E-mail Marketing to Become Major DM Component in 1999

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E-mail marketing has come a long way in just a year. It has gone from being a questionable practice to an accepted marketing medium. As we draw a close to 1998, it seems fit to take both a retrospective look at where we have been as an industry in our handling of e-mail marketing and a look forward to where we are headed.

If you were to use a software development term to label 1998's e-mail activities, "beta" would probably be the best fit. Most of you will agree that 1998 was a year of testing and experimentation. The first milestone was a more aggressive and structured effort for the collection of e-mail information. This included collection at multiple points of contact, such as the registration card, sales group, technical support group as well as the corporate Web site. From software registration cards to credit card applications, the request for an e-mail address is now almost as common as requesting a telephone number.

But the increase in e-mail information cannot be credited solely to the marketers -- the customers played a critical part as well. Consumer attitudes have changed dramatically, with targeted e-mail becoming a welcomed addition to their electronic mailboxes. Overall, consumers have grown much more comfortable with the medium, since it provides them with benefits. New product announcements, upgrades, special offers, discounts, revisions, cross-grades, cross-sells, order confirmations, etc., have all appeared in some way via e-mail.

E-mail content/language was "debugged" this year. Short messages with clear subject lines were the winners. Up-front identification of the sending company and inclusion of an individual in the closing portion of the message helped reduce doubt about the validity of the message and offer. Personalization, a toll-free number, an e-mail and Web address and an easy opt-out mechanism also helped the legitimacy and success of the campaign.

E-marketing technology has advanced. Robust messaging servers such as Microsoft's Exchange Server improved its speed, product stability and security. A variety of software packages have transformed from intrusive applications -- whose primary function was to harvest e-mail data from chat rooms -- into savvy business tools for ethical e-mail transmission. They have been enhanced with features for accommodating personalization, filtering domains and, most importantly, applying a suppress file to remove those individuals from the message transmission who have opted not to receive e-mail. Another feature is the ability to send each message individually, as opposed to sending multiple messages out simultaneously as a 'BCC.'

Tracking responses and calculating ROI has been refined. Deploying multiple mailboxes keyed with each list is one method. Another method is the imbedding of a URL in the actual body copy of the e-mail. The more sophisticated client-side e-mail programs will arm the URL as an active link. With this, an e-mail message can be keyed with a specific Web page. Analysis of the server logs can then determine the performance of a particular e-mail file.

With the growing demand of e-mail marketing, we've also seen the expansion of traditional service bureaus and infocenters as well as new startups who offer marketers complete, turnkey services for automating e-mail-based campaigns. Custom data preparation, hygiene and merge/purge programs have been written using fourth generation programming languages -- such as SQL, Visual Basic, Visual FoxPro and Powerbuilder -- to deal with the nuances of e-mail-formatted data. Web-based interfaces and sophisticated tracking and reporting routines have converted the e-mail medium into a serious direct response marketing tool.

So where is e-mail headed in 1999? In my opinion, e-mail marketing will become a major direct marketing component. We will see the development of more ethically correct e-mail lists, where the individual has been given the option to be excluded from a rental program on the up-front.

Agencies will start specializing in the creation of e-mail-based campaigns, while the corporate Web masters develop and deploy back-end technologies to strategically route and track the respondents from a successful campaign.

It's real dollars and real profits. From the many campaigns I have worked on with my clients, the results were strong enough to revisit certain outside lists as well as perform continuation and rollout programs, all at the touch of a button. Once again, as direct marketers, we are at the forefront of an exciting new era. It's ours as an industry to ethically develop, so we can help build relationships between marketers and customers -- which is what good direct marketing is all about.

Roy Schwedelson (roy@worldata.com; www.worldata.com) is CEO of Worldata Inc., Boca Raton, a list marketing, electronic marketing and database services company. Roy is also co-founder of WebConnect (www.Webconnect.com), the ad placement service of the Internet.

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