E-mail: A hammer in your cross-media marketing toolbox

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We use e-mail so extensively in our personal lives that we're tempted to believe e-mail as part of a cross-media or integrated marketing campaign isn't much different from what we do every day. But, commercial e-mail is, in fact, substantially different, requiring more sophisticated tools and an awareness of a strict regulatory environment. Moreover, commercial e-mail recipients are far less forgiving of errors than our colleagues at work.

At a recent EU University seminar, Stephen Guerra, e-mail communications strategist at SilverPop, talked to EU's current and prospective clients about the role of e-mail in a broader marketing strategy. As manager of your organization's DM function, you'll likely be relying on technology more than ever in the months ahead. Cross-media marketing — the combination of direct mail, e-mail and PURLs — will demand familiarity with all the tools, so, even if you're outsourcing these functions, the process will go easier if you have a working familiarity with the various tools.

Here are some essential "musts" relating to message headers, the message body and e-mail lists.

Use HTML, but don't neglect plain text

HTML e-mails have higher response rates and are more measurable than plain text e-mail, although text-like formats can perform better for certain messages and also can perform well as a variant in a longer campaign. You will, however, still need to create a text version of the e-mail for recipients who cannot open HTML-based e-mail.

Above and below the fold

Although there is no exact fold demarcation due to different e-mail environments, your most important content should be viewable without scrolling. An approximate demarcation of 400-pixel height from the beginning of the message body below the subject line should be kept. That way, your recipients see your content at a glance. Include your offer, call-to-action, urgency indicator and brand mark in this area.

Content is king
When authoring e-mail, ask yourself a series of questions: Who is your audience and what are their needs? Do you have content to fill these needs and when you deliver the content, what do you expect to receive in return? When is it most relevant to provide the information and how does it fit into your overall communications strategy? Every message should be pertinent and timely and provide a self-contained answer to these content questions.

Legislative environment

Be aware of your legal obligations as a sender of mass e-mail. In the US, you can legally send commercial e-mail to anyone as often as you wish without asking, provided that you offer them the option of opting out and honor it if they do. That doesn't mean you should e-mail everyone, of course. After all, more than ever, direct marketing is about building relationships, an objective that should underlie all outreach. Among other provisions, federal CAN-SPAM legislation segments transactional and relationship e-mail from commercial e-mail, and prohibits sending additional commercial e-mail more than 10 business days after an opt-out is received. Fines for violations can be substantial, so you must ensure that the design and maintenance of your e-mails and their attendant lists are properly performed.

And finally, integrate
They say that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Remember to emphasize other aspects of cross media campaigns, and don't let e-mail be the only implement in your cross media marketing toolbox.

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