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.