Why every email contact is a customer

Man works on laptop in bright office with plants

Not-for-profit, B2B, membership organizations, ecommerce… we’re not all that different. I know, I know. Some of us are serving the planet, others are serving up the hottest trends, and some are serving cross-channel marketing software to engage with your customers in the right way, at the right time… ahem.

What are we getting at here? Good question. We know that many brands, any that sit outside of a traditional retailer/customer model in fact, tend not to engage with marketing insights described as regarding ‘customers’. And that’s a mistake.

Different industries have different tactics, but often we can learn from each other too. Take ecommerce brands for example, they tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to email marketing, thanks to big budgets and a high frequency of engagement. Those of us in different industries can take knowledge from their insights, tweak it if necessary to apply to our own customers, and reap the rewards.


What makes a customer?

Every brand has customers. Traditionally a customer is someone who purchases something from a brand. But digital marketing is anything but traditional, so let’s think more ‘big picture’ here. We are all working to get something from our email subscribers. Whether that’s engagement, purchases, donations, or sign-ups, our communications all have a goal. You may not have customers in the traditional sense, but every email subscriber on your list is a customer of what your brand has to offer, and of your content.

If someone is a subscriber of your brand, they’re getting something from you. You may feel like customer isn’t the right word, especially if you’re in the not-for-profit sector – in fact you may feel that you get more from your ‘customers’ than they get from you. But people engage with your brand because they get something from it; it’s an exchange. You’re providing a service, whether that’s the ability to donate to a good cause, the ability to buy a pair of jeans, or the ability to be a part of a community – it’s a similar interaction. You’re providing something for others to consume, and that makes them a customer of your brand.


Drop the labels

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a donor, volunteer, member, or customer, you’re talking to a person.

Empathetic marketing is having a moment right now, and for good reason. The basis of all communication, is human to human. Of course, your message changes based on who you’re speaking to, but the core principals remain the same. Every message is crafted by an email marketer, and read by a person. We utilize technology for all the bits in the middle, but we’re having conversations, and a lot of the things that make for a good interaction in the real world apply when you’re looking to create a good interaction online.


What customers want

Now we all agree that ‘customer’ can apply to lots of different scenarios, let’s explore what customers want from brands.

The customer experience is one of the most important things when it comes to retention and brand loyalty. With so many options out there for consumers today, interacting with your brand needs to stand out as a positive experience. Customer experience is crucial, your product aside, it’s the main thing that your customers look out for, and will remember. So, what makes a good customer experience?

Personalization. No one wants to receive a bland email. One that was clearly written to appeal to everyone, and therefore, appeals to no one. Customers want relevant messages and personalization. Take first name personalization. Basic? Yes. Effective? Also, yes. It’s the most basic form of personalization we email marketers have, and it works! Just as if you were speaking to someone in real life, you’d address them by name. A first name field in a subject line, or in your email opener goes a long way at making the email feel more authentic.

Choice. Today’s world is all about choice. Customers like your brand, but that doesn’t mean they want to hear from you every day – no hard feelings. Utilize preference centers, they’re seriously underrated. Preference centers allow your customers to tell you what they like, the channel they like to receive it on, and how often they’d like it. By allowing customers to let you know their wants and needs, you can tailor your communications to serve up exactly want they want. Resulting in happy subscribers, and avoiding a blanket unsubscribe.

Relevancy. Customers want the messages they receive from you to be relevant. I mean, it goes without saying really. So, utilize the data you have, such as behavioral data, and data from the aforementioned preference center, and segment your audiences. Take a little extra time to make content relevant for your different customers and utilize personalization, it’ll make a real difference.

Engaging communications. With inboxes fuller than ever, make your emails worthwhile. We talk about all the ways you can improve your communications, but don’t forget your bread and butter. Have a strong design style, one that is instantly recognizable as your brand, is aesthetically pleasing, and is effective in guiding the reader’s eye. Couple this with a great tone of voice. Are you funny, informal, educational, direct? Know your style, and stick to it. This all applies to transactional emails too, just because they’re functional, needn’t mean they have to be dull.



Customer marketing spans much more than a traditional retailer model. Customers are everywhere, and they respond to the same tactics a lot of the time. Sure, some things you read won’t apply to your brand, and some will need a bit of initiative to tweak them to fit, but that’s true within industries too.

Whatever your brand is offering, the crux of customer marketing, and email marketing, remains the same; relevant, timely, and personalized communications are what make a positive customer experience. In an era where consumers are met with an abundance of choice, your customer experience is what will make you stand out from the crowd and create a community of loyal customers.


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