‘Cause you gotta have frie-ends…

Last week, we nattered on about how social media is killing trust equity, and left off with the assertion that relationship-building is the “new” key to marketing. Frankly, I think this is funny because if we compare real life to business life, mindful relationship-building has ALWAYS been the foundation for “self-marketing” (aka, making friends), and we all briefly got sucked down the rabbit hole of thinking social media was the golden ticket, the one-post solution to our communication woes. It was an cheap, easy, fast solution forus, and we didn’t think a lot about the experience on the other end.

 “The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals.” 

Dale Carnegie

Here’s the rub: when we treat everyone the same, we treat nobody like they are special. And this is why the single most effective form of customer communication remains email, where tech and a little time allow us to respect our readers as individuals. Today, I want to provide you with some practical tips for using email to build relationships, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Subscriptions: Offer, ask, explain.

Statistics show that the more fields you present, the less likely a reader is to subscribe. You can see my example here. However, this does NOT mean that your actual subscriber database only houses email addresses. Any good email service allows you to create custom fields in your database. If you scroll down and click on Preferences, you’ll be directed to a page that allows each reader to select their preferences. When working with wineries, we may include drinking preferences, purchasing preferences, annual/monthly spend, and how often they wish to receive updates; behind the scenes, and a little more technical, we might include hidden fields, such as the url from which a person subscribed. (If you want to ask questions about this, email me and I’ll explain…)

So here’s what you do: on your site, have a single-field sign up form. Be sure to tell the reader what they will get in exchange for their email address. Create an automated confirmation email that reiterates what they can expect (how you will treat them); asks them if they would like to provide more information via an “update your preferences” link or button; and explains how the extra information allows you to better respect their time. Example: give them the chance to tell you that they only drink red wine. Let them know that this information means you won’t clutter their inbox with specials on Riesling. Then, use mail list segmentation to make sure you don’t clutter their inbox with specials on Riesling.

Don’t always have your hand out.

Again, think about it like a friendship: would you stay friends with someone who asked for something every single time you talked? No way. To build a relationship, you’ve got to talk with your people. Send along an ad hoc email with a video snippet of something wonderful that happened on the vineyard. Don’t bombard them, but don’t be afraid to share a funny story (with visuals), or announce a special moment (“look at the new wine-puppy!”).

And don’t try to sneak sales in. Keep sales emails separate, or readers will always feel manipulated.

It’s okay to have best friends.

Via tech, or manually, create a user segment based on referrals, engagement, or spend. These people are prized and they deserve a little extra. Maybe their emails don’t come from the generic newsletter account, but from you personally. Maybe they get an early access email to any pending releases. Maybe once a year, you send them a REAL PAPER BIRTHDAY CARD. What would you do for a friend who consistently supported your life’s endeavors? (whoa, I feel myself climbing onto my soap box..let’s move on).

 Judicious personalization.

This can bite you in the butt very easily. If you decide to personalize, make sure you have complete and correct information (ever received an email that said “Hi [FNAME]!”?). Besides omissions/misspellings, the most common personalization screw up I see is when campaigns don’t consider location: a northern hemisphere Winter Sale while I’m broiling under the NZ sun, or a special offer but when I get all the way to the shipping address, I discover that they won’t ship to my location.

The list goes on. I could talk your ear off about how digital can promote better relationships, but for today, let’s sum it up with: when in doubt, don’t think about Marketing, just think about Making Friends. Buyers are people, just like us. Respect and kindness still go a long way toward making brand-friends for life.

Portrait of Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond is the Founder and CEO of 5forests, which means every buck stops with her. As the public face of 5forests, she splits her time between Barcelona, Auckland, and California, consulting, writing, and speaking about the trends that impact today’s lifestyle businesses.