Don’t You Know Me at All? The Importance of Relevant Recommendations

Imagine this scenario. You’re staying at a hotel, and you visit the concierge for a great dinner recommendation. You give him all sorts of information, including your craving for surf and turf. You tell him about the vintage red wine you like and your wife’s favorite chardonnay. You say you want a relaxed, romantic atmosphere – nothing too loud. After sharing all of those details, the concierge recommends the local sports bar. Wouldn’t you have expected more? Would you think less of the concierge and even the hotel chain as a whole? This same kind of interaction happens between retailers and consumers every day.

Such a disconnect can quickly turn consumers off and send them searching for other options. They are demanding personalized experiences and have come to expect relevant recommendations in exchange for sharing information about themselves. In fact, according to a recent Bronto-commissioned survey of U.S. consumers, 60% of millennials and 45% of Gen Xers expect retailers to make product recommendations based on their past purchases. Yet just 21% of millennials and 9% of Gen Xers are always satisfied with the recommendations they receive. What a major gap between expectation and reality.

When they’re done well, product recommendations are a powerful tool for connecting with consumers and making them feel like you truly understand them. They can be used in virtually any email, from day-to-day promotional emails and automated lifecycle messages, such as post-purchase and browse recovery, to order and shipping confirmations. They can even stand on their own as recommendation-only emails. And the best part is they don’t cause any additional strain for your likely lean email marketing team.

Let’s explore some of the dos and don’ts.

Make Your Product Recommendations Stand Out

Be specific to the individual. Recommendations are just that, recommendations. But showing me something my neighbor wants isn’t going to necessarily help me. Whenever possible, create recommendations that are subscriber-specific. “Listen” to the data. Email subscribers give you all sorts of digital cues – click activity, browse history, preference data and purchase behavior. This data allows you to generate more relevant results, which is particularly critical when using recommendations in a batch-and-blast message. By nature, these emails are often irrelevant to a majority of recipients. But including targeted recommendations based on individual data can often be enough to capture interest and inspire action.

Combine them with lifecycle messages. Lifecycle messages are already more relevant than standard messages because they’re based on consumer behavior. Recommendations will only take them to the next level. For example, I received a message last year reminding me that my son’s third birthday was coming up. It said finding the perfect toy for a three-year-old can be hard, but they were there to make it easier. It was a timely and engaging message by itself. But what made it even better was it included recommendations for gift ideas for three-year-old boys.

Target your purchase-related messages. Using recommendations in both transactional and post-purchase messages should be a no-brainer. You can offer specific recommendations to sell complementary items. Did a customer buy a pair of boots without waterproof spray or a hat and scarf without the matching gloves? This is the perfect place to cross-sell the customer.

Avoid These Potential Pitfalls

“Just for you” subject lines. Have you ever received a message that claims to be “Just for you?” Yet when you open the message, the results aren’t relevant to you and your behavior, and all credibility is lost? I know I have. If you were to receive another message from this brand containing that same subject line, would you open it? Doubtful. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice … you know the rest.

Static recommendations. Using static, non-intuitive recommendations can still benefit retailers if they’re done right. But be mindful of the language you use in your message. When including recommendations as a secondary or tertiary section of an email message, forego the “just for you” strategy for less specific language. Instead, go with something like top sellers, customer favorites, highest rated, new additions, picks of the month, most viewed or staff picks. This will set the right expectation for subscribers.

Recommendation-only messages. As I said earlier, sending a message with nothing but recommendations isn’t a bad thing. They can be great messages, but be wary of how you present the information. When recommendations are irrelevant, you’ll quickly lose your credibility. One such email I received suggested stylus pens and ladies jewelry, which didn’t really go along with the iPhone accessory I had purchased. For these messages, be sure the majority, if not all, of your recommendations are appropriate for the individual recipient. If not, heed my earlier advice and set the right expectations with your subject line and email copy.

Make Email Recommendations Work for You

When it comes to recommendations, ignoring your data is the worst thing you can do. Think of yourself as that concierge. When your customers offer you information, use it to meet their needs and expectations. If you don’t, they’ll begin to feel undervalued and lose faith in your brand. They trust you – don’t give them a reason to stop.

Greg Zakowicz is Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst for Bronto Software

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