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You’ve got email

As retro as it may sound in the days of Twitter and Facebook, it’s by plain old email that consumers want to learn about their favourite brands and retailers.

F orget Facebook and Twitter. When it comes to communicating with their customers, fashion businesses should stick to good, old-fashioned email.

In UK customer research commissioned by Drapers, more than 65% of respondents said they were more likely to join the email mailing list of their favourite brands or retailers than their Facebook or MySpace pages, Twitter feed or postal mailing list.

But it’s not a simple case of firing off an infrequent, generic email and the customers will come flocking. Retailers and brands need a clear email marketing strategy, with personalisation at the top of their agenda.

“A lot of brands still send the same email to their entire database but, if you’re a start-up or a smaller business, you need to be smarter,” says Andy Francis, chief executive of email marketing provider E-style. “You don’t need to know 20 things about your customer - their name, gender and email address is enough to start with.”

By getting people to sign up with minimal details, Francis says, a business knows which customers are serious about receiving information from them. “Once they’ve signed up, you can follow up with another email asking, for example, if they’d prefer to receive weekly or monthly emails,” he says.

But getting even simple information from customers can be difficult. Almost 40% of those polled for the Drapers research said they would be reluctant to give their address to a retailer or brand and almost 20% said they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving their names.

The answer is to incentivise, says Martin Newman, founder of consultancy Practicology. “The easiest thing to do is to offer a loyalty programme, where there are tangible benefits,” he says. “If someone signs up to receive emails, give them first access to a new collection or to Sale merchandise.”

Once you’ve got customers signed up, personalisation is key, says Katie Latham, managing director of technology supplier Blue Bridge Solutions.

“You’ve got a ticket into their inbox - but you only have one or two opportunities to get it right,” she says.

Follow-up email

Newman explains: “If a customer buys a suit, they’re quite likely to want a shirt and tie, too. So send a follow-up email to that customer with information on your shirting and tie offer.”

A classic direct marketing approach is to segment the customer database by recency, frequency and value of purchases. This allows you to identify the most profitable customers and target email marketing accordingly.

“Targeting lapsed customers is important, too,” Newman adds. “You can do that by offering discounts to get them to reactivate [their interest].”

But putting these systems in place can be expensive, and businesses must weigh up the costs of database management systems against the benefits. Still, there are other simple steps retailers and brands can take to ensure email marketing is as targeted as possible.

Nick Gold, regional manager for northern Europe at marketing software provider Emailvision, says businesses need to think about ‘deliverability’ of their emails. “If you put things like ‘50% off’ or ‘free’ in the subject box, your emails are likely to be blocked,” he says.

As for how often emails should be sent, Newman gives a general rule of thumb. “If you’re a brand like Ted Baker or Ben Sherman and you’re sending emails more than once a week, then you’re in danger of frustrating your customers. But if you’re a fast-fashion business like Asos, customers probably expect them two or three times a week.”

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