5 Tips for Choosing an E-Mail Provider

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Successful e-mail marketing campaigns aren't achieved as easily as they were a few years ago. The average prospect once was eager to read almost all of his e-mail because it was still a novelty. It is no longer as simple as renting a list, writing creative copy coupled with an attention-grabbing HTML design and hitting "send" any time of day or night.


Now there are legal restrictions, ISP issues and misconceptions that all e-mail marketing campaigns are the equivalent of spamming. E-mail marketing is more than just sending messages to the masses. It requires understanding your market and conveying the proper messages. But e-mail still can be a very effective marketing tool, assuming a proper service provider is selected.


When searching for an e-mail marketing provider, marketers too often seek the lowest cost rather than consider the greatest ROI. This is especially significant in business-to-business, where companies often market higher-ticket items or services. Marketers understand that there is only one chance to make a first impression.


When communicating with a smaller or targeted audience, this becomes critical. To prevent mistakes, begin by choosing the right provider. To gain the best ROI from BTB campaigns, ensure that the company handles these offerings:


1. Multichannel provider. Don't market from a silo. The most successful campaigns reach prospects in a sequenced and consistent manner across numerous channels. A study by AMR Research in January 2002 found that companies that followed up e-mails with other direct communications realized a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in their response rates, with some organizations seeing increases of 15 percent or more. This results largely from the "multiplier effect," which occurs when multiple channels are coordinated.


Personalizing communications and running multichannel campaigns can be a challenge for organizations that lack the technology or process infrastructure to develop multichannel strategies, manage customer data, manage marketing content or execute integrated campaigns.


When selecting a provider, consider the organization's experience with other marketing channels. Can it manage your database to personalize printed collateral, direct mail and provide Internet marketing services?


2. Strategic source. In general, Gartner analysts assert that response rates measured by action taken from direct mail are the same as e-mail - hovering at 1 percent and rising to 6 to 8 percent when permission-based. How does one decide when to use each channel?


Furthermore, e-mail campaigns often run seven to 10 days, while it generally takes four to six weeks to execute a direct mail campaign. When is the optimum time to release an e-mail campaign versus direct mail? In addition, how is the frequency of communication determined?


When selecting a provider, ensure it has a holistic understanding of what you are trying to accomplish and can answer questions mentioned above. Does it understand the different strategies used to increase acquisition versus retention? Can it provide a plan that coincides with other marketing efforts? Strategic service providers consult with sellers to develop roadmaps to create the most effective campaigns.


3. Creative design capabilities. Innovative design solutions can help market and sell more effectively in a brand-driven economy. In addition to creative designs, determine whether the provider can offer or is familiar with design requirements for new media tools and interactive technology solutions, including: Macromedia Flash and shockwave, video, animation, advanced imagery (QTVR, Zoom, 3D), games and wireless delivery protocols.


Lastly, following corporate branding guidelines is crucial, especially when executing e-mail as part of a multichannel campaign. Ensure the design team behind the campaign recognizes the importance of these guidelines.


4. Reporting beyond click-through rates. Reporting and analysis are essential to determine a campaign's effectiveness. However, some providers offer only a record of open rates, click rates and click-to-open ratios. Retrieving data that include the opportunity to analyze which subject line, copy, list property and e-mail type (text, HTML or rich media) produced the best results is essential in planning future campaigns. Also, depending on the campaign's complexity, some providers produce real-time reports, which can allow for real-time edits to existing campaigns for the best ROI possible.


5. Innovation. With e-mail marketing growing increasingly sophisticated, does your provider recognize the importance of staying educated on the latest techniques and technologies? For example, some providers can create corporate templates, which can be personalized and distributed locally. This lets the company control the corporate brand while granting local marketing managers the ability to personalize campaigns for specific products, regions, languages and cultures.


Sifting through the many solution providers may seem overwhelming, but having the right questions and an understanding of your organization's goals will result in more effective marketing initiatives with fewer resources. n


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