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(eM+C)—The job title “sommelier” is hot. A recent Los Angeles Times article described the latest incarnation of this role being fulfilled by companies that serve as “music sommeliers” — that is, they’re interior designers of the aural kind. Similar to the traditional sommelier, whose job is to serve as the in-house wine expert, these individuals curate playlists that map to a restaurant’s menu, clientele, setting and even time of day.

Sounds a lot like what a good email marketer does. A sommelier (whether music or wine focused) plays a huge role for a restaurant committed to providing excellent customer service, driving long-term loyalty, creating a great experience and showcasing a customer-centric approach to business. In summary, they’re good marketers.

The following points are prerequisites to being a good sommelier, along with their parallels to the email marketing world:

Know your guest. It’s more than red vs. white. There may be 200-plus wines in the cellar to choose from, but only 10 pair with what the guest is ordering. Customize your offers based upon what’s known about the subscriber, their preferences and what they’ve enjoyed in the past.

Sell, don’t shill. If you’re sending email marketing campaigns, there’s a call to action you’re trying to generate. Advise, listen and be relevant to subscribers’ interests. Give them a reason to buy — e.g., explain how the product will enhance their experience or solve a problem. Hopefully they’ll even share the experience with their friends.

Understand the lead. Wine is one part of the overall dining experience and is designed to complement the food. Define the hierarchy of your messaging so that the competition between offers or calls to action isn’t distracting from what you want the subscriber to focus on.

Speak in bullet points. Succinctly describing the taste of a wine and the type of grape it’s derived from assists the guest in sorting through their options and making a confident selection. They don’t need a soliloquy, but rather sound bites. Likewise, email is a skimming medium. It’s important to quickly get to the point to enable the reader to make their decision and move on to the next item on their to-do list.

One word: presentation. There’s an expected experience associated with ordering a wine at a fine dining establishment. The wine list, presentation of choices and stemware is all designed to evoke emotion and entertain, as well as play into the overall feel of the meal. The wine steward may be highly knowledgeable in his or her field, but if the presentation and/or setting is poor, it won’t be sought after again. Ensure your email design is likewise optimized for the consumption locale, be it a desktop or smartphone. Great copy that isn’t readable on a mobile device is a subpar experience with highly undesirable side effects.

Evolve. A restaurant’s menu evolves over time and with it the wine selection should too. Likewise, an email program has to change over time. The highly pervasive “set and forget” mentality in email marketing is often a primary driver of declining performance. Test new approaches on a regular basis and rewards will follow.

Clint Kaiser is senior director of strategic services at Merkle, a customer relationship marketing agency. Clint can be reached at ckaiser@merkleinc.com.

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