Thursday, February 08, 2007

Finding out what customers want ... and more

Each email is an opportunity to find out about your customers.

Sometimes, market research is seen as something you do when prospecting for customers. Or it's a boring section on the marketing plan or business proposal that has to be filled in.

But in fact, as any marketer will tell you, gathering 'customer insights' is a job that never ends. Don't stop finding out about people when they become a customer - that's when you have the chance to really open up a dialogue. The world's most successful brands are obsessed with finding out what makes customers tick. It's about knowing what they want, but there's more to it than that. Remember the famous quote from Henry Ford: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse.'

The marketer's job is to know what customers want now, and anticipate what they'll want next. Finding out what they want now is the easy bit! You can, for example:
  • ask questions at the point of sign up. This doesn't have to be on the signup form itself (too many questions up front can put people off) but you could, for example, request a bit more information in the confirmation email. Or it might be useful to know whereabouts in the purchasing cycle they are, or their area of interest.
  • ask directly for feedback. Even if people are reluctant to email their comments, periodic surveys, if kept short, can generate useful ongoing feedback.
  • include links in the body of the email, then measure the popularity of those links. The email might include, for example, the first few lines of an article, or an invitation to download a coupon or more information, or even a link to an external website. You'll soon see which items are popular and which are not, and sometimes it's not what you're expecting.
  • monitor the unsubscribe and forwarding activity. Did a particular issue generate more unsubs than usual? Perhaps the proportion of promotional content was higher than usual, or perhaps there was too much irrelevant content. A good number of forward-to-a-friends this month? Analyse what might have been the reason and look to replicate it.

The customer insights you can glean from email marketing should inform the rest of the marketing mix, although that doesn't aways happen of course, since email is too often seen as some sort of add-on to the 'real' business of marketing. But don't get me started on that!

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