According to sales experts, email marketing is still an effective way to acquire customers, indeed more effective than advertising campaigns on Facebook and Twitter combined. Research by McKinsey states that not only is the rate at which emails prompt purchases estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17% higher. Of course, that doesn’t mean that marketers should bombard you with mindless spam. A key element to achieving full success with an email marketing campaign is customization. Compared to generic offers, the response rate can be improved up to tenfold by adopting personalized email offerings based on an individual’s shopping behavior.

Consumers and privacy
Therefore, a crucial element of email marketing is a company’s knowledge of the customer base it is talking to. This is where privacy issues become involved. According to civil lawyer Rosario Imperiali, whose fields of expertise are privacy and data protection in the digital world, “Email marketers must respect the privacy restrictions determined by the legislation of different countries. Recipients must give their approval in advance (except in certain specific cases) and be able to revoke their subscription.” However, “legislation in some European countries, Switzerland included, allows email marketing without previous consent when the messages contain information on products or services similar to those that have been previously purchased by the customer.” In any case, customers must always have the chance to unsubscribe from any marketing message they’re not interested in. For consumers, the message is very clear. If you no longer wish to receive emails that aren’t of interest to you, you must always have the chance to click on the “unsubscribe” button. If the company continues to send you emails, it could face significant fines. Another matter that will be looked at in a future article is the retention of information about our purchasing habits in companies’ databases via loyalty cards. In these cases, which are totally legitimate and very appealing for consumers as well, the company keeps track of the consumer’s purchasing habits in order to generate offers that become more and more attractive to the consumer, and in the first place to the company. Between companies and consumers there is a similar agreement: “I am allowed to study your behavior and, in exchange, you will be offered discounts and promotions.” As a consumer, are you not interested in being part of a loyalty program? You can always withdraw your consent to the processing of your personal data later on.

Consumer engagement
Back to email marketing. Why is it useful? Because it serves to sell products and services. The success of a business that aims to convert contacts into revenue is linked to the message’s relevance and the degree of detail with which it chooses the recipient and knows his or her habits. A brand that communicates in a general, impersonal way is seen as intrusive. The moment of the email’s reception is extremely important. Once the message has landed in the inbox, the addressee must be convinced to open it. In this phase, the combination of sender/subject is essential. If the sender is known, the opening rate increases. This is also true if the message is customized. On average, the opening rate varies from 10% to 30%. What is the ultimate advantage for the consumer? Generally speaking, companies understand that consumers must be “engaged.” Everything turns on the ability to establish relationships with consumers that do not end at the time of purchase but last in the long run. The golden rule of email marketing is to avoid making the recipient feel “persecuted” and “invaded” by someone unknown. Businesses concentrate on those subjects who already know the brand and the company, delivering interesting reasons for the recipient to decide to continue receiving these messages. It is not about a generic offer, promotion or discount; it is a targeted message about what the consumer is looking for. A consumer who carefully selects his choices, not giving his consent to any kind of email marketing and unsubscribing from irrelevant lists, gains better quality information.

Complaints and social media
As consumers, we have two options when faced with companies who continue, in spite of our requests to cancel, to send us emails. The first is to complain to the privacy authority, and the second is to post a complaint on the intruder’s Facebook page – it will certainly stop bothering you then. Nowadays, brands are facing a dramatic revolution that stems from the boom in consumer complaints via social media. Consumers complain directly and publicly about products or services on brands’ social media profiles and companies must find an effective way of dealing with them. Certainly, they know that the one thing they cannot do is remain silent. To avoid a simple complaint becoming a flood of insults, they must reply to complaints on social media promptly and accurately. Research by Lithium (Social Software for Customer Community), which supports companies in managing their interaction with users on social networks and producing reliable content, found that the maximum acceptable waiting time for a reply to a dissatisfied consumer is one hour. After this, people start to doubt the brand’s interest in its customers’ satisfaction. This means that brands must always be responsive. Luca Brunoni, a communications expert, affirms that “dialogue and reactivity are the only two possible antidotes to the viral catastrophe.” Censorship can only worsen things, and, “moreover, by investing in customer service on social media the company can improve its image and reputation.” Brunoni ends with some advice for consumers: “Complaints on social media receive much prompter replies than those sent by letter or email.” Companies try to reply as best they can, but most of all they work on the cause of the problem to avoid it happening again. Much care is put into the construction and maintenance of their customer databases and the services they supply. In order to reduce complaints, the quality of the service should be increased, and this is a clear victory (1–0) for the consumer over a careless company.

Read the published version in Italian here