Is E-Mail Killing Your Brand?

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E-mail is the quintessential business-to-business marketing tool. Like no medium before it, electronic messaging offers a phenomenally inexpensive and efficient way for your business to reach customers and prospects. It is so cheap and efficient that it actually has the power to kill your brand.


Let's say you are an established software firm trying to generate leads for a new financial accounting program you have developed. Targeting finance and information technology professionals, you place banner ads in the most relevant Web space and offer new information about advancements in their professions. All they have to do is complete a short questionnaire and respond with their e-mail addresses.


What you do next is critical. If you decide, once equipped with an e-mail address, that you have a qualified lead and can begin an aggressive sales process, you may be in for a surprise.


You may think that getting customers and prospects to opt in is all you need to put together an effective marketing campaign and manage customer relationships. "Permission e-messaging" sounds great: People volunteer to receive your marketing message, which should mean that anything you send them would be favorably received.


But will it? What happens if your marketing message is off target for the person you send it to? Or what if the person responds and you don't get back to him until a week and a half later? What if you continue to send marketing materials to an e-mail address that has not responded a second time?


What do you suppose are the chances that that prospect will be inclined to do business with your firm in the future?


Permission is just the first step in e-marketing. And it's not even the most important one. It gives you the right to talk to a customer or prospect the first time, but it is only the beginning. Unless your marketing efforts go beyond permission -- and toward an integrated, targeted, personalized strategy in which you and your customer get to know one another on a one to-one basis -- those efforts may be doomed to failure. And your brand may never recover.


The truth is that most businesses are not using e-marketing today. It is a relatively new channel, and companies often lack the skills or think they lack the resources to put an effective e-marketing platform in place. But it is at the top of their agendas, and it is there because of its extraordinary potential for delivering targeted messaging, developing relationships and doing it at a fraction of the cost of more conventional means.


Businesses recognize that e-messaging can be an extremely valuable tool for prospecting and building customer relationships, and they also understand that in the quickly evolving world of e-commerce and online relationships, their customers will be demanding it more and more.


But smart companies would do well not to put all their eggs into the e-marketing basket. E-marketing works best in combination with the tools you have traditionally used to communicate with your marketplace.


Relationships are formed at every point of contact -- from your advertising to your sales culture to your customer service behavior. There is a direct relationship between the level of personalization you apply to your messaging and the strength of the relationship that develops between you and your customers. Combining media ensures that your messaging is appropriate for where you are in the process of developing your customer relationships.


E-mail should be part of your overall marketing strategy, but only a part. It may be compelling to take advantage of the potential cost savings of an e-messaging strategy. But if you do it to the exclusion of all the other arrows in your quiver, you could be gaining a windfall on the front end, only to be killing your brand at the back end.


Here's what you can do to avoid an e-mail brand meltdown before it begins:


• Assess your communications streams and determine which can be, and ought to be, supported by e-mail.


• Build your e-mail lists aggressively, gathering as much information as you can whenever you are in contact with customers and prospects.


• Build a prototype e-mail system, and test it thoroughly to ensure it works properly and is customer friendly in its interactivity.


• Launch the system across all appropriate communications channels, remembering that any new system demands a constant process of testing, measurement and refinement.


• Remember that e-mail promotes an open, two-way dialogue, so pay attention to managing your incoming messages and your real-time responses.


• Brad Neuenhaus is president of BeNOW, Wakefield, MA, a provider of integrated business-to-business e-marketing solutions. Reach him at Bneuenhaus@be-now.com.
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