By Sam Cece, CEO, StrongMail

This year, November 11th has been unofficially dubbed as national ‘No Email Day’. This may come as a surprise to many to you that know this particular date by another name, as indeed it did to me. But looking at the Facebook group set up to mark this event, it seems that a lot of people are taking it seriously.

No Email Day is billed as a way to ‘be more productive with your time’ and, as its manifesto makes clear, stems from the frustration of an over-crowded inbox. Judging by the interest shown, it appears that many people share these frustrations and would dearly love to reduce their unopened emails count to that magic zero.

But for all its admirable objectives, No Email Day has one fundamental flaw: when it comes down to it, most people do still elect email as their preferred communications channel. The aim therefore shouldn’t be to abolish email altogether, but to make sure we do it better.

According to a recent survey by Econsultancy, 44% of UK customers choose email as their preferred customer service channel, but only 33% of them think it is the most effective. This shows that email is a channel that remains very much in demand, but that there is also a malaise among many who doubt its continued importance. Perhaps this is why so many people are getting behind the idea of a ‘No Email Day’. So where are we going wrong?

Bringing Out the Best in Your Email
Relevant, targeted emails have been shown to drive 16 times more revenue than traditional broadcast mailings. But despite this fact, a surprisingly large number of companies continue to blast the same exact email to all of their customers. Given the lack of personalisation I see every day in my own inbox, it is clear that many businesses are still barely scratching the surface of email’s potential. And the most frustrating part is, it’s so easy to do things better.

For any business looking to add to the value of the email channel, the following steps are an easy, affordable and profitable way to start:

1) Understand and Manage Expectations
From the moment a customer opts-in, you need to understand what their motivation was for signing up for your emails. Think about it: Someone who made a purchase and decided not to ‘opt-out’ of your email campaigns is not going to be looking, or expecting, the same type of information as someone who found your sign-up page through another means and actively opted in.

No matter how you add contacts to your database, it is important that you manage expectations during the sign-up and welcome process. It is during this initial interaction that the end users will get their first impression of whether or not your emails will be relevant to them. And I shouldn’t need to stress how important first impressions are.

2) Make the Most of Customer Data
Never assume that because people originally signed up to your emails, they will always find your messages interesting and relevant. This is where your data really proves its worth. It’s time to get to know your customers.

The trick is to gather as much data about your subscribers as possible and use it to help you optimise and target your messaging. Initially, this can be obtained during the sign up process, but it is important that it doesn’t end there. You need to look at all internal systems that contain customer data, such as purchases, browsing behaviour and support calls. Customer feedback should be considered a valuable source of information. By measuring responses of your email outreach, you will be able to build a deeper understanding of your customers. This will help to ensure that all your communications are timely and relevant, giving you a greater competitor advantage.

3) Cater to the Customer Lifecycle
Increased conversations, efficiencies and better customer insight are a few examples of what can be accomplished with lifecycle messaging. By delivering messages triggered by specific customer activities, such as a purchase, review or cart abandonment, companies have been able to increase the performance of their email messaging by 15 times. What is more, the capabilities of lifecycle messaging can be fully automated, and performed with drag-and-drop simplicity.

A recent global survey of business executives, conducted by StrongMail, showed that 54% of companies are still not making the most lifecycle messaging. But with such clear benefits on offer, and the reputation of the email channel on the line, this is a figure I fully expect to rise substantially over the next 24 months.

Remembering November 11th as it Should Be
If you’re still unsure as to whether these steps are right for you, I refer you to the title of this piece. No Email Day. Fail to address the shortcomings of the email channel, and the resistance to it will only increase.

If, however, you get to know your customers, send them relevant emails based on their behaviours, you shift the focus of your messaging to what suits the customer, rather than your corporate agenda. Not only will this prove more effective and fruitful for your business, it will help to ensure that 11 November 2012 is known by only one name — which doesn’t include the word email.

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