E-mail life cycle - from dating to divorce

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E-mail marketing is not just about what you have to say, it's about building real, one-to-one relationships with each customer and prospect. Like any great love affair, e-mail has a life cycle that starts with dating, leads to engagement and may, eventually, end in divorce.

Dating is all about opt-in and welcome processes. Putting yourself out there, means placing opt-in messages everywhere: on your home page, navigation menus, graphic images, landing pages, registration forms and shopping carts.

Those opt-in lures should point to a page that really sells the benefits of joining your list, using sample e-mails, customer testimonials and sign-up incentives. The opt-in page spells out your privacy and frequency policies. It closes with a getting-to-know-you form that collects the basics without getting too familiar - typically, first name, last name, e-mail address, format preferences, and just enough demographics.

Now it's time for the all-important first date - your welcome e-mail. Don't wait until your next scheduled tactic, because by that time, your subscriber may have lost interest. Send an instantaneous love note that links to back issues of your newsletter, presents introductory offers or delivers promised incentives.

Now, you're in a committed relationship, and the love affair may end even if you do everything right.

That said the quickest way to kill the love is to become a stalker who sends way more e-mail than promised. Or, you can bore your user to death by talking about you, you, you.

E-mail is designed expressly for dialogue. Let your readers talk back by putting an Admin Center in the footer of every e-mail, so users can easily change their addresses, clarify which lists no longer float their boat and leave feedback.

But don't just wait for passive feedback. Do relationship counseling: Segment your list into active subscribers who really love you and inactive ones who quietly drift away. Send your inactives special messages that say, in essence, "Honey, let's talk." Send them surveys to find out why they are no longer engaged or try to woo them back with special incentives.

If they say, "It's not you, it's me," then get an amicable divorce. Treat your unsubscribe page like a landing page: enable users to manage their subscriptions, update their e-mail addresses, discover your other e-mail programs and explain why they are leaving.

Treating every e-mail recipient as a potential life-long partner is the best way to move customers and prospects through the sales life cycle.

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