E-Mail Marketing: A New Frontier in France

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PARIS -- Everybody in France talks about e-mail these days, and everybody in communications and direct marketing is looking for the right e-mail answers.

The trouble is that nobody can find what he is looking for because nobody has figured out yet just what it is the market wants. In addition, none of the major business-to-business list companies has e-mail lists on offer.

Indeed, the French market is poorly served in this field because today we have fewer than five databases with qualified e-mail lists. That's far too few for a country that has 4 million businesses and a population of 60 million.

Nor do these databases give us that much choice. They offer the same segmentation as all other list brokers do: geographic, lifestyle, size, job classification. Is it any wonder that our clients never stop asking questions about e-mail?

How should they proceed, in what fashion, how many names should they rent, and what are the risks involved in this kind of communication with customers?

But even professionals such as ourselves are only beginning to discover this new means of communication. It is up to us to explain e-mail to customers and to educate the market, much as we did with fax mailings a decade ago.

This new means of ultra-fast and inexpensive communications will revolutionize the way we prospect for clients in France and will open new frontiers for our business.

But as we keep telling our customers: Be careful. You have to know how to utilize this new tool in good fashion. It is especially important in France not to disturb a prospect while he is "intimately" involved with his PC.

That's usually during office hours when he does not wish to be constantly disturbed by prospecting e-mails. He is working, and you have to respect that. That's part of the subtlety involved in communicating with French prospects.

We have to approach our prospects gently. The French have a real horror about receiving prospecting e-mails while they are in the middle of pitching clients or working on order forms for them.

That's why e-mail marketers in France garland their messages with the best service offers possible and make sure that addresses are correct, offers properly worded and promotions geared to the products they are supposed to sell.

In short, e-mail solicitation still has a long way to go in France, but we are convinced it will get there and will work in harmony with classic mailings, which, we believe, still have some great years to come.

Xavier Creuze heads Direct Business International, a new French list company. Reach him at +33 1 45 41 32 00.

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