Seven strategies for successfully implementing e-mail marketing

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In these challenging times, it's more important than ever to stay in front of your customers. E-mail appears to be in the lead as a cost-effective way to achieve that goal. Its ability to help you optimize your most valuable asset — loyal customers — is a competitive advantage, especially in a down economy.

However, don't haphazardly zip off messages just because your customers gave you their addresses. Consider these guidelines for e-mail marketing success.

Get permission. Ask people to "opt in" to your e-mail list. Collect their names online by offering a free report or newsletter. Statistics show that consumers who have opted in buy more frequently than those who haven't.

Don't overdo it. Even when people have opted in to your list, don't overwhelm them with constant messages. My criteria? Send a message only when you have something of value to share.

Give careful thought to your content. Choose your words wisely. Before clicking "send," ask yourself, "Is my reader going to find this valuable?" Start with a compelling or personal subject line. Like an OE teaser, your subject line should be meaningful or the message won't be read. Make sure it doesn't sound like spam. Talk to your customers in a friendly, conversational tone. Remind recipients that they're getting this message because they gave you permission.

Personalize your message. When possible, insert the customer's first name in the greeting. A personalized message saying "Dear Mary" works better than "Dear Friend."

Get to the point. Keep it simple. Give them benefits. Make it easy for readers to determine what you're offering. Don't forget a call to action. Tell them what you want them to do.

Choose your time wisely. Ask your customers what works best for them. Middle of the day is a good time (because people often have a lot of messages first thing in the morning).

Respond promptly to inquiries and questions. Do so within 24 hours. Don't ignore responses. Call customers when appropriate.

If customers ask to be removed from your list, remove them. Don't e-mail people who don't want to hear from you. Honor their requests promptly. According to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, you must honor opt-out requests within 10 days of receipt. Do it sooner if you can.

Times may be challenging, but we've faced challenges in the past. Consider these e-mail strategies and you may find they're very successful in not only getting your name out there, but keeping your name in front of those people who count the most — loyal customers and qualified prospects.

Debra Jason is copywriter at The Write Direction. Reach her at debra@writedirection.com.

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