Use Email for Building Customer Relationships

For marketers, keeping customers engaged with their email program and brand is a constant challenge. Most marketing programs include promotional emails, general newsletters, order information, and receiptswhich is a good start, but these emails don’t provide a lot of reason to engage beyond the immediate transaction.

Some smart marketers have taken the next step, creating email messages that are focused on building and solidifying the relationship with their customer. Following are a few examples of companies that are using email to really connect with their customers. I hope these examples inspire some ideas about how you can take your email program beyond the basics to create and maintain strong customer relationships.

I’m a huge fan of Netflix and use it to watch movies and TV shows regularly. Netflix doesn’t send me a lot of email, but occasionally they send an email notifying me of a new movie I might be interested in seeing. There are many movies and TV shows that I would not have thought to watch but often end up enjoying because of Netflix’s suggestions.

What they sent: Newly added movies and TV shows

Subject line: We’ve just added a movie you might like


Why it works: I don’t always see all of the new releases when browsing the Netflix interface. Receiving alerts that notify me about a movie I might enjoy prompts me to add it to my viewing queue. When I see something that appeals to me and watch it, the experience creates “stickiness” to their service.

What would be better: More frequency (yes, I said more), but I’d like to be able to choose how often I receive their messages. I’d also like the option to have a separate notification for my wife, with content based on our individual tastes. I’d love to see emails about Netflix original series such as “Daredevil” (which is excellent, by the way) with links to behind-the-scenes videos, articles, and interviews with the cast and crew. And finally, I’d like to see a content release calendar monthly or at least once per quarter.

Omni Hotels & Resorts
I recently traveled to San Francisco and was impressed with the email messages from the Omni Hotels & Resorts regarding this trip. About five days before my arrival, I received a confirmation of the reservation as well as the message below with additional information about the trip. I appreciated the timeliness, as this aligned nicely with the decision-making process about where to go and what to do.

What they sent: Upcoming stay notification

Subject line: Upcoming Stay at the Omni San Francisco Hotel for Confirmation# XXX





Why it works:  The message was personalized using my first name in the main body of the content as well as a short message from the General Manager. The message also included several other parts such as “Taste of San Francisco,” “The City Beckons,” “The Informed Traveler,” “The Local Forecast,” and a reservation summary. It was a timely message with relevant information to help plan my trip. There was also a room upgrade offer near the header, but it was very subtle.

What could be better:  Most people don’t know their confirmation number, so putting my name in the subject line might be a better use of this space. The message had links to websites and a brief description about the area, but they could add additional value by providing information about buying tickets in advance (Alcatraz tickets can sell out weeks in advance) or other travel tips.  Adding website links to the recommended restaurants and bars would also be beneficial. Splitting this is into two messages would allow for additional focus on specific areas of interest such as Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf.

Merrell Footwear
I purchased some Merrell shoes last fall for hiking and with nicer weather here in Colorado, it’s time to start hitting the trails again. I’m sure many of their customers feel the same way and are planning trips and figuring out whether they need new shoes or boots.

What they sent: Trail tips and inspiration

Subject Line: Your Hub for Trail Tips, Adventure Guides & More








Why it works:  Merrell uses appealing images in this messagespecifically, mountains and people enjoying the outdoors. The numbered list approach in the content (“5 Reasons Why Your Dog is the Best Running Pal,” “10 Ways You Know You are Addicted to the Trail,” and “5 Spring Adventures to Get Excited About”) suggests the information is easy to consume. Each item has a clear call-to-action such as “Read More” or “Explore,” and the subject line makes me think of Merrell as not just a shoe manufacturer, but also a hub for adventure and excitement. Merrell included a brief message promoting free shipping and returns at the top of the email and category links at the bottom in case I wanted to do some shopping.

What could be better: Merrell could make use of geolocation and personalization in this message. Using my first name and also having a brief list of retailers nearby would enhance the experience. Knowing my location, they could provide even more specific targeting and have information about trails and experiences nearby and include quotes from locals to give more of a feeling of community. They may not want to put all of that in one message, of course, but it is an option that could be used in other messages within the series.

As you complete planning for 2015 or start planning for  2016, I‘d like to encourage you to take some time to think about how you can use email to build the relationship with your customers that goes beyond the traditional newsletter and product focused messages. The emails mentioned above are not directly promotional in nature, and all of them work to enhance the relationship I have with these brands in one way or another. They are great examples of how sending highly relevant emails to people that want them can increase customer satisfaction.

Having more engaged subscribers can lead to improved inbox placement as well as a better brand image. Lastly, be sure to test any new relationship-building emails and survey your customers for feedback. This will help you make improvements to your email strategy and tactics, resulting in more successful email campaigns.

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