E-mail basics meet new tricks

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Spending on e-mail marketing will come in at $1.2 billion in 2009, and nearly double in five years, hitting $2 billion by 2014, according to a June report from Forrester Research. Over that time, the amount of marketing mail in the average consumers' inbox — already nothing to sneeze at — will increase at a compounded average growth rate of 4%, reaching 9 million annual messages by 2014.

Like Patagonia and Allstate, most e-mail marketers today focus on standing out in crowded inboxes rather than adopting fancy new tools. That means sending relevant messages that customers want to see when they log into their e-mail.

“We want customers to feel that the message they are receiving was specifically composed for them,” says Allstate's Borst. “The more personalized the information contained within, the more the e-mail will speak to the recipient and enhance his or his receptivity to our message and ultimately our brand.”

Paying close attention to data, cleaning lists constantly, and taking advantage of increasingly sophisticated list segmentation tools are crucial steps toward achieving this goal. “Marketers definitely have to get more relevant” if they want to be noticed, notes Daniels. 

Sensing this trend, Vertical Response, which offers e-mail marketing services to small businesses, recently launched a list segmentation tool that allows e-mailers to divide their lists by more than 250 categories, including everything from ZIP code to last purchase to click-through behavior to ensure they are getting an e-mail that will appeal to them.

“As small businesses are wading into e-mail marketing, they want more features like this,” says Vertical Response CEO Janine Popick.

Relevance is also an essential ingredient to avoiding spam filters. Other keys include authentication — a service now offered by a number of vendors that lets your customers and Internet service providers know that your e-mail messages are coming from your company — list management, and not overwhelming your recipients with messages, even if they asked for them.

Stephanie Miller, VP of market development at e-mail services company Return Path, estimates that 20% of legitimate marketing e-mail never reaches the inbox.

“Spammers are constantly changing their tactics, so ISPs are constantly changing their filters,” she says. “You have to be expert at looking at your data so you can understand the root causes of the problem. Sign up for feedback loops, track your actual inbox deliverability and always consider relevancy.”

If you do find yourself ending up in spam filters too often, perhaps you need to ask yourself one simple question: Am I sending too much?

“Sometimes consumers get irritated, and say, ‘Look, you've sent me 15 offers this week that just aren't interesting to me,'” said Miller. “‘So you're spam.'”

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