When you have products or services that customers don't buy on a regular basis—for instance, big-screen televisions or luxury excursions on the Orient Express—targeted email offers based on previous purchases may not be the best way to determine what they want next.

That's why Sean Duffy of the UK-based EmailCenter blog argues for offers based on the research customers do before closing a deal. "We have recently launched a targeted email program for a travel organization [that examines what] visitors have been searching for on their site," says Duffy. "We then target these visitors with emails containing the best-selling holidays that meet their search criteria for the next few weeks while they make their decision."

The strategy takes advantage of some unique conditions:

These customers take their time. They want to weigh the pros and cons, explore options and arrive at the best choice for their needs and budget. Heightened interest during research-intensive periods means they're probably more receptive to a variety of offers. "[Y]ou can increase the frequency of messages during this time as it is relevant and front-of-mind," notes Duffy.

Their searches provide context. A vacation package might, for instance, hold equal appeal for adventure-seeking travelers and those with families. Within the framework of other searches, you can probably determine to which segment a customer belongs.

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