By Ian Goldman | CEO, Celerant Technology
Marketing automation is a bit ironic in that it suffers from an unfortunate name that implies you can hand all of your marketing off to robots or engineers. The technology does add science to the marketing process, but nothing is ever going to change the fact that effective marketing campaigns involve a healthy dose of art and psychology. That can’t -- and shouldn’t -- be automated.
What marketing automation does is provide an optimized message delivery system, but the messaging itself is still up to you. Getting the most out of an email marketing campaigns relies heavily on understanding how to manipulate this intersection of art and science to capitalize on the benefits of both.
Authenticity is the key
Almost all consumers can tell when an email has been automatically generated. No matter how hard you work to eliminate the tells of marketing automation, know that virtually all of your recipients are going to understand that a person did not write the email directly to them. That gives you an uphill battle to fight because people naturally tend to ignore messages that are generalized and not handcrafted just for them.
The good news here is that consumers do not actually mind that an email was automatically generated if it is authentic. People hate feeling taken advantage of or talked down to and the onus is on you to create messaging that may be automated, but was crafted with care and understanding of what makes each individual customer tick. You will achieve that by customizing different messages to match the preferences and personalities of the personas in your customer segments.
It is vital to eliminate obvious signs of automation. Recipients will instantly stop reading as soon as the message starts to feel generic. Start by addressing the customer by name. This is extremely simple to do, so there’s no real reason not to. You would never send a resume to “whom it may concern,” because you know it would get thrown immediately into the circular file -- the same is true with your email list.
Personalizing yourself is just as important. Always attribute the email to an actual person in your company and do not send it from a generic email address. Make sure it is a person who can handle customer inquiries because you also want to avoid sending from an email address that does not accept replies. If a recipient has a question or wants to engage with you, she should be able to simply hit “reply” and reach an actual member of your team. Never send messages from an unmonitored email address.
Relevance is your lifeline
This is where the science of marketing automation really kicks in. Sending relevant messages to customers depends heavily on knowing them as well as possible. What are they interested in? What are they doing right now? These questions can be answered by thinking of shopping behaviors as triggers to generate relevant messages. Engagement on every channel should be used to hone this relevance.
For example, a customer that is planning her first ski trip may begin looking for the right gear by researching online. She comes across a helpful blog post on “how to keep your feet dry on fresh powder” from a local outfitter. She immediately opts into a newsletter, signalling a desire for more information. Or maybe she comes to a store and tells an employee about her upcoming trip, which should trigger signing her up for the same newsletter.
Now that the outfitter knows her, it can track all of her behavior to help her select the right equipment. Is she looking at socks? Skis? Outerwear? Browsing behavior online is easy to track and store employees should also be trained to capture this information in store. After she buys a pair of socks, email her in a few days to ask how she likes them. Invite her to review them on your site. Tell her about the boots that most people who also bought those socks like the best. What you know about her forms the basis of how you engage and what messages to send.
The timer is ticking
Timing is magic. If the outfitter in the example above sends an email after the customer’s trip is already over, the opportunity is lost. If an email is sent hitting her up to by boots that are on special for only two days but her trip is still 6 months away, that’s too early and could be interpreted as badgering. There’s a sweet spot in the middle, and it’s up to you to know how to time messages so they are both relevant and welcome.
Fortunately, your arsenal of data is large. Customer shopping behavior provides great data to understand timing, which is why triggers are so important. But you can also use aggregate information to help with timing. For seasonal products like winter sports equipment, take advantage of aggregate timing (e.g. “Ski season officially opens in 3 weeks”). You can also follow the news cycle that affects your customers and the products that you sell -- use stories that are timely to engage with customers.
Engagement is all about connecting with customers. Email is organically a rather impersonal channel, which makes crafting personalized, relevant, and timely messages that much more important. Use the science of marketing automation and your creativity to tell customers you understand them and and ready to help get them what they want.