Using E-Mail to Boost DRTV Sales

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Try this one on for size: "10 Million Business E-Mail Addresses Worldwide on CD! Send your advertising message ..." No one in the direct response TV industry would fall for a product like that. Shotgun advertising does not work. Anyone involved with the Internet for any length of time also knows what spam is and what will happen to you and your business if you indulge in it.

When you get these e-mail come-ons, you wonder, "How did they get my e-mail address? Is it, perhaps, on that same compact disc they want to sell me for $29.95? Are they using their own 'tool?' "

But e-mail marketing is a very strong tool, and it has the added value of being inexpensive, quick and effective. To use it to your best advantage, however, you must cover five important bases. Your e-mail marketing message must be requested by the recipient; relevant, preferably personalized; timely; valuable; engaging.

Requested. Requested e-mail is what has been called opt-in or permission marketing, in which the person says, "Yes, send me information once in awhile." You must have this permission, especially if you do business with people in any European Union country. To get it, just ask - on your Web site, your invoices, your advertising. Once you get people's permission, you must also give them the opportunity to opt out easily, as well. To increase the number of people who opt in, offer an incentive that they cannot refuse.

Relevant and personalized. So Sam bought a set of 1960s rock 'n' roll CDs from you. What is your next message to Sam? Probably not an Ab Toner. If Sam likes '60s rock, he is probably about 50 years old and he gave up on his abs years ago.

But if - in the subject line, mind you - Sam is offered this: "Sam: Here's a deal on Aretha Franklin Singin' the Blues," you just might get him to read the message and maybe even click on the link to the more-information and order pages. Note that Sam's name is in the subject line. That tells him that you know him, that you are not one of those spammers. It also makes him feel more inclined to open the e-mail. Remember what Dale Carnegie said about a person's name: It's their most important possession.

Timely. E-mail can be one of your best sales support tools if it is used for timely follow-up. Whether you use software or people to track incoming e-mail, be sure it is answered relevantly within minutes, not tomorrow. The following are examples of quick replies that aid customer satisfaction and retention: immediate opt-in verification; immediate confirmation of orders; notification of order shipment; customer satisfaction inquiries; thank-you notes.

Valuable. "Content is king" is a cliche; but it is true. If your e-mail newsletter is only a sales piece, you will see opt-out rates higher than Mount Everest. Offer valuable information in your newsletter. If you sell cooking items, for example, include interesting recipes or cooking tips. The most effective e-mail newsletters do not sell anything at all. But they do include a link to the sender's Web site.

Engaging. This is a corollary to content being king. The appearance of your entire e-mail message must engage the reader's interest and create a need to open it and read it. So the subject line must be a grabber, and the top of the e-mail message must be a grabber. Just like traditional direct response print advertising. And speaking of tradition, this is one area you can test, as well.

A successful e-mail marketing campaign must be planned just as carefully as any other type of marketing campaign. The only difference is in some of the ground rules.

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