Communications Strategy for Customer Engagement

Websites need to talk to their customers — more often and more intelligently.

More often because you don't want them to forget about you as they are deluged with offers from other sources.

More intelligently because you need to figure out a way to stand apart from a barrage of other communications.

If you want someone to "see your message" and act on it, you may have to send it up to 29 times. It's called the Rule of 29. The number of messages isn't important here. Rather, it's the idea of meaningful repetition.

The Rule of 29 applies to someone who opts in to receive messages. juwt like a good shampoo, you need to Rinse and Repeat. The key is to reinforce your message to your clientbase. Guide them down the path you want them to follow. Lead them to the sale.

The best way to learn is often by trial and error. Until you get your hands dirty and start "testing" your abilities, it's a long-distance relationship — and we know how unsatisfying long-distance love can be. Case studies are the second-best way to learn (at least, that's what they told us in law school). So, I submit for your review a case study and primer on client communications developed at my first company by its first communications director, Vanessa.

Her first step was to develop a format that would be consistent in all communications to customers.

Here's what we've adopted when we launched this previously.

  • New products being offered and which products were no longer going to be available. This tells customers our catalog is constantly changing and enables them to make certain their needs are in sync with ours.
  • Cut-and-paste featured offer. This offer is usually for the most popular or most profitable product.
  • Category killers. We offer 12 product categories. It's difficult to predict which categories will interest individual affiliates. So, we provide links to specially designed pages devoted to each category.
  • A feedback link. This link requests input from customers on how we can improve our program. We include a quote or testimonial from a customer to make it seem real and participatory. As important as it is to enage customers, you need to listen, too. Affiliates and your customers are the best barometers for how your business can be improved.
  • A viral tell-a-friend link. This link forwards the newsletter, or portions of it, to people who may become new customers.
  • A time-sensitive incentive. The incentive can stand alone or be applied to any of the above items. An extra commission or freebie will incentivize customers to take advantage of particular offers or provide feedback. Customers love giveaways, and salespeople (i.e., affiliates) love them even more. They'll demonstrate that love right into your bank account. Any incentive should be for a limited time, or human nature will take over and they won't act.

Keep one thing in mind before you set a communications strategy: spoon feeding. Assume your customers just woke up and don't have a clue how to proceed.

Make your call to action simple and easy to implement. I try to lay out my propositions step by step in this column. Do the same for your customers. If you don't want to use valuable space in an email message, put the longer, more detailed step-by-step scenario on a Web page and link to it from the newsletter. Your customers will appreciate the effort you've made to show them how it should be done.

If you're interested in a 12-month communications plan or tactics that have worked for other companies, drop me a line. If you have comments on the above, which, as with anything else on the Web, is a work in progress, please share them, and I will update the program in a future article.

Launch Your Web Site

How do you launch a new Web site in a highly competitive marketplace?

Here's a step-by-step methodology to follow — even in an environment with many established players.

1. Identify keywords. Use deductive reasoning and some keyword matching software — similar to how NameBoy comes up with domain name matches. For example, in the nutrition space you might find phrases like "nutrition products," "health food," "protein drinks," and "keeping fit" as highly relevant terms that people would type into search engines to locate relevant nutrition product sites.

2. Create personalized pages for each keyword set. Design each page with slightly different content and target it to a specific demographic audience. For example, on the two pages designed around the keywords "health food," the content on one page is targeted at health food store owners and the content on the second is uniquely targeted toward health food lovers.

3. Get links from other sites that offer content or commerce specifically relevant to your products and services.

4. Link to sites as well that are highly authorative like Wikipedia. For example, on a page targeted at store owners, he added links to other health food stores online (mostly noncompetitive) so that his buyers would think of his nutrition site as more than just an e-commerce store.

5. Ask for reseller relationships. Personally contact (not email) site owners to discuss more intricate affiliate relationships. Sometimes, instead of offering standard commissions make special deals.

6. Focus on quality — not quantity. 10 targeted super affiliates could bring you much more business than 1,000 randomly acquired resellers. Supercharge your impact by asking for referrals to other affiliate marketing or joint venture opportunities and frequent updates on the types of promotions (and the results) each affiliate was running internally.

7. Implement a Pay per click campaign. Look for bidding software, like Tangare, to bid on high placements on pay-per-click engines such as Google and Bing. Don't buy untargeted ads; the best ROI for your money today is specific keyword buys on search engines or pay-per-click engines.

8. Provide something for free. Using the guidance of Robert Allen, author of "Multiple Streams of Internet Income," emailing short surveys designed to motivate participation in the development of the site. Space the surveys a week or so apart and slowly build momentum among the email recipients. As an example in the nutrition space, to whet their appetites for a "revolutionary new nutrition site," the email surveys can include some viral recommendation components attached to a giveaway (either a discount coupon, a contest to win free supplies, or a surprise bonus gift to be determined).

So there you have it. For less than $1,000, you can initiate a site launch with instantaneous traffic from both affiliates and search engines. After the launch, wyou can then try other indirect promotions such as public relations and personal appearances.

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