Captivate Your E-mail Audience with Interactivity

We’ve explored in recent articles four key factors in achieving e-mail relevance: segmentation, personalization, lifecycle management and triggers. Now it’s time to examine a dynamic fifth factor, which is essentially the physical manifestation of all the others—interactivity.

Reel ‘em in
In its most basic form (i.e. links to custom landing pages and downloadable content), interactivity enables you to extend communications beyond the traditional “push” of information to better capture your audience’s attention. By integrating multiple sophisticated interactive elements into your campaigns, such as animation, navigation, search, and even polls, you may be able to truly captivate your audience.

Let’s consider the three e’s of interactivity—educate, entertain and engage—and explore how you can apply them to drive higher impact e-mail programs.

Educate your audience
Fundamentally, interactivity can be used in existing campaigns to educate and drive customers to learn more about your company’s products, and possibly, encourage an audience to seek your company as a resource on a particular topic. Embedding links to landing pages and microsites that host this content (or using attractive buttons and calls to action) can be very effective in capturing a customer’s attention and leading him to interact. The simple act of clicking through your message and downloading additional content, such as product details, company or third-party produced research, is one of the most basic but effective forms of interaction.

By introducing visual design variables in conjunction with components of technical usability, you can truly engage your audience. Based upon the content flow and the structure of your e-mail message, you can make a stronger statement, influence activity behavior, and instill in the customer a greater sense of urgency. However, the overall voice and tone of the e-mail is most critical because these elements alone can motivate individuals to act; this in turn can help you to learn more about them, and collect essential click-thru and activity data that can fuel more relevant campaigns.

One primary vehicle for engaging customers is preference centers, through which they can manage their experience and influence how you communicate with them. Seize this opportunity to learn and listen to what your audience is saying about their needs. Simply utilize an e-mail message to invite a customer to update her preferences, and include a corresponding button that links her to the preference center page on your Web site. This is “cleaner” than trying to embed a center within the message, and it helps create a more consistent user experience.

Inviting your audience to participate in polls and surveys can also be highly effective; they often work best when recipients are directed to a landing page to complete the associated questions.

Another great way to engage a loyal customer is to dynamically publish his rewards points. Send him a triggered e-mail alerting him that he’s earned 100 points now redeemable for $50 worth of merchandise. Through an embedded link, you can direct him to a specific area of your site featuring the latest products. You can also solicit a customer’s opinion for product reviews, incorporating question and comment fields directly within the e-mail message or within a hosted landing page. Doing some of the work for a customer, like pre-populating profile information, can give them a little nudge to act.

Often, the interactive components used to entertain make this the most sophisticated approach of the three e’s. Animation, for example, (built as either a conservative GIF format or more complicated Adobe Flash movies) and even full-motion video can introduce images your audience just can’t ignore. Consider the impact of “airing” a brief tutorial or demo, online commercial, or a customer testimonial. To create a more flawless experience for your audience, you can display the frame of a video as if it’s going to play when the recipient opens it, but when he clicks on it he’ll actually be launched to a microsite for viewing.

Blogs and online chat rooms can educate, engage, and entertain all at once. Consider introducing a shopper’s blog, where customers can answer each other’s questions and share opinions about your products. Games can also be powerful viral marketing techniques, but they’re one of the most advanced forms of interactivity in e-mail because they require complex coding and design and usability concerns. With these approaches, you can create opportunities to more aggressively provide content and collect behavioral data and other user-based information.

One final, critical thing to consider when applying any or all of the three e’s—first, have a good understanding of your audience and their usability requirements, then, select the most optimal delivery method.

Optimize for the e-mail medium
E-mail marketing is undeniably challenging. However, by tactfully integrating design elements into your e-mail arsenal, you can achieve true interaction with your audiences and enhance the overall performance of your campaigns. Of course, moderation is key. The most highly interactive elements can improve e-mail metrics, but utilize them sparingly because recipients can quickly tire of seeing the same thing. This said, applied in collaboration with the other critical factors of relevance and a solid testing and delivery program, interactivity can further improve your company’s e-mail effectiveness, ultimately boosting revenue and profits.

Ben Ardito is vice president of professional services at e-Dialog.