In my previous post I talked about the importance of personalising your direct communications, and customising your offer. However, in order for personalisation and customisation to be used optimally, you need to have first developed an on-going ‘contact strategy’: ie a plan of how you intend to develop the relationship, once you have converted a prospect into a customer.

In order to do this effectively, you need to think like your customer, asking yourself what would really make this relationship meaningful and worthwhile for them, whilst still being cost-effective from an internal perspective. In his book ‘Permission Marketing’, Seth Godin makes the case that direct marketing communications must satisfy three criteria if they are to engage your prospect:

  • Be anticipated: your prospect looks forward to hearing from you – ie they have overtly ‘opted-in’ to receive your direct marketing communications. (Note: they will probably need to have already been successfully ‘interrupted’ though before they choose to opt-in – not something that Godin dwells upon.)
  • Be personal: the communications are directly related to the individual.
  • Be relevant: the communications are focused on an area that the prospect has already indicated they are interested in. The content is specific, interesting and useful.

Having incorporated these principles and gained your prospective customer’s permission, you then need to focus on the timing of your communications. Ensure that you have a robust process in place to remind existing customers at key intervals when a re-purchase decision is likely, for example a year after buying flowers. Even better if you can combine this with special loyalty incentives and time-bound offers in order to create a sense of urgency.

As well as taking this structured approach, you should also consider rewarding heavy users of your product in unexpected ways – for example ad-hoc account credits, membership/ service upgrades or providing useful and relevant (ie non-sales) information. Demonstrate how much you value your heavier users by rewarding them with something genuinely useful and surprising, rather than just saying a clichéd thank-you.

As the relationship develops and you learn more about their personal preferences, attitudes and their purchase/ usage habits, you can become ever-more personalised and relevant in your on-going communications and offers. Just remember to always take it a step at a time – you will overwhelm your audience if you ask for too much personal information too early in the relationship. Similarly, you need to have built an element of trust with your prospective customer (ie where they have come to appreciate and anticipate the value you consistently provide) before you earn the right to ask for more in-depth personal information.

In order to implement an effective customer contact strategy, you need to ensure that you have a robust customer database in place to capture this information in real-time – on an individual basis. It must be able to capture customer feedback, stated preferences and behaviour over all touch-points: online activity, telephone enquiries, written communications and personal contact in retail outlets. Budget allowing, you may wish to consider supplementing this internally-sourced intelligence with external sources of customer information. However – you must ensure that you use external information wisely and sensitively (in addition to respecting all data legislation such as GDPR) – people may well react negatively if they feel you are using externally-sourced data about them that they never gave you permission to incorporate into your database.

In other words, whilst customers may feel you have a right to hold information about previous transactions and communications you have had with them (and even respect you for using this information intelligently and sensitively), they may well feel that you are overstepping the mark if you have obviously started acquiring information about them from external, unrelated sources without their knowledge or permission.

What about you: do you have an effective contact strategy in place and what techniques have you found most helpful when planning your relationship with prospects and customers? Where do you draw the line in terms of internal versus external sources of customer insight?

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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