What Emailers Could Learn from “Desperate Housewives”

Our ingrained social skills guide us well when we want to befriend a new neighbor. If you’re particularly charming like Bree of “Desperate Housewives”, you know that a polite introduction, a smile, and a basket of muffins can be a wonderful way to get your relationship off on the right foot.

On the other hand, just arriving on someone’s porch and barging in with barely an introduction could taint your relationship forever. Worse yet, you might never develop a relationship at all (or get to live through the rest of the season if you’re too much like Edie Britt).

Even without the examples on Wisteria Lane, we all know that being on bad terms with your neighbors can create difficult living conditions. In much the same way, being invited in (e.g. getting onto your customers’ white lists) and forming deep, long-lasting relationships is critical to the success of email marketers. With limited budgets and challenging economic times, marketers have had to pare the costs of their communications programs while maintaining, or preferably expanding, the revenues they’re responsible for generating. To accomplish this difficult feat, every indicator points to focusing on email.

In a recent industry study, 80% of retailers believe the web to be better suited than other channels to withstand the recession, with one-third reporting that the downturn has enabled them to capture greater market share. A whopping 88% of the retailers in the survey list email, especially customer retention emails, as a high priority.

Email programs are the most cost effective tool for most marketers, in part because of the economies of sending electronic rather than paper communications – the cost of sending a thousand emails is estimated at $2. DMA research also supports the ROI benefits of turning to email, forecasting a $45.65 return on every email dollar spent. That compares with returns of around $7 for catalogs and $15 for direct mail.

With numbers like these, widening your circle of ‘friends’, also known as list growth, is a desirable goal. And what better way to do that than to improve relations with those with whom you already share a bond: your customers (or neighbors).

The ideal candidates for making new email friends are people who are already members of your offline marketing databases. The recognition, and usually the relationship, are already there. Kind of like the people you get to know because their kids are on your kid’s soccer team or belong to the same Scout troop. Developing an online relationship is a little bit like walking up to the front porch and knocking on the door.

And that’s where your social skills come into play.

You want to be sure to be as polite and respectful with your hoped-for new email friends as you would be with a face-to-face visit to a neighbor. Introduce yourself clearly with your name, your friendliest smile, and by identifying why you are “visiting.”

Try to keep the tone respectful, transparent, and not at all pushy. You wouldn’t greet a new neighbor by walking up to their door and asking them to donate to your favorite cause or buy some of that wrapping paper your elementary school child is selling.

Other suggestions to help get the best response to your emails are:

  • Welcome new readers in your first message – let them know how appreciative you are to have them as a customer and in your email program
  • Set expectations in the first few emails – let them know what they will be getting in your future emails and provide them with an email preference center allowing them to set the boundaries of your relationship
  • Remember that basket of muffins? The sweet email equivalent is a special offer—a free gift, free shipping, or a “Welcome” discount
  • Offer useful information: “Here’s something (name a product) you might not have – but look how it can make your life easier”
  • Continue to let your customers know they are special and appreciated – weekly offers, coupons or discounts, for example
  • Coordinate emails with your catalog mailings to integrate the channels and drive extra value from each
  • Make unsubscribing easy – but offer a landing page to manage opt-outs. That way, if someone wants to be on a monthly list or a newsletter-only list, they can choose that option rather than an all-or-nothing approach. By asking your customers and prospects how frequently they want to hear from you, they feel “in control” and you gain valuable marketing intelligence

In the end, you’ll probably be invited in (e.g. get white listed) and maybe even get to join the weekly poker game. If not, just continue to be helpful and give a friendly wave whenever you have a chance—and they’ll remember you when they’re ready to chat over the fence!

Who knows? Oftentimes new neighbors can become friends for life!

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