An E-Mail Equation That Adds Up

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Tennis anyone? The opt-in vs. opt-out debate seems like a never-ending tennis match with a score of love-love. How ironic, considering these two groups can barely contribute quotes for the same article without going after each other.

Fragmentation has occurred within both camps, resulting from the numerous deviations for niche coverage. Several industry groups, including the Direct Marketing Association, the Association for Interactive Media, the Responsible Electronic Communications Alliance and the E-Mail Standards Working Group, have taken self-regulating positions and have created guidelines based on their respective business models.

Each group is attempting to set guidelines and policies based on its constituents, disregarding other existing business models. In fact, a large percentage of the business models existed before the Internet and are faced with guidelines and policies created by companies born on the Internet.

Through all the noise, the most important issue has been overlooked: e-mail marketing best practices. The following equation will help make it clear:

Relationships + Respect + Relevancy + Revenue = E-mail marketing best practices.

Relationships. Consumers and business professionals have proactively established a relationship with a business. This relationship is typically in the form of requesting information, making a purchase or speaking with technical support/customer service regarding a product or service. These types of relationships are established via phone (response to a mail-order catalog, direct mail or an advertisement), fax, Web site, trade show, brick-and-mortar or a magazine subscription. Most businesses consider any individual proactively establishing a relationship as a customer. These businesses communicate with their customers through any combination of the aforementioned methods. However, as marketing costs continue to rise, it makes sense that e-mail would rank near the top. Thus, e-mail communication with customers is considered the optimal relationship (and retention) enhancement tool. The differences between opt-in and opt-out start to blur.

Respect. Relationships thrive when businesses are considerate of their customers and respect their wishes. Businesses that understand and respect their customers will quickly determine what customers need, want and will not tolerate. If a customer provides an e-mail address to a business, he understands that he will receive a transaction-related message or an occasional message about a new product or service. If businesses realize the importance of respect, they will keep the frequency at the appropriate level and will use every opportunity to convey appreciation and enhance the relationship.

Relevancy. Customers anticipate that they will not be inundated with messages lacking relevant information. Relevant messages will drastically reduce complaints and further blur the differences between opt-in and opt-out. The key to relevant messages is leveraging the data and demographics collected. The level of data collected varies based on niche coverage and business objectives. A data collection strategy should carefully balance optimal levels of acquisition with minimal abandonment rates.

Revenue. The debate over opt-in and opt-out would not exist if the Internet had not been monetized. Having said that, revenue implications are the driving force behind guideline and policy creation.

Revenue has many faces, particularly e-newsletters and e-mail list rental. Typically, customers receive e-newsletters that contain editorial content, news and special offers. The e-newsletter is an excellent communication vehicle, one that can help keep customers updated on relevant topics and special offers. Some business models include sponsorship advertisements in their e-newsletters. The sponsorship advertiser offers products or services, or both, that are sold by or that complement the e-newsletter owner. Some e-newsletter owners abbreviate editorial and provide a link to the full story on their Web sites.

E-mail list rental provides customers with special offers (internal/external) that are product- or service-specific. The data and demographics collected through online registration enable businesses to target the offers and improve response rates while enhancing customer satisfaction. E-mail list rental advertising rates range from $250 per thousand to $700 per thousand.

Dan Dale is the marketing manager of e-lists at Cahners Business Lists, Des Plaines, IL, a division of Cahners Business Information.

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