E-Mail Principles Designed for the Masses

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Is e-mail all it's cracked up to be? I still think so.

But sending out e-mail is not easy.

There are many services to consider when you are ready to start your e-mail campaign. The process and the server setup is usually complicated, as is the formatting. Here are a few things to consider:

• Sending a million e-mails per hour and processing the bounce backs and unsubscribes properly is not easy, just like sending 50,000 pieces of mail is not easy. Leave it to the experts.

• Be mail-friendly. If you do it yourself, have the best database administrators and technical experts you know. If you do not do it right, you risk an unhappy Internet service provider that is accepting your mail.

• Ensure your e-mail goes out in the proper formats. If it is HTML-based, you also need an America Online and a text version. Not everyone can read HTML. Would you ever risk sending someone a direct mailing in a language they could not read?

• You need to be Net-friendly. You do not want to be blacklisted for sending spam. Again, there are many expert services, as well as best practices guidelines, for this.

Format of the e-mail:

• Do not use a long word in a subject line -- you have only a few words to grab someone's attention.

• The more a person thinks you know them, the better. Addressing an e-mail with "You told us you would like to receive e-mail related to travel" jars the memory and validates the e-mail that you are sending.

• Do not use too many graphics. Most consumers are still on slow modems. If you do use graphics, ensure that the words pop up first so that the user has something to read while the images load.

• Set up a separate reply-to mailbox. Be sure that the server can handle it.

• You need one-click unsubscribes. Process them immediately.

Response and testing:

• Can you believe that a response rate in e-mail can be lower than in direct mail? Some people have multiple e-mail addresses they use for different purposes, and they check these mailboxes infrequently. Target to the best of your ability and ensure that the e-mails are opt in.

• Learning is quick. Can you believe that a campaign now is over in five days? I've done many tests, and free offers can finish in as few as three days while "considered purchases" take as long as five days to eight days.

• The rules still apply. Your second mailing to the same people will yield about half the results as the first mailing.

• Test everything. After testing three placements of the URL in a text message, you will usually find that the first one always gets clicked on the most ... people do not have time to read your long e-mail. Make your e-mail short, or you risk losing them.

• Yes, expiration dates still work.

• Tracking is wonderful ... finally you know who opens the envelope, who reads it and who fills out the form. This is not too much information.

• The day before you mail, ensure that the servers to which you are driving people can handle the load based on the anticipated click-through. This is not one of those good problems to have, especially if you've spent a lot of your budget on rented lists.

• Including a phone number on the page can boost orders as much as 13 percent ... many people still do not feel comfortable giving credit card information online.

• Test! And do not test in quantities of 5,000 -- it's too small. People have many e-mail addresses and check various ones at various times. Start in quantities of 10,000 minimum.

Data collection. This depends on the objective of your product or Web site. Most companies from the start like to go for quantity, not quality. This depends on your business model and what you will be doing with your e-mail addresses. This is addressed to Web site owners wanting to make money from their e-mail addresses through lead generation or direct sales.

• An opt-in e-mail address is 50 percent more responsive than an opt-out e-mail address.

• A name with self-reported information is 50 percent more valuable. A name with an address is 25 percent more valuable than a name without an address. The people who give home address information are more likely to respond.

• It is not easy to get someone to come back to give you more information. Enable them to tell you as much as possible in the initial contact that they have with your site. Do not make everything required. Sometimes the minimum is enough.

• Getting people to tell you what they want to receive, offers or information, sometimes is more important than getting them to fill in an address. Even if you append data, you are appending household data that are not necessarily the data of the 20-year-old who is signing up to your site. An e-mail address is a personal thing ... it's not the direct mail envelope sitting on the kitchen table that everyone can see.

Response analysis:

• The most powerful thing is still analyzing the responses and like behavior or information about these people. You can do this with as little as five attributes. An attribute can even be a domain name in the e-mail address.

• Track everything and report on it uniquely. You may find that a URL placement or a certain time of day that you sent something out really increases your response.

While this business has rapidly changed the way direct marketers think and do their jobs, do not forget about the direct marketing principles that have always applied. Now, it just happens at the speed of sound.

• Janine Popick, formerly vice president of direct marketing and e-commerce at XOOM.com and NBC Internet, is an independent direct marketing consultant currently working in Europe. Reach her at janinepopick@yahoo.com.

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