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E-Sales E-Service Feature Article
May 2002


Seeking The Complete Customer Experience: The Web As A Marketing Tool

By Tom Detmer, Experian

Years ago, as the Internet bandwagon progressed full-steam ahead, companies scrambled to develop a presence online. Back then, many marketers made a costly mistake ' employing inconsistent messaging between their online and offline communications.

If you think those days are over, think again. It is not uncommon for consumers to visit a Web site of a favorite retailer and quickly leave wondering if it is even the same store where they enjoy shopping. This disconnect disheartens customers who are more satisfied with a 'complete' experience, or a seamless tie between the online and offline worlds. Consumers don't separate their online lives from experiences at brick-and-mortar retailers, so why should the marketing deviate when shifting gears from offline to online efforts?

Although online and offline marketing sometimes operate autonomously, synergistic marketing can help you tie the two sides of your business together. Take steps now to avoid losing revenue and relationships from confused customers, and make the most of your marketing dollars.

Changes In The Market = Changes In Your Marketing
As marketers evaluate the relationship between their presence offline and in cyberspace, consistent customer communication and marketing should always be near the top of the agenda. Just as the Internet and e-commerce changed the face of business, customers continually change the way they purchase goods and services. Therefore, your company must change the way it markets to them.

Consider the following trends:

Customers are looking beyond the price tag. Online and offline, consumers today are not interested in being sold, but rather in enjoying the experience. So what will keep them purchasing at your Web site and store? The answer is brand loyalty, which relies on the effective synergy of your online and offline marketing.

Customers expect to be known by name, but need respect for online privacy. Take, for example, my favorite online/offline bookseller. I often purchase books and music from their Web site, and they keep a running database of my purchases. From this list, they are able to make recommendations of other books and music I may enjoy. After checkout, they send me an e-mail when my purchase has been shipped, and let me know when I can expect to see it, complete with a tracking number. These acts of personalized service keep me coming back because I am comfortable with how the order process works. After all, they 'know' me.

Take the time to clearly define your company's privacy policy, and make sure it is strictly enforced. Any time you talk about keeping track of your customers, privacy becomes a valid concern. Consumers who do business with online retailers usually have a clear picture of what crosses the line in terms of privacy. Maintaining the balance between privacy and personalization will increase the comfort level your customers feel for your business. When customers are truly comfortable with your company knowing them 'by name,' you will keep their business.

The customer is the center of business strategy. According to Meta Group, a research and consulting firm, an experienced consumer fosters between 10 and 20 online relationships. Clearly, your goal is to become the one the consumer chooses over and over. To do this, make customers and their needs your top priority. If your customers know they can count on you, they will continue to be your customer. Lose this focus, and you'll start losing them.

Online or offline, nurturing customer relationships is more important than ever. With so many competitors in the marketplace, differentiation is key. In order to be one of those 10 or 20 online relationships customers retain, you will have to make the customer more comfortable with your business than your competitors. How easy is it for customers to do business with you? Can your customers respond to the e-mail offers they receive at a retail outlet? Can customers return a product purchased online at a brick-and-mortar store? Address these challenges and customers will be back for more.

Opening Doors With E-mail Communication
E-commerce today presents marketers with more opportunities to reach and sustain customer relationships than ever before. As one of the simplest and most cost-effective CRM strategies, e-mail marketing has proven its worth as a marketing tool. Response rates, ranging usually from three to ten percent, have justified the use of e-mail marketing, and e-mail is an effective complement to traditional direct-mail campaigns.

E-mail provides instantaneous, two-way communication with customers and has many advantages:

Personalization. Speak directly to your customers with the ability to be highly individualized in your communications. Typically, with e-mail, the higher the level of personalization, the higher the response rates you can expect.

Customized content. Today's technology allows content to be customer-specific, or customized to speak directly to the customer. Develop a subject line you know will catch their eye, or make offers for customers who fit a specific demographic. Drilling down to an ultra-targeted list has never been easier, and your options are limited only by your imagination.

Customer appreciation. Over time, your customers will appreciate the time you took to learn about them and their interests, while still maintaining their privacy.

Loyalty. Regular communication with customers helps increase brand loyalty and customer retention.

Cost-effectiveness. When you consider the bottom line, e-mail marketing is an efficient strategy that reduces the cost per contact before purchase. Because each e-mail marketing message costs only pennies to send, it makes sense to include it in your marketing mix.

Marketers have begun to see the value of multichannel marketing by tying their campaigns together with other online tactics. Take, for instance, address standardization and verification. Consistently monitoring changes to customers' postal and e-mail addresses allows you to ensure the accurate and on-time delivery of online purchases, while keeping you updated on changes. Many e-marketers also use some form of customer data enhancement, allowing for real-time updating of demographic and household information, so campaigns can be more targeted and efficient for niche marketing. If you offer credit accounts, it's always a good idea to link your online marketing to your credit services as well. The benefit ' you can pre-approve customers automatically as they shop your site and check individual data elements to guarantee the identity of your customer. Implementing tools like these along with your e-mail campaigns will ultimately save you time and money in the long run.

Aiming Toward 'Complete' Online Marketing
In addition to the clear benefits, e-mail offers endless possibilities as technology goes forward. Rich media e-mail, which incorporates HTML or Flash, is more attractive and has greater response rates than traditional text-based messages. Consistency in brand messages increases with the use of these applications, and e-mail also offers chances for cross-selling and upselling, as well as other revenue-generating opportunities.

As you create more appealing messages, it is important that your messages are communicated consistently and frequently, regardless of whether the objective is to drive traffic to your site, call center or retail outlet. When used properly and consistently, e-mail, catalogs, Web sites and call centers can join forces so their effect will be greater than the sum of its parts. When these pieces work together to communicate an integrated, consistent message about your brand and products, you will enjoy great success. Combined with your offline marketing efforts, your Web marketing tools will make for a well-rounded and 'complete' customer experience.

Tom Detmer is president and general manager for Experian's eMarketing Services group. He brings more than 20 years of direct marketing experience to the e-mail marketing industry. Detmer has served as president and CEO of 24/7 Media, and president and CEO of Exactis.com from January 1999 until June of 2000 when it was acquired by 24/7 Media.

[ Return To The May 2002 Table Of Contents ]

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