E-mail is popular this holiday, but marketers should be careful

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With the holidays quickly approaching, it's no surprise that retailers in the online space are using e-mail marketing to reach the ever-increasingly digital consumer.

“Holidays present a dangerous time for e-mail marketers, because consumers' inboxes are just inundated with marketers hoping against good sense that more mail means more orders,” said Michael Dick­erson, GM and SVP of e-marketing solu­tions for Premiere Global Services. “For the recipients, the noise just gets exponen­tially worse at this time of year.”

Additionally, this year, in light of the country's economic woes, e-mail is look­ing even more attractive to marketers looking to make the most of their end-of-the-year budgets.

“The economy creates an added dif­ficulty,” said Sara Ezrin, senior strategy consultant for Cheetahmail. “Clients are struggling to balance which marketing media to use, because margins are lower and most retailers are hurting this year.” This has led a bigger increase in e-mail than in years past, she explained: “During the holidays, we'll see an increase in frequency from double to quadruple the amount of e-mail they'll send in the offseason.”

“My guess is there's going to be a lot of people especially in today's economy who think they have to do whatever they can to increase sales,” Dickerson agreed. “Because e-mail is such a cost-effective channel, I'm afraid we're going to see more e-mails this year than any of us really want.”

Paper costs also factor into marketers' media mix decisions.

“Costs are on the rise,” said Ashley Johnston, VP of marketing for Cheetah­mail. “So it's much more affordable, not to mention faster, to get an e-mail out.”

The key, experts say, is content.

“If a consumer is actually looking for something, they will be more receptive and even grateful if that helps them find what they're looking for,” Dickerson said. “Those who don't have that level of intimacy with their customers, who just have a list and are spraying and praying with a promotion, run the risk of alienating folks.”

Chef Jody Adams has been using e-mail marketing for her Boston restaurant, Rialto, for years. She says relevance is an important factor.

“You can't just send a promotional message. We send out recipes, stories and photos,” she said. “We're trying to establish a community that trusts us and believes that we care about them. They don't want just to receive a plea for them to come to the restaurant.”

It essentially comes down to consumers' thresholds for information. Ezrin suggests giving your consumer more options like allowing them to self-select the frequency of your communication.

“A good idea is to allow them to opt down, or choose to receive e-mails during the holidays but not the offseason,” she said. “Once you take them off the list, it's much harder to get them back on.”

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