Low Cost Shouldn't Lower Standards

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I am an admitted e-mail junkie. It is a dangerous combination -- part pack rat, part exterminator.


Lately, it seems I spend more time determining what to save and what to delete from the 80 to 100 e-mails and e-newsletters I receive every day.


E-mail has become a part of the way we do business, communicate and keep up with current events. With more than 1 billion messages transmitted daily, e-mail has become a great medium for marketers.


By eliminating the cost of ink, paper and postage, e-mail provides a cheaper, more efficient alternative to traditional direct mail. But, for some, the ease and low cost of e-mail have eclipsed the need to uphold traditional marketing standards.


What these marketers forget is that, if done incorrectly, e-mail can be just a cheap way to send the wrong message to the wrong target audience.


There are three critical elements of a successful e-mail program: the quality of the database, the quality of the message and the quality of the implementation and follow-through.


Whom are you talking to? Many marketing campaigns have failed despite being highly creative. Even the best e-mail campaign will not accomplish anything if you do not reach the right people, which is why your database is critical.


Do not assume that just because your audience is computer savvy it will respond to e-mail marketing. People who receive hundreds of e-mails each day may be more inclined to delete unsolicited messages or simply to forward the messages to their assistants.


If you are starting from scratch, you probably will start by purchasing an existing database. For business-to-business marketers, trade magazines are usually a reliable source. However, not all publications will make these lists directly available.


If ultimately your database will include only several hundred or thousand names, you may find that building it from scratch is your best bet. If you purchase your database from an outside source, understand its pedigree. More importantly, single-opt-in and double-opt-in databases are generally more valuable to marketers and will generate more return on your investment.


If you are unsure about the quality of a purchased database, you might want to test the error rate by sending your campaign to a random sample from your database. While testing your error rate, you will also get an early indication of how your audience will respond to your message. Based on that response, you can revise the message before sending it to your entire database.


What do you say? E-mail is a tool that moves customers through the sales process. Grab your audience's attention, provide them with the most important information and include an incentive or a call-to-action with a link to additional information.


The subject line may be the most critical element of your message. The first challenge in e-mail marketing is getting people to open your message.


The subject line is equivalent to the teaser line of a flat or dimensional direct mail piece. Like an effective teaser, an effective subject line can prevent your e-mail from joining the majority of messages that end up unread and in the garbage.


I recently heard from a reporter who was frustrated with the number of e-mails she receives daily. She encourages people writing to her to put her name in all capital letters in the subject line, to alert her that it is a message she needs to read. As consumers have become inundated with e-mail, they, too, are no longer quick to open every message they receive.


Whether you choose to personalize the subject line or simply to use something catchy, it should be limited to four to six words and engage the recipient to open your message. If you go into eight to 10 words, some words -- maybe the essence of your message -- will be lost.


Once a recipient opens your e-mail message, you have a very short time to engage him before he deletes the message. Keep your e-mail as short as possible. If you have not enticed your audience in the first few sentences, they will not bother to scroll down.


Limit the copy to your key messages and a link to more information. Think of e-mail as a tool to move interested customers to more information.


The following is an example of an e-mail message our firm created to draw traffic to a microsite we created for our client, Telution:


"How do you make a trade show splash? Just ask the folks at Telution, a software development firm for the telecommunications industry. Last February, they turned heads at OSS 2001 with bold exhibit graphics and a strategic marketing blitz. See the whole story at http://www.slackbarshinger.com/telution."


Who should say it? Because e-mail has become a casual communication tool among colleagues, friends and family, many marketers approach e-mail marketing casually. Approach e-mail marketing as you would approach a print advertisement and use a professional copywriter. A good copywriter can portray the message in a most compelling way, using as few words as possible.


How your e-mail looks is as important as the message. If you use any kind of design, be sure to include a creative team and know your audience's abilities. Do not craft an HTML e-mail if your audience cannot open it. When in doubt, use a text message.


Did anyone hear what you just said? There are ways to test your e-mail campaign for an indication of its effectiveness.


Test panels that parallel the demographics of your database can provide insight into your results. Focus groups and one-on-one interviews are useful for determining tactics that are effective within your target market. You can provide sample subject lines and body copy to measure what motivates this group. You can also recruit current customers, alert them about the mailing and test your e-mail on them to measure their response.


E-mail marketing can be used as a cost- efficient research tool. For an upcoming project, our company used e-mail to determine the key messages for our target audience. By crafting a creative e-mail message and using a clean database we obtained from a reliable source, we were able to arrange 72 hourlong interviews. In most cases, the recipients responded within 24 hours. The responses we received from these interviews provided us with insight into future marketing to this group.


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