Enter the Prospect's E-Mail 'Inner Circle'

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With direct mail response rates continuing to decline, telemarketing impeded by the national no-call registry and CAN-SPAM controlling e-mail marketing, direct marketers are constantly exploring channels to find the magic formula that will work for them.

In e-mail, the explosion of spam and the widespread use of e-mail filtering software have depressed click-through rates to new lows. How can you make e-mail marketing work? According to an article in The Marketing Report (Oct. 27), a survey by Nielsen//NetRatings found that most people regularly open and read a maximum of 16 permission-based e-mails. The only way to break into the inner circle is to displace someone, the survey said. And an article in DM News (Oct. 16) reports, "Marketers will have to enter that emerging inner circle of trusted companies from whom people are willing to keep reading e-mails."

How do you break into this inner circle of e-mail senders whose messages your prospect will read? It's not easy, but at least six options seem to work with some level of success:

1. Offer a free e-zine of value. Write and publish a valuable e-zine and offer it free to anyone who gives you their e-mail address. If you publish regularly (at least once a month) and provide content of genuine worth, the readers will come to value your publication and establish a relationship with you. You will have entered their "inner e-mail circle" because they will view anything with your name in the "From" line as being from a trusted adviser and worth their time to at least open and read. An example of such an e-zine is Agora's Daily Reckoning (www.dailyreckoning.com).

2. News and updates. Similar to an e-zine, some publishers send short news bulletins to subscribers regularly. ComputerWorld sends a daily online update with short items from the magazine. You can purchase a short ad in these updates, thereby buying your way into the reader's e-mail inner circle.

CMP, a trade publisher, issues a monthly Business Technology Advisor to an e-list of the subscribers of all its publications combined. For $200 per thousand, you can sponsor BTA, having the entire issue devoted to your firm and products. CMP subscribers know and look forward to BTA, so your message gets a higher readership and response than it would if you sent it under your own banner.

3. Service and upgrade notices. Software users will open and read e-mails from the software publisher that contain news about upgrades, technical information or service policies. If your customers need to receive service and product news from you, get in the habit of delivering it via e-mail. They will be trained to read your e-mails, so when you send a promotion it will get opened and read.

4. Transaction e-mails. A survey from www.quris.com, for instance, shows that customers do value and read two types of e-mails: transaction confirmations and account status updates. So you can get your promotional message read by embedding it into routine e-mails that contain transactional or account status information. An example is Amazon.com, whose customers read the e-mails Amazon sends because they might contain news about their order.

5. Alert services. Consumer newsletters, especially investment advisories, have pioneered this approach. When you pay for your monthly subscription, the publisher offers you a bonus: additional content, sent periodically via e-mail, to update you on the topic between monthly issues. The catch: You have to give the publisher your e-mail address to receive this free online bonus.

The publisher quickly builds an e-list of subscribers who eagerly anticipate and read its e-mails because they are viewed as valuable information they pay for (part of their subscription). The most successful publishers keep the information content of the e-mails high, but also liberally promote products and services to these e-mail alert recipients.

6. Club or membership. Your prospects will read e-mails from clubs, associations, online communities of interest, subscription Web sites and other organizations of which they are members. If you can create a club or have your e-mail distributed by one of these membership organizations, you can enter the prospect's e-mail inner circle.

As a rule of thumb, whenever you can send e-mail to your prospect using one of the above methods, your chance of getting opened and read rises exponentially vs. sending a typical promotional e-mail. n


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