Draw Customers With Opt-In E-Mail

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If you are like most e-tailers, it is getting tougher for you to market your products and services effectively. Stricter profitability standards have made funding harder to come by, forcing many companies to cut their marketing budgets. Investors are demanding increased accountability for marketing dollars, and postal rates will increase in the first quarter of 2001.


As a result, many e-tailers are turning to opt-in e-mail marketing as a cost-effective way to attract new customers and to stay in touch with their customer base.


But creating a successful opt-in e-mail marketing piece can be challenging. Although many people enjoy receiving e-mail, increased amounts of it have made users more selective. Companies must work harder than ever to create a clear, enticing message that piques users' interests and draws them to their sites.


The good news is that just like with traditional direct marketing, time-tested design principles will help ensure that your opt-in e-mail marketing message is well-received. So if you are thinking about this type of Internet marketing, here are a few tips:


Know your list.


Knowing your audience is first and foremost in any marketing campaign, and opt-in e-mail is no exception. The message should be tailored to the demographics of the users on the list, as well as to how the list was generated.


For example, if the list was created from an opt-in page on a sweepstakes Web site, the subject line and message should focus on an incentive. If the list consists of customers from a well-known business or customers with a common interest, those should be mentioned in the subject line and message.


Get it opened.


The most important aspect of designing an opt-in marketing piece is the subject line of the e-mail. E-mails with an enticing subject line or ones that include a familiar source/topic have a better chance of being opened. It does not matter how great your e-mail offer; if the user does not open it, you have wasted your time.


The following are some subject lines that have proved successful:


• 25 percent off (company name) spring collection.


• (company name) giving away Sony television.


• 70 percent off HP, Compaq, Sony plus $20 rebate.


• $50 gift certificate and 120 free minutes from AT&T.


• Up to 70 percent off (company name) products.


Personalization.


E-mail messages that address the user by name have proved far more effective than generic ones. They catch users' attention, make them feel valued as individuals and reassure them that the message is not spam. Most reputable opt-in e-mailers have the technology to easily incorporate a first name into the greeting of an e-mail if it is included on the e-mail list. So, if you have a user's name, take the time to use it.


Make your name known.


In addition to bringing new and existing customers to your Web site, opt-in e-mail is a great tool for branding. Whenever possible, opt-in e-mail messages should prominently include a company's name, logo, colors and tag lines. This way, if a user does not click through to your Web site, at the very least he has heard of your company and has become familiar with your products and services.


Short, simple copy.


The immediacy and direct nature of e-mail have lead people to expect short, simple, attention-grabbing copy. Focus on the most enticing aspect of your offer and make your point in a few quick lines. Also, don't explain the entire offer in your e-mail message. Your objective should always be to get the user to click through to your Web site. Once there, the user might find other products, services or areas of interest he did not know that you offered or that he even needed.


In some cases, pictures, video or rich media might entice a user to a Web site more effectively than just text. If your incentive or product is particularly visual, consider including one of these media. Keep in mind the time it takes for these enhanced e-mails to come up on the screen. The longer the message takes to appear, the more likely it is to be deleted.


Offer opt-out option.


It is important that opt-in e-mail messages go only to users who are interested in receiving them. In every e-mail message, explain that the recipient is part of an opt-in list and offer an easy option for removing him from the list. Keeping uninterested parties on an opt-in list is annoying to the recipient and a waste of the sender's time.


Avoid attachments. Attachments should never be used in an opt-in e-mail marketing message. Because of viruses, many users do not download attachments from people they do not know. Downloading attachments also takes time, and many users simply do not bother. There is also always the chance that the user's computer will not have the right software to open the attachment. So keep the text of your message in the body of the e-mail.


Opt-in e-mail is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to get your marketing message out to potential and existing customers. But a successful campaign hinges on a well-thought-out message that grabs users' attention and uses incentives to entice them to visit your Web site.


•Steve Hardigree is CEO of Opt In Inc., Boca Raton, FL, a provider of permission-based opt-in e-mail marketing services. Reach him at steve@optininc.com.
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