There’s only one reason to perform email marketing, isn’t there? Yep – sales. Oh, and to generate website visits, obviously. Oh, and you’ll want to promote downloadable content, too. And then there’s trying to encourage repeat purchases and customer loyalty…

Alright – there are a lot of reasons to perform email marketing. On top of all of the above, and arguably the most important and unique feature of email marketing, is the ability to carry on a conversation with a vast amount of people, directly. The longer the conversation, the greater your relationship with your audience (both existing and prospective customers) becomes.

Interaction between your customers and company is called engagement. But what is it really? How can you build it and what can you use it for?

What is email engagement?

Before the invention of the ‘caller ID’ function on telephones, all that many telemarketers had to do to get engagement was dial the number. If the person being called had answered, they’d engaged with that company. They didn’t know who was calling, and they may not be interested in the product being sold, but by answering they had engaged.

It’s a whole lot tougher with email marketing. There are far more hurdles you’ve got to jump over in order to even reach the customer, including email applications with security features, spambot detection software, and intelligent junk mail sorters. For many people venturing into email marketing for the first time without the use of an experienced email service provider, getting an email to land safely in an inbox is like trying to break into a safe with a balloon; ultimately destined to fail.

So, assuming you’ve got a trustworthy platform behind the sending of your emails, what should you be hoping to achieve? Well, naturally you want people to actually see your emails and open them; making email opens the first step in engagement. Getting people to open your emails will likely mean you have:

• An email service provider sending them out
• A high-quality and enticing subject line
• A respected and trustworthy ‘From’ name – most likely your company name

The next step is getting the customer to click on your call-to-action (CTA) – which is basically getting them to complete a desired action. This could be to click-through to a page on your website, send an email reply to the message, or download a piece of content attached to your email. Achieving the next stage of engagement involves having a great email design.

Do opens and click-throughs equal customer engagement? Well, it’s a start. But there’s a lot more that must happen next in order to build on it. By getting them to see open your email you’ve got their attention, but now you want to get interaction.

Keep the conversations going

Firstly, your landing pages and downloadable content better be up to scratch. If they don’t deliver what you’ve promised in your well-designed email, it might be enough for the customer to end their interaction with you there and then.

If you’ve delivered these, now you need to think of ways to keep the conversation going. What do you know about the customer’s interaction with you so far? If you’re able to track engagement you’ll be able to see what pages the customer visited, what items they placed in their basket but abandoned, their previous transaction history, and so on.

Using data fields in your CRM system, you can create targeted automated email workflows – also known as ‘drip feeds’. So, depending on what product department the item they purchased lies in, they could be added to a workflow offering useful information in that field. For example, somebody who bought a games console is likely to want to purchase games or controllers later on down the line. Whilst these emails aren’t pushy, salesy emails, they’re still actively encouraging repeat business and customer retention. The fact that your company is consistently in contact with the customer means that whenever a need to buy arises, they’ll instantly think of you.

Building engagement should also involve more personalised emails (using the customer data you’ve collected), which could promote special offers in their geographical region, or maybe a webinar you’re hosting that would be of particular interest to them based on what you know.

Predict and promote future orders

Moving forward you could also look deep into your customer and transactional data to try and predict a customer’s next order. If you notice a group of customers purchase the same item every four months, for example, you could ramp up your personalised email marketing leading up to the expected point of sale.

Not only does this let the customer know that they’re valued and that you’re thinking of them specifically, but it could inspire your overall production and marketing mix. Perhaps a surge in product sales might lead to brand new products being developed that you or they might not have considered otherwise.

The quest to build engagement through email marketing is one that all marketers are undertaking. The question you need to ask yourself in terms of how to keep the conversation going is: “What am I going to say next?”