Report From OMS: The R in ROI Now Stands for Retention

I just returned from San Diego, where, depending on the cold and snow in your town, you may be glad to know that it rained – so no need to envy me the good weather typically associated with this beautiful city. Of course, I only knew it was raining from the puddles outside, as the energy and engaging conversations at the Online Marketing Summit kept us all happily indoors.

Key takeaway: Retention is king and email is at the center of the digital marketer’s toolkit.

How refreshing to see email come to the fore of many conversations, panel sessions and keynotes. We all know that now more than ever, executives are finally paying attention to email. The high return, reach and efficiency of this channel are unmatched.

In our recession, the “R” in ROI is now focused around retention and loyalty. Email is perfectly suited to build the kinds of relationships and launch the kinds of conversations that help you mine your existing customer base. We cannot rest on our laurels or afford to become complacent. The batch and blast routines of the past no longer work. That approach doesn’t work for subscribers who are busy, distracted, worried about their finances and spending time on social networks. The inbox clutter is higher than ever, and the pressure is on for all email marketers to do more with less. The old broadcast approach just doesn’t give you control over your revenue drivers or help you solidify your sender reputation and ensure that every message you send actually reaches the inbox.

I often say that email is the original digital social media. It’s been used as a broadcast channel, but those days are over. Rather, think social when you plan your email calendar. Think community, conversation and collaboration. Last night at dinner I spoke with two smart marketers from REI and Fluke Networks. We agreed that we have to get out of the “we serve our customers” mentality and get into a “we partner with our customers” approach. See how that changes the game? Makes it social? Cedes control to customers? I am convinced this is the only way to break through the clutter and improve loyalty and revenue. It’s mostly attitude. All the resources, technology and data is readily available today to take a customer-centric approach. We just have to stop doing email the old way, and start doing email the smart way.

Think about relationship. Email is a great dialog channel and today’s data management technology and creative flexibility allow each of us to send truly lifecycle-based messages more often than we send generic broadcast messages. This is why email is glowing and valued. Subscribers still love to get a great email that matches their interest.

Email works best when it’s in a mix of marketing strategies. Use email to welcome, engage, remind, nudge, celebrate, thank and yes, sell. Use it as part of a social media strategy. Lots of great ideas here at OMS.

  • Crush the silos. Be sure to encourage your social network “fans” and “tweople” to sign up for email. Make that a worthwhile offer and then deliver on it. If you set up a fan page, pay attention to it!
  • Spend time with the data. We all have enough data to convince us that emailing sale notices is not enough. Listen to feedback and conversation in social media, in your own product reviews, in surveys and via web analytics. That data will guide you in sending appropriate messages at the right moment of the lifecycle. Case studies here show that lifecycle messages (from welcome to behavior triggers to renewal notices to service alerts) lift response by 10x or even 30x off generic promotions. Send more of them! Great quote from a panelist, “Unsubstantiated statistics rose 2% today.” We are all swimming in data. As email marketers, we must identify the top 10 drivers of our business and focus there. Let the rest go.
  • Enable sharing. Several ESPs like Silverpop and ExactTarget now allow “Share with my social network” automation. While forwarding via email still works, if your offer, event, information or clever insight is worthy of sharing, most people want to share with their existing networks as well as email.
  • Use the conversation to improve your language. What customers write and engage with via search and social media is an amazing asset. It’s “in their own words.” Use those same words in your search terms, email subject lines and website navigation.
  • Go multichannel. Encourage subscribers to participate in your social network pages. Then, take that content and testimonials (good and bad) and email out a summary. These messages become viral, and encourage more participation in the social media. Also use this data with your product and merchandise teams.
  • Make email foundational. Every search landing page must have a great email subscription invitation. Otherwise, you lose the opportunity to close business with prospects.
  • Be interesting, repeatedly. It’s an ongoing engagement, not one-off shows. Our socially networked world means you have to continually add to the conversation. No lurkers. By all means host online events or promotions via social media. Custom applications seem to engage best and let you control the experience. However, even “white labeling” existing Facebook applications can work. Don’t end with the pop of a one-time event. Make sure you keep the conversation going in future by adding more insight over time. Utilize the participation of your customers to strengthen and guide the conversation in areas of interest.

Email marketing is simple in concept. If we give subscribers what they want, they will give us what we want. They want us to help them, respect them, engage them, make them thinner, more beautiful, more productive, wealthier and ripe for a promotion. In exchange, they will give us feedback, great ideas, their loyalty and higher wallet share.

More OMS live blogging is on their website at Let me know what you think of these ideas, and how you’ve been prioritizing your work in this economy. Look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you!

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