Every December, I get snowed under. Not by the white stuff, but a blizzard of emails offering suggestions and discounts for Christmas gifts. It’s the same every year, and marketers will tell you that it works – that it’s “a numbers game”, and the more emails you send to people, the greater the number of orders you get.
But apply a little customer experience thinking, and you’ll realise this is a lazy approach, condemning retailers and their prospective customers to a treadmill of blanket emails every yuletide.
So I’m suggesting a radical solution – treat the Christmas email inbox like an interview, not simply a sales pitch.
Make the purpose of the interview an opportunity for both retailer and customer to learn something about each other, and see whether there is a good match for the future.
Here’s some examples from my own inbox, and how I ‘interview’ those desperate retailers!
ST PETER’S BREWERY
Let’s start with a truly awful ‘interview’.
I’ve made a few purchases from St Peters Brewery, mainly as gifts (they should know this from the range of delivery addresses to different people I’ve entered direct from their website).
1) Their email says ‘Dear Customer’ – they can’t even be bothered to know my name.
2) They lead with an offer on Lager – I don’t drink lager and have never purchased lager in any of my orders. I don’t think this is what their brand is about – I see them as an ale company.
A successful interview would have used my transaction history to propose some Christmas gift cases, based on previous purchases I’ve made. They could have offered me free delivery, not just for this order, but for all my orders this month (“don’t forget that New Years’ Party”) to try and encourage me to buy for myself too.
RESULT: St Peters have flunked the test – they haven’t learnt from my transaction history or even written to me personally.
I unsubscribe and delete – we won’t be meeting again!!
Here’s another basic interview failure.
This time, it’s Brora – I have a few female family relatives who love Brora products and so I’ve bought a few presents from here in the past, but only ever at Christmas time.
1) They lead with “Accessorise your look!” and a picture of a woman who has clearly done this already. But I’m a bloke, not a woman. That should be obvious from my name, so it’s not my look they should be promoting. My transaction history shows I’m not buying for me, but this interviewee has not done their homework.
2) 10% off all accessories – first of all, 10 per cent doesn’t cut it these days as a deal, it’s almost a turn off. Second, why are you focusing on accessories? This is a Christmas interview – sell yourself for the main job, not a part-time role! Suggest some knockout cashmere shawl that will be the lead gift.
RESULT: Brora are still the right sort of person for me, but their lack of confidence in offering a secondary gift at a timid discount has underplayed their value. It’s reminded me of cashmere as a gift, but I’m looking elsewhere now. Delete.
During last year’s cold weather, I discovered a fabric marketed by Uniqlo called Heattech – it’s great for travelling because it’s light, super-warm and doesn’t crease. I even bought some for family too as gifts, who have since gone on to buy themselves some more.
1) Uniqlo is an unfussy brand character, and it shows in their email. They have turned up to interview as themselves with no airs or graces and I like that – they’re authentic.
2) They’re selling themselves to me on what attracted them to me in the first place, but it’s cleverly positioned as both a gift idea and a self-purchase: “Unwrap the warmth of Heattech”. By offering just two simple links, I’ve half a mind to buy something for me and someone else. This interview already has ‘action’ written all over it.
3) I already had Uniqlo in my mind as a value-for-money brand, and the price reduction raises my eyebrows. In truth, I didn’t need this additional hook, because I think we’re a good fit already, but as a call-to-action, it’s reminded me of just how keenly priced they are.
RESULT: Uniqlo came to interview well prepared. They knew what I liked and they pushed that benefit simply and strongly. Unlike last year, though, they need to build on the relationship, to keep me interested in them beyond the winter season, and get me beyond thinking of them as just functional clothing. But they will certainly get the chance: CLICK THRU and PURCHASE!
The key takeout here is that email marketing (in fact all marketing) should not be treated as a generic, hit-and-hope exercise.
Instead, like a job interview, the candidate (retailer) should decide on where this communication fits in their overall plan to build a career with this firm (customer). Neither party wants to spend all their time speculatively looking for a good match – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, and the ‘delete’ key is too easy to find.
Most important of all for retailers, you need to think more about the customer experience of receiving communication. Is it going to improve your lifetime value with the customer? To do that, you need to demonstrate understanding of their needs, build the value you offer, beyond a one-size-fits-all message.