Americans Inundated With Marketing Messages

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Here's evidence that the volume of marketing messages is overwhelming U.S. consumers: 60 percent have signed up for the do-not-call registry, 33 percent have installed Web pop-up blockers and 9 percent have signed on to some kind of do-not-e-mail list (and 40 percent may want to).

But permission-based e-mail marketing is not annoying consumers, if stability of click-through rates over the past two years is any indication. Forrester Research consulting analyst Shar VanBoskirk made that point June 9 at her company's Finance Forum 2005 in New York.

"E-mail marketing best practices can counter the effects of e-mail overuse to build stronger relationships," she said.

Forrester, Cambridge, MA, a technology researcher, invited three companies to share their e-mail marketing best practices.

Take online direct lender E-Loan. E-mails sent by the Pleasanton, CA, company must offer value to avoid losing customer attention. The main goals are winback, upsell, cross-sell and providing continuity. Customers are segmented based on their recent experiences, and messages are customized to reach recipients at the appropriate time.

E-Loan delivers mostly licensed content in e-mail newsletters to offer touchpoint continuity after the transaction. There is also the building of intellectual capital through automated e-mail programs.

Imran Khan, director of marketing at E-Loan, said trigger-based e-mails worked for the company. Such e-mails automatically delivered relevant messages at the right time. Defining, automating and testing on A/B/control lines underpin the process.

"Why do trigger-based messaging? [For] one thing, it is scalable ... they're reputable because they're automated, cost-effective, measurable," Khan said.

Co-panelist Stephanie M. Walpert, e-mail marketing manager at soon to be spun off American Express Financial Advisors, had her own do's and don'ts. Her New York-based company's 10,000-strong staff offers financial advisory and planning services.

An important aspect of Walpert's task is to help generate leads for Amex advisers. The company targets Amex cardholders and members of co-branded affinity card programs for Delta Airlines and Costco.

"Why do we e-mail? E-mail for us is one of the most cost-effective channels," said Walpert, noting that a key factor was "speed to market. Ninety percent of responses happen in the first 24 hours when you drop an e-mail from us."

Also, results from tests are achieved in a week, resulting in quicker program optimization, she said.

Amex's financial advisory unit avoids some e-mail practices.

"Using Flash and rich media has not proved effective for us. They have not driven results," Walpert said. "[Also,] the more choice we give consumers, response declines ... we actually try to keep customers focused."

Consumers tend to check everything as the choice and options increase, she said, based on Amex's experience.

Among other best practices, Amex takes care to acknowledge the source of the e-mail list as well as leverage cross-channel communication. Amex's policy does not allow list rentals. The financial advisory division relies on inhouse files as well as lists of customers and strategic partners.

"As we go independent, we'll be less dependent on other American Express lists, so we need to be open to third-party lists and go out and buy lists," she said.

Discount brokerage Charles Schwab Corp. uses e-mail to build and cultivate relationships, drive direct response and control costs. The San Francisco company manages $1 trillion in assets.

"We see e-mail mostly as a relationship tool," said Kate O'Connor, director of Schwab's e-mail products and campaigns for e-business.

Schwab uses e-mail for 23 subscription-based products, including regulatory updates. The company in March sent 20 million e-mails on the subscription side while executing 15 campaigns.

A 5-month-old pilot at Schwab allows customized e-mails based on interactions between brokers and customers. The click-through rate on such e-mails is higher, O'Connor said.

Online fraud was not a big issue for the panelists.

E-Loan avoids fraud by using "consistent branding in e-mails," Khan said. "The 'From' is always from E-Loan, and also we're not asking for any personal information in e-mails."

Schwab sends mostly proprietary subscription-oriented e-mails, so customers know what they are getting, O'Connor said.

But managing substantial amounts of data is an issue for these marketers. E-Loan collects and processes information, but relies on Responsys to send e-mails. E-Loan communications are based on customer segments. Schwab has an issue common to many players with both online and offline divisions as they try to leverage e-mail data with customer information from other channels.

"We have to deal with legacy systems," O'Connor said. "Trying to consolidate data has been a challenge."

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting


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