What Works in E-Mail Marketing

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E-mail marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to communicate with customers and prospects -- when done correctly. The question is, who knows what works in this vast, uncharted territory?

Smart marketers have discovered that many traditional direct marketing principles also apply to e-mail. Among the most fundamental is the rule of 40/40/20.

Back in Marketing 101, we learned that offering our target audience what they want, when they want it, is key to success. The 40/40/20 rule says the bulk of response opportunity in any direct marketing campaign comes from the list (40 percent) and the offer (40 percent), with only 20 percent attributed to creative quality.

40 percent: the list. A solid list of prospects who have opted to receive offers from you is the foundation of a viable e-mail campaign. Lists can be built using service bureaus and brokers as in traditional direct marketing, as well as through your own sources such as Web sites, point-of-sale terminals and direct mail responses. To refine your audience for e-mail offers, remember these essentials:

First, get permission.

• Just ask for it.

• Provide a menu of specific information to be sent.

• Ask for basic information without getting too personal.

Get to know them.

• Collect information upfront, a little through each campaign or through purchase history.

• Use e-mail to identify current and future needs.

40 percent: the offer. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, 68 percent of consumers who opt in to e-mail marketing want promotions and offers. Perfecting them to drive response, however, is an ongoing endeavor.

Consider these points:

• Be relevant. Send customers what they want by using analytics to weed out offers that do not apply.

• Set deadlines. Reward customers who "act now."

• Be timely. Take advantage of seasonality.

• Value-related offers. Make special e-mail-only offers available to your subscribers and track the response with your software's reporting tools.

• Stay on schedule. Customers should expect your e-mail when it arrives (once a week is a good rule of thumb).

20 percent: creative. Tempting as it may be, spending more than 20 percent of your resources on creative for e-mail marketing will not generate the return you need. It is important, however, to optimize the medium by remembering these factors:

• HTML or text? Click-throughs on HTML campaigns are estimated at 18.4 percent compared with 15.6 percent for plain text, according to IMT Strategies, but use of HTML depends on the message. Does your offer need to be seen to be understood?

• Use rich media. This is ideal for products people feel passionate about -- designer clothes, movies, music, etc. It's also an excellent way to add a viral element to your effort.

• Get personal. Make customers feel special with messages that sound as if they were written just for them.

• Write a strong subject line. This teaser should be a soft sell, friendly and inviting. Avoid "!!!!," "$$$$" and the word "free."

As e-mail marketing continues its rise in strategic marketing importance, so does the clutter filling your customers' inboxes. Use the 40/40/20 rule to cut through the chaos and deliver relevant offers that not only meet customer needs but also maximize your time and resources.


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