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Email and Branding: Avoiding Hype, Staying Ahead of the Curve

Christina Inge, Contributor, AMA Boston

Now more than ever, consumer caution is something we all have to contend with; and it’s thus becoming increasingly essential to examine fundamentals such as branding, which can play a pivotal role in marketing, but can fall by the wayside in the struggle to gain immediate ROI. Nowhere is solid branding more important than in email marketing, which is the single most frequently-seen messaging that many of your customers will see. If you have a solid grasp of branding in this medium, you’re well on your way to messaging that is consistent, provides value, and makes your brand stand out from the rest.

What are some of the fundamentals of branding that are most relevant when you sit down to compose that next email message? It all boils down to an understanding of your market, a lack of hype, and a reason for consumers to connect with your brand. Branding is about relevance, and so is email marketing. Following the basic tenets of branding is a vital way to ensure that your email program has the essential relevance it needs to remain a must-read in your subscribers’ inbox.

Continuously Evaluate The Landscape in Which Your Brand Operates:  In a succinct, yet remarkably comprehensive post at Brand Positioning Basics, Jack Trout looks at essential points to bear in mind in any brand positioning endeavor. Trout reminds marketers to first identify the product space in which you are competing, then clearly identify the attributes of that space. It’s this fairly basic advice that many can lose sight of in the daily rush of devising email creative. And yet, it’s essential to consider, at least briefly, before launching any email messaging. Markets change rapidly, and a message that was relevant last quarter may be completely irrelevant this quarter. While your branding needs to stay consistent (as Laura Lake points out in another great post), you need to remain flexible as to how you express your brand’s value.  Nowhere is this more important than in email marketing, which consumers expect to be up to the minute and highly relevant, especially when they recognize that the emails they receive are closely targeted to their specific demographics and buying patterns. Look at how your space has been performing this week or month, and how your brand fits into the current landscape.  Design your email’s creative around what is relevant to consumers now, and how your brand addresses a current need-this relevance can boost response rates, and cause a gradual increase in opens, as consumers come to recognize your emails as a source of current, timely information, not just another attempt to sell them your product.

Emphasize Real Benefits: Whitney Hutchinson, writing for MediaPost’s Email Insider, offers some valuable advice on branding when reaching out to the senior demographic in “An Important Market to Remember”: “hold back on the hype,” be transparent, and respect the fact that you are targeting an incredibly savvy demographic. She also emphasizes bearing in mind that fixed-income buyers will look for discounts before buying. This advice applies no matter what demographic you are addressing. In a tough economy, consumers are not going to make many impulse buys, so emphasizing the value your brand offers-in terms of concrete benefits, such as free technical support or industry-leading quality. Offering discounts will probably not depend solely on marketing, but if you can initiate some discounting programs, they can be a great benefit to emphasize in email-as long as they are straightforward, and provide genuine value to your customers.

Realize that Your Brand Means Different Things to Different People: This is segmentation done with a real understanding of segments not just as a statistic, or a list you can pull from your database, but as a way of perceiving your brand. Think of the last time you were approached by a journalist about your organization, or spoke about it at a workshop. It was likely an interesting experience to see how someone from outside your industry saw your company-both their misconceptions, and the surprising insights they had. Now think of your core subscribers and regular customers-their perception of your brand is often very proprietary, and yet each individual customer no doubt has her own take on your organization. While you can’t take into account all the individual customer ideas of your brand, you can segment your email list according to groups that likely have very different perceptions of that brand: new customers, long-term customers, and those who are on your opt-in list but have never bought. They will each have their own ways of understanding your brand, and the most effective email communications will be targeted to what you know about how each group perceives your company, based on your research.

 When many of us think of branding, we tend to think in terms of online and print ads, and other more glamorous messaging than the humble email. Yet, email is one of the most important venues for your branding efforts. Taking the time to make sure that your email creative follows the fundamental tenets of good branding will ensure maximum effectiveness for your email campaigns.        

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.