E-Mail Marketing Makes a Comeback

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There was a day not too long ago when e-mail was actually relevant - when a message in your inbox meant something to you.


But along the way, around the time e-mail became the preferred method of business communications and spammers began sucking up bandwidth, e-mail lost its luster. The good news, though, is that the time is ripe for marketers to return e-mail to its gee-whiz glory days.


Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, reports that retention e-mail marketing can result in click-through rates averaging 10 percent ("The E-Mail Marketing Dialogue," January), an astounding return for any marketing program. Therefore, it's no surprise that business-to-business e-mail marketing campaigns are sprouting like wildfire and will continue to do so. (Forrester also predicts that e-mail marketing expenditures - including BTB and business-to-consumer marketing - will triple by 2004.) The marketing crystal ball suggests e-mail marketing may just be what marketers - in particular, online BTB marketers - have been looking for.


Huge potential for advertisers. Businesses are finding that one of the most effective ways to communicate with their audiences is through a highly targeted opt-in e-mail program. After all, if a user visits a site looking for information on specific products and services and signs up to receive e-mails about those products and services, it stands to reason the click-through rate on these e-mails will be high. EMarketer, New York, an online provider of Internet statistics, reports that 56 percent of e-mail users are curious to read a message from an opt-in e-mail program, while only 11 percent are curious to read a spam message.


So the popularity of this form of communication is undisputed. But the real golden opportunity for advertisers lies in the advertising space that can be part of these e-mail communications, which are, in many instances, newsletters. Many companies are seeking advertisers to support the cost of these e-mail marketing programs. This is opening doors for marketers seeking to promote a particular product or service through very targeted e-mail newsletters, thus appealing to the interests of the subscriber.


This translates into qualified ad space for the marketer and the opportunity to reach users directly, through their inboxes, in a nonintrusive way. True to form in BTB online marketing, the ads do not need to be flashy. They can be straightforward HTML or text ads. The important thing is the message, which has to match the interests of the user.


The great thing is that because these e-mail campaigns are opt-in, you already have a prequalified customer who has requested information on topics that interest him. Because of the type of content the newsletter generally carries, you already know that those interests match the e-mail's content, so you can pick and choose which campaigns are appropriate for which newsletters. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of your online ad program and greatly increases the chance that a potential customer will click on your ad.


The price is going up, but so is the return on investment. The ability to reach very specific audiences through e-mail marketing is breeding success. Success is breeding greater demand, and greater demand is breeding higher prices. E-mail newsletter distributors, seeing the value in their ad inventory, are able to charge higher amounts because of the frenzy that is building to acquire their ad space. The average cost of an e-mail marketing campaign varies but normally runs $5,000. But marketers should not be put off by rising costs; it's to be expected, and with rapid responses and high click-through rates, the potential ROI is still so high that, in most cases, it is worth the price.


The challenge is to identify the appropriate places to advertise so you can get the most bang for your buck and maximize your investment. One of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to do this might be through an online BTB ad network, which will traditionally aggregate sites that distribute e-mail communications on a certain type of content, making it easier to determine which ones are appropriate for you. It also will do much of the legwork; otherwise, you may have to track down the individual sites and send the e-mails yourself. This is always an option, of course, but it may be a daunting one for many advertisers short on time and wanting to get the word out about their products and services quickly.


Opt-in e-mail marketing lists: High click-through rates mean increased effectiveness. Opt-in e-mail lists are one of the most effective online marketing solutions. The reasons are clear: Consumers voluntarily opt in to receive communications about products and services, and, because of these specific requests, they are more likely to respond to an advertisement. Click-through rates for advertisements contained in opt-in e-mails are astoundingly high and are expected to remain so for the foreseeable future.


Opt-in e-mail lists become even more powerful in BTB marketing, where the markets tend to be niche-focused. In BTC marketing, consumers could request and receive information on sports, but it may not match their interests exactly. In BTB marketing, your message will be targeted directly at someone who has explicitly opted in to receive information on business services just like yours, so your chances of hitting the right interest of a prospect and converting him into a customer are increased. A good online BTB ad network will be able to provide you with lists of customers who have requested specific types of information and help you determine which of these customers will be worth your marketing efforts and dollars.


E-mail marketing is also an effective customer relationship management tool. It's the ultimate online resource for developing a continuing rapport with your customers once you've converted them. Keep giving them information on what they want, and chances are that not only will they open your e-mails, but they also will look forward to receiving them. This will result not only in a good customer relationship but also in increased brand recognition, word-of-mouth and, most likely, revenue.


What the future holds. Given its current success, you can assume e-mail marketing will only get hotter. E-mail has been, and most likely will always be, one of the most popular means of Internet communication. But for this popularity to endure, the ones doing the mailings must continue to ensure that their content is relevant and useful to the user. If this is the case, marketers should always have a home within e-mail marketing communications.
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