By Alexandra English, Marketing Manager, LBM Direct Marketing Ltd

According to a survey conducted by Stephens Francis Whitson some major brands in the UK are in danger of destroying their offline reputation and ruining customer relationships through ill timed, badly managed email campaigns. The principles that are so carefully employed in all other communications channels, especially in direct marketing, appear to be forgotten when it comes to executing an email campaign.

There have been many discussions in recent months about the role of email in the marketing mix, mainly surrounding how to use this channel effectively. It is no longer enough to just ‘do’ email marketing, it has to be done properly and with the same level of precision as direct marketing campaigns.

So what can you do to avoid falling into the trap of damaging email campaigns and make them a successful channel?

Basic targeting and segmentation is the first step towards preventing a negative reaction to your email communication. Identifying who your email is going to be sent to will allow you to send a more personal message, not only engaging your audience, but more importantly avoiding isolating them. The majority of CRM systems will be able to segment your data at some level, even if it is just as basic as a customer/prospect split.

The more advanced the segmentation, the more relevant you can make your message. By ensuring that the right message will go to the right person, at the right time, you will naturally increase the success of your campaign, and keep your online reputation in tact.

If your CRM system is unable to offer the level of segmentation you require, you could profile your customer base using either an online profiling tool, or an offline analytics team. This needn’t be as daunting as it sounds though. There are several products online, such as DV Profile, that offer automated profiling, giving you a top level view of your penetration in different sectors, allowing you to effectively tailor your message to the right audience.

So once you have defined the audience you want to communicate with, thus ensuring you won’t be damaging any existing relationships through inappropriate communication, next comes the copy.

You will have most likely spent years building up a brand identity, tone of voice, company message, so don’t change this because you’re online. People need to know who you are and trust you. Changing from a formal offline tone to using slang and colloquialisms online will at best make you look embarrassingly out of touch, and at worst create mistrust about your brand; which can ultimately destroy your brand and those customer relationships you have worked so hard to forge.

You also need to make sure that your facts are right within the copy. For example, sending an email to a long term, active customer offering them a new customer incentive will damage your reputation and make your business appear unprofessional. Again, the targeting should help to avoid this, but carefully considering the copy you send will also help. Try writing each email communication as if you were personally talking to the customer it is intended for. That way you are less likely to make obvious errors as you will be considering their needs and status as a customer from the outset.

After finalising the audience and copy comes the data

This is a separate discipline to segmenting. You may have decided exactly who you want to target, even drawing up a list of the contacts you will email out to, but can you be sure the data you have is accurate? Will the email reach its ultimate destination? Having gone to all the effort of segmenting your data, writing relevant and timely copy, designing an engaging creative, you need to make sure your email addresses are accurate, otherwise the campaign will not achieve it’s goals and could end up in the wrong place, which again will negatively impact your online reputation.

So whether you are emailing to an existing customer base or newly purchased data, hygiene is essential. Nothing can damage your company’s reputation more than poor quality data; and email data quality is no exception. Correct names are crucial, not only to ensure that you look professional and protect your brand, but also to avoid being classed as spam. Nothing will alienate a recipient quicker than using the wrong name or title and will also damage your professionalism and reputation.

Following some of these guidelines will help you to not only intelligently contact the right people at the right time, but by doing so will help to maintain (and even enhance) the brand you have worked so hard to create. It may sound cumbersome, but the results should far outweigh the time spent ensuring your email campaign is effective and your online reputation is kept in tact.

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