results of all these ideas to make the case for stronger subscriber-centric approaches to email marketing. We may not be the exciting, new belle of the marketing mix any longer, but that is no reason to sit back and squander an opportunity to build an effective and revenue-producting dialog with our subscribers.

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