No Quick Fix For Anthrax Scare

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Just weeks ago, it was unimaginable. Today, deadly diseases can arrive in your customers' mailboxes in a plain white No. 10 envelope.


I am talking about the anthrax scare -- a string of terrorist attacks that has dealt a body blow not only to America's confidence in our own personal safety but also to the thousands of direct marketers that are relying on this year's holiday shopping season to spark a much-needed business turnaround. Because of the threat to the U.S. Postal Service, many marketers are scrambling to append e-mail addresses to their postal house files to reach customers electronically and boost response to fall postal mail campaigns.


Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the anthrax scare, and marketers rushing out and appending e-mail addresses to their postal files risk alienating the very customers they seek to reassure.


While building an e-mail house file is an excellent way to retain and bolster consumer loyalty, marketers cannot expect to simply append a list of third-party e-mail addresses to their postal customer lists and expect to build an e-mail house file that gets response.


Here are a few of the reasons to beware of e-mail appends:


• Customers do not want to change their buying behavior. It is a basic rule of direct marketing that a customer who buys again from the same marketer will most likely do so from the same channel through which he purchased the first time. Your e-mail house file will be productive only if it is filled with people who are comfortable buying online and interacting by e-mail.


• Customers value their privacy. Just because a customer bought from your catalog does not mean that he wants to hear from you by e-mail. Marketers that breach the Internet's long-held tenets of "netiquette" risk losing their customers permanently -- through every direct marketing channel.


• E-mail/postal match rates are still low. Despite the millions of consumers and businesses that have e-mail addresses, match rates of e-mail and postal databases typically remain less than 10 percent. That is just one more reason why e-mail appends are not a magic bullet for postal response.


Building a responsive e-mail house file takes time, and there are no shortcuts to get there. What's more, an e-mail house file is only as good as the list members who belong to it. Fill it with responsive consumers who want to be there and treat them like gold.


Here are three ways to make sure that your e-mail house file delivers profits to your bottom line this holiday season:


• Post an opt-in sign-up form on your Web site. Be sure that the language on the form makes it clear how you plan to use the customer data and what kind of promotional mailings you plan to send. Specify whether you will share this data with third-party marketers or compilers. Let customers know that they can get off the list at any time, and make your unsubscribe process crystal clear.


• Promote your sign-up form on all your customer communications. Be sure to give your customers every opportunity to join your e-mail list -- through your Web site, your catalog, your toll-free number, even your retail stores if you have them. Let your customers decide whether they want to receive promotional offers by e-mail.


• Develop a cost-effective strategy to acquiring new customers via e-mail. When it comes to building a responsive house file, the best performing names are those of consumers who are accustomed to shopping and buying online. Rent lists of opt-in e-mail addresses composed of Internet users who have given their permission (through a single opt-in check box or, better yet, a double opt-in confirmation process) to receive third-party offers.


I sincerely hope that law enforcement officials can stop the threat of anthrax quickly so that our lives, our businesses and our nation's postal service can get back on track. But, as a direct marketer, I know there are no quick fixes, only long-term customer relationships that need to be nurtured and cultivated every single day.


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