In the Email Tracking Report 2012, the DMA asked consumers "who does email well?" and ranked results by sectors. Telco finished dead last, behind financial services, utilities and even government agencies. Compared to online retail (38% satisfaction), telco's 8% leaves a lot of room for improvement.
The DMA's study found "emails containing offers, discounts or vouchers continue to remain the most popular types of email." It's easy for online and physical retailers with large catalogs and seasonal sales to send frequent emails that get customers excited. The "big sale" of hardware and service contracts for telcos happen once every year to 3 years, and the range of cross-sellable offerings (like bundled utilities) are limited and can carry a high long-term cost for consumers.
Given these constraints, what can telecoms do to improve email marketing effectiveness?
Tips for improving telco emails
Before asking for an opt-in, be up-front about what your emails contain. Regardless of what you sell, your email campaign needs a value proposition.
Sprint excellently explains what subscribers can expect, listing Exclusive Deals first.
Sprint's call-out to join its Facebook page for company updates is a great way to keep its email program clean. Many subscribers view company-centric emails as spam, and will unsubscribe or worse, report your messages as spam, which can hurt delivery to your entire list. Those who care can follow through social channels, or opt-in to a separate email list.
Rather than spam its entire list with Nascar Sprint Cup updates, it's a separate opt-in.
AT&T offers a text-message option for receiving its green tips. Not every nurturing campaign needs to go through email.
Use a preference center
Preference centers are best practice for all industries, but consumers are not always aware they exist, or that they can update preferences at any time.
AT&T is the first company I've seen incentivize updating preferences. Not only does it improve its own program and metric by sending only messages that people want, it can stimulate new sales.
Make it mobile-friendly
How ironic for a telco not to be mobile-friendly! In the same research, the DMA found 10% of consumers use mobile as their primary device for reading email. Sprint gets it right.
Emphasize the exclusive
Your telecom customer may be married to your services for the near-term, but that can all change once contract is up, or a competitor introduces a device or service option you don't have. The word "exclusive" is powerful to communicate the perks of being (and staying) your customer, even if the customer does not jump on every offer.
If the subscriber expects exclusive deals, she'll open your emails until she finds her holy grail offer.
Surprise and delight
Telecom customers are used to surprise fee hikes and unexpected changes to plan terms. Delight customers by improving their services or activating free trials of related services. When you do, shout it out loud (and make the message social media shareable).
AT&T offers a kick-back for choosing paperless billing.
Comcast broadcasts its new increase in Internet speed.
The above example could be warmed up by using the account holder's name rather than "Valued Customer." But real personalization tailors messaging, content and offers based on what you know about the person.
Sky uses TV viewing habits to populate its email content.
Even if you can't achieve that level of sophisticated personalization, segmenting by device or service type will improve relevance, open rates and conversion rates.
Would response rates have been higher if existing Blackberry Pearl owners were sent a different version of this email? Do existing Blackberry Pearl owners understand what they would be upgrading to - a new service plan or a newer device?
If you offer your own downloads or use affiliate links to platform app stores, merchandise the occasional email with top rated, most popular or newly added digital content.
Listen to the voice of the customer
A final step is to use VOC (voice of the customer) tools to understand what your customer wants from your email program, and what is not working for them in your existing one.
It's easy for retail sites to generate excitement about products and stimulate frequent interest in purchase. It's tougher for telco. Replicating a grocery or retail email strategy is not necessarily the way to close the experience gap for any industry. Best practices like setting expectations, allowing subscribers to manage their subscription options and offering mobile friendly content are table stakes. Sending relevant and attractive offers and updates that customers want is the holy grail.