10 Things to Do Before Hitting the Send Key

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The use of e-mail for marketing purposes seems like a dream come true for many direct marketers. It is inexpensive, and its success can be measured quickly. You can reach thousands of prospects with a single keystroke, personalize offers to reflect customer preference and update offers to reflect new products or back-order inventory situations.

But there is a downside. If you have not paid attention to the details of the campaign, the backlash could overshadow the few sales you get. So here are the 10 things you need to do before you hit the send key:

Get permission. In the early days of e-mail, a few marketers tried sending e-mail to people who did not request it, and their experiences have taught us a lot. People just will not stand for spam. Now that the novelty of e-mail has worn off and people are getting several e-mails an hour from work, family, friends, newsgroups and others, your message is fighting for mind share.

Unlike direct mail, where people can put it aside to look at in their spare time, they are much more likely to delete an e-mail message. And unwanted e-mail from someone they do not know is the first to get the ax. Or worse, you might get sent a nasty e-mail in return. Even if these are your customers and you have sent direct mail to them in the past, that does not mean they have given permission for you to e-mail them. So ask for permission and mail only to those who are willing to receive your message.

Gather names. What if you do not have a permission e-mail list? Several opt-in lists are available for rental from list brokers. This is a great way to test multiple audiences. Pick up any trade publication and you will see the variety of options available. However, list brokers get paid only if they sell the lists they manage. Those lists might not be the best lists for you. So test, test, test.

The best e-mail lists are lists of people who have visited your site and registered to receive information from your company. Statistics have shown that the response rates for offers on organically grown lists can be as high as 20 percent to 30 percent. So create a Web form on your Web site to capture addresses and offer the respondent something in return, like a newsletter or other useful information. Then guard that list. People are more likely to give their names if they know that you will not rent them to others.

Address the e-mail to a person if you can. When creating an e-mail list from your Web site, it is customary to ask for a name so you can personalize future mailings. E-mail addressed to "jas439656@yahoo.com" is not likely to be opened. If it has a person's name on it, it has a much better chance. This holds true for the "from" line as well. Messages from recognizable companies are more likely to be opened than ones from an address such as "custserveauto@myco.com."

Write a teaser-copy subject line. Just as direct mail has an envelope, your header line is the "envelope" of an e-mail. Treat your subject line like teaser copy. Do you think a line like "Offers from my great company" has a chance of getting zapped or opened? Use the rules from direct mail teaser copy. Try subjects like: "How to save money on your next direct mail campaign" or "Here's an inexpensive way to 'organically' grow your own e-mail lists."

Design e-mail with the reader in mind. Everyone is sending text messages with URL link to a Web page. So how do you stand out from the crowd? Some people have tried goofy fonts or reverse type in an e-mail - but if people have a hard time reading your message, they will not read it. As technology gets better, there is a desire to send cool, colorful and creative HTML messages via e-mail. There is a place for those messages. They can increase response rates - if people can read them.

Consider your audience carefully. Even if people can read HTML messages, if the message takes more than 20 seconds to load, it is likely to get deleted. Millions of households subscribe to AOL, a service that cannot read HTML messages. So when you organically grow your e-mail list, ask your audience their preference. And use a service that can e-mail them the type of message they prefer.

Time it right. When should you send an e-mail? It depends on your message and product or service. If you send an offer to promote your new copy machine, do it during business hours, when people have their minds on business issues. But do not send it so that it is sitting in their mailboxes in the morning when they get in. Try the afternoon, when they most likely have taken care of urgent issues and phone calls and have a spare moment to entertain new ideas.

Prepare for the auto-replies. Ever receive a message from a colleague that says: "Hi, I'm in Hawaii this week, so call Jane if you have any questions"? That's an auto-reply message. When you send 100,000 e-mails, expect 10 percent to 20 percent to come right back with an auto-reply message. And be prepared to handle those messages immediately. If you have sent an HTML e-mail with lots of pretty graphics, all of those messages will be returning to your server instantaneously. Move those messages so they do not clutter your server and impede customers from replying.

Purge those who unsubscribe or are undeliverable. Undeliverable messages waste time and resources and require database updates, but mailing a message to someone who has unsubscribed is likened to an act of war.

When you send an e-mail campaign, use the most up-to-date list possible. Be sure that all the removals were made. Also, it is standard procedure to write a note at the top of an e-mail explaining how you happen to have their names and how their e-mail addresses came to you.

Another important part of an e-mail is to make it easy for people to unsubscribe. Those services that allow your audience simply to reply with a blank e-mail are easy and effective. However, even some of the premier Web sites require a person to log on to their sites and change the options on their "account profile." Here is a golden rule: The amount of disdain for your company increases in direct proportion to the amount of time it takes for a customer to unsubscribe from your list. Make it easy, and they might just consider your company in the future - tick them off, and you will never see them again.

Answer questions promptly and keep it simple. E-mail is fast. That's its beauty. However, this new medium has increased the expectations that customers have when dealing online.

When you send your e-mail marketing campaign, make sure you are prepared to answer any specific requests for information that customers have about your offer - and answer those requests fast.

Customers typically expect a response from a company no later than 24 hours after sending an inquiry. That means, in addition to dealing with the auto-reply messages and undeliverable addresses, someone needs to be responsible for ensuring every question is answered immediately. Most people who bother to ask questions about your product or service are probably considering a purchase. If you cannot answer their questions in a timely manner, they take that as an indication of your overall customer service.

That brings us to the order. Make it easy for people to take advantage of your offer. If they like what they read and want to order, keep it simple. Give them a toll-free phone number and a link to your Web page order form. If someone decided to buy, don't screw it up by having him jump through hoops to make the sale happen.

Measure, test, measure, test, etc. Track all the responses to determine the success or failure of the campaign. Keep detailed records of each campaign, including who received what offer, how many times, who responded, how quickly they responded, whether they bought and what they bought.

Once you know how each campaign performed, you can constantly improve your programs. Another advantage to e-mail marketing is that because of its low cost, testing opportunities online are almost endless. Test offers, lists, customer segments, timing, teaser copy, etc. This is an incredibly inexpensive way to uncover the best campaigns.

This powerful and inexpensive tool can increase the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Major successes usually result from good planning and attention to detail. By following the 10 rules above, you should increase revenue and earn the respect of your customers and potential customers.

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