Keep Subscribers on the Hook

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The way we begin a series of e-mail communications with customers, prospects and leads is critical to our success in keeping and even converting them. That first welcome letter, for instance, should arrive in a new registrant's or customer's inbox in a matter of minutes and should remind new subscribers who you are and why your e-mails will be so valuable to them.


Of course, the goal is to be able to continue to e-mail them, and hopefully glean some great results in the process.


How do we do that? It all boils down to value and credibility. Your audience needs to give you high marks for both of these, which will keep them continually engaged. And that needs to happen almost immediately. Not always an easy feat.


So how do you create messages that can woo, entice and keep those readers coming back? Let's look at a few basics (that aren't always applied) that you can implement immediately, if you haven't already. These should comprise the minimum requirements to keep those e-mail recipients happy so you can limit your unsubscribe rates and avoid having to stop communicating.


o Positioning and content. Know thy audience, and know what will be the most useful and beneficial message for them in their business or personal lives. If your e-mails need to be promotional and full of "pitch," then pitch away. But make sure the offers you present stand out from other standard fare promotions for "$$ off" and "free shipping." Make them worthy, if you want to continue to e-mail these people.


If you can present some content along with the pitch, create offers and messages that are of interest to your audience. Yes, it can be great to have a list of 2 million, but not if 90 percent of the subscribers don't even read - let alone open - your e-mails.


Real and valuable e-mail communication is about engaging those subscribers so completely that they yearn for the next issue. It's about taking a good, hard look at what people signed up for and making sure you deliver the goods and clearly communicate how those so-called goods can help them.


Bottom line: Only pitch when you have something truly worthwhile to offer. And if you're providing content, be sure that it has true value.


o Contact information. It may be that resources are limited and you can't provide a phone number in your e-mail messages. However, there should be some alternative contact information that your subscribers can use if need be.


Therefore, make sure that the "reply-to" address you use for your messages is set up to go to a legitimate internal address and not just to an arbitrary virtual box within your deployment platform.


It's also a good idea, if you're able, to post an e-mail address (and even a snail mail address) somewhere within your message or at the bottom of your splash page, if used. After all, if you can't provide a legitimate e-mail address, or at least a means to reach a legitimate e-mail address, then you shouldn't be communicating by e-mail on a regular basis. The more information you can provide about you and your organization, the less questions there will be about your legitimacy and the more inclined your subscribers are to respond.


o Privacy policy. Whether you're communicating with consumers or businesspeople (or potential non-profit donors, association members, etc.), be mindful that people are becoming savvier about the Internet and protocols within as far as personal information/data gathering and communicating.


If you don't have a privacy policy, develop one posthaste. And when it is done, link to it at least once from every e-mail. It needn't take up a lot of space - a simple "Click here to read our company privacy policy" will suffice.


Some may argue that a separate link within the e-mail will detract from the links you want people to click on. However, the privacy policy link is there for only those people who need to know everything and probably will not distract those who will respond whether a privacy policy is there or not. It can only enhance your overall response by giving those that need the additional information an easy way to get to it.


o Unsubscribe. You can always recognize a true unsolicited message immediately because there is never a means to unsubscribe or remove your e-mail address from its file. Now I'm sure none of us want to be relegated to the ranks of that type of marketer, right? Therefore, include a simple unsubscribe message at the bottom of every e-mail.


Even if it is simply a "mailto" link that opens up a new message box to a legitimate e-mail address in the recipient's e-mail program, that is the minimum you need. Make it easy on your subscribers to opt out when they no longer find your messages valuable and show satisfied subscribers that you're following what is now protocol.


o Use your database. If you've got the means to keep tabs on subscribers who aren't responding to your communications, then pull off these non-responders and create a separate agenda for them. This might mean less or even no messages to them, or a series of tests designed to persuade them to interact with your messages or your site. It could be that you find out a good portion of your audience is made up of these non-responders and a good portion of those will likely never respond. Dump them. Or at the very least, develop a separate strategy for them so that they are not bogging down your rollout file.


Hone in on your very best responders. If you have the ability to segment by historical response, rank these members of audience and develop a plan for each segment accordingly.


For example, your "A" list may get the bulk of your messages or, if you're selling something, they may get messages with the highest price points. Bottom line: If you have a decent database and the resources to maximize it for what it's worth, use it.


Obviously, there are several other, more detailed, components to developing effective, engaging e-mail messages, whether they are promotional or just plain informative. It depends on your unique business and the unique set of goals and constraints you work with.


However, if you can continue to provide timely and relevant content and can also give your subscribers information that will enhance your legitimacy in their eyes, you've at least taken care of the biggest hurdles.


Once you can drill down and provide a unique-to-your-business experience for subscribers, you're well on your way to maintaining an e-mail list of satisfied people.


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