August 26, 2010
How To

Boost Foot Traffic, Grow Lists, and More: 5 Tactics for Generating Offline Actions from Email

SUMMARY: Your email campaigns can support offline goals, such as getting subscribers to respond via phone or in person. You just have to give them a good enough reason.

See five email tactics that two experts suggest for motivating subscribers to take action away from their computers and connect with your brand offline. Includes tactics for gauging email's offline impact.
by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

Email marketing often asks subscribers to "click to purchase," "click to register," "click to read more" or "click to share with a friend." But clicking is only part of email marketing's potential impact.

Email can drive offline actions, such as encouraging inbound phone calls and driving in-store foot traffic.

"It's a huge opportunity for all types of businesses, and especially retail businesses," says Eric Groves, SVP, Global Market Development, Constant Contact.

Don't overlook this opportunity in your email marketing campaigns. We spoke with Groves and Torrey Pocock, President, Torrey Charles & Willner Marketing to learn about successful tactics they've seen for getting email subscribers to take action offline.

Here are five tactics they suggest:

Tactic #1. Encourage foot traffic

One of email's most obvious offline benefits is the ability to drive foot traffic. Retailers for years have emailed coupons that require subscribers to print and redeem in stores.

However, coupons aren't the only way to use email to drive foot traffic. Here are three other ideas:

- Bring a friend

Emails can encourage subscribers to bring a friend or colleague to an upcoming event, such as a conference or an in-store event. Incentives, such as a discount or free lunch to those who bring someone, can help boost response.

- Branding effort

You can ask subscribers to visit your location to pick up a free t-shirt, book or other branded material. You can also ask them to come in for a free consultation or other limited-time service offering.

"Offline impact is branding," Pocock says. "If you can create a message that gets someone to follow through with an action that doesn't have anything to do with clicking, doesn't have anything to do with buying, then what you've done is created someone who's willing to listen to what you have to say."

- Fundraising event

Encouraging philanthropy is another way to get people into your office or store. Asking for donations of food, clothing or cash to a relevant charity can help show your company's compassionate side -- and pull more people into your location.

For example, Groves saw a tailor design a campaign that was a spinoff of the government's "Cash for Clunkers" program. Instead of encouraging trade-ins of older vehicles, the tailor asked for older suits, which he donated to charity. In exchange, he gave a $100 discount on new suits from his shop.

Tactic #2. Set dates and deadlines for any offer

Setting a deadline is particularly important when encouraging offline action via email. Getting people to click a mouse is easy compared to getting them to leave their houses and do something. You need to incite them.

Establishing an appropriate deadline can be challenging, Groves says. A deadline should depend on:
o The type of event
o Its duration
o How far subscribers must travel

"At one extreme you have a week-long event that most people have to travel to. Clearly you need to be warming that up at last six months in advance with 'early bird' and 'save-the-date' messages," says Groves. "If it's a store with a special sale on the weekend for inventory clearance, that's something you can send out Wednesday the week before, especially if the audience is within a short drive to the store."

Tactic #3. Generate inbound calls

Getting subscribers to pick up their phones and call your company can increase engagement. Rather than passively receiving emails, they actively reach out and speak with representatives of your brand.

Beware, however: Both Groves and Pocock say that marketers should be prepared when sending out emails that encourage phone calls. The phone typically starts ringing immediately following delivery.

"We had a yoga studio owner that made the mistake of setting up the campaign, sending it out, and then [going] to teach a yoga class," Groves says. "There was no one there to answer the phone and she got dozens of messages she had to respond to."

- Effective for quick promotions and perishable goods

Because phone-based calls-to-action have such immediate impact, they can work well for short-term promotions or sales of products that are highly perishable.

For example, Groves cites a masseuse whose weekend calendar is typically booked solid by Wednesday, but by Friday has several openings due to cancellations.

The team will send a Friday email specifying the open time slots and offering 20% off to subscribers who schedule an appointment for one of the open times. This effort also has an inherent deadline and sense of urgency.

Tactic #4. Build email lists offline

Asking customers for their email addresses on the phone or in person is a common practice, but not every company is following suit.

"You'd be amazed at the number of businesses you walk into that do not even offer the opportunity to give them an email address," Groves says.

Here are some tips for getting better results when building lists offline:

- Provide examples of email messages

When customers sign up for your email program offline, it's often an act of faith. Groves suggests printing a copy of a recent newsletter, or the campaign you're most proud of, and displaying it where customers sign up. The printed example will show them what to expect from your email communications.

"We've seen that increase open rates because people know what they're going to get and they're looking forward to it."

- Verify written email addresses

Pocock tells horror stories of marketers who received hundreds of handwritten email addresses, only to throw them away after they turned out to be illegible or fake. Make sure team members read handwritten addresses and verify them with customers. A few seconds can save headaches later in the process.

Tactic #5. Measure offline performance

Tracking every time an email inspires someone to suggest your company to a friend or to visit your location is impossible. However, you can gain insight into email's offline impact with these tactics:

- Dedicated phone numbers

Establish unique phone numbers for email campaigns designed to drive in-bound calls. This way, any calls you receive to the number have come from an email subscriber directly, or from a person referred by a subscriber.

- Coupons and codes

When using email to send coupons, make sure the coupons are clearly marked as originating from an email. Depending on your system's sophistication, you can have point-of-sale units automatically track incoming coupons using codes, or you can have point-of-sale staff record them manually.

- Create email-only promotions for in-store redemption

Your team can also limit the marketing of certain events and sales to email. This way, any customer who enters your location inquiring about the specific promotion either will have received the email directly or will have been referred by a subscriber. You can help gauge performance by having staff members keep track of the people making inquiries.

- Train store staff to thank subscribers

If customers have taken the time to subscribe to your emails, they're likely fans of your company and should be well treated. Pocock suggests training store staff to thank customers who indicate they have already signed up for your email marketing or newsletter programs.

Useful links related to this article

Members Library -- Sherpa Chart: Highly Effective Email Marketing Tactics

Members Library -- Email Testing Pitfalls: 7 Common Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Test Strategy

Members Library -- Gauge Email’s Impact on Indirect Sales: 5 Metrics to Monitor

Constant Contact

Torrey Charles & Willner

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