Opt-In E-Mail as Prospecting Source

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According to recent studies, 104 million adults, representing 56 percent of the U.S. population, are online. Sixteen million of those online adults came on in the past six months alone. Even in today's "down" market, nothing comes close to the Internet as a constant source for new consumers.


Equally significant is that more users are becoming buyers. The number of Internet shoppers rose 6 percent in the past six months to about 52 percent of all users. That translates into 14 million more online shoppers.


Despite the Internet's explosive growth and increases in online shopping, catalogers and some traditional direct marketers are only hesitantly experimenting with opt-in e-mail marketing. Some have found that early e-mail list campaigns have produced fewer responses than the traditional, more expensive offline campaigns.


While many sales organizations have embraced e-commerce, some companies have been slow to accept and recognize the potential of these sales strategies. In these situations, they should consider taking a "walk, don't run" outlook, seeking ways in which opt-in e-mail can support existing marketing programs.


One of the biggest advantages to using opt-in e-mail is the ability to test market products and services quickly and inexpensively. There are only so many new catalog buyers each year. If a company has been conducting direct marketing campaigns for more than a few years, there is a good chance it is already marketing to the hot prospects on traditional offline lists.


At a fraction of the price of conducting an offline campaign, marketers can use opt-in e-mail to blaze new trails and prospect for customers outside of their established customer bases. Marketers new to the Internet have to realize that opt-in e-mail marketing is completely different from offline marketing. To succeed, they must extensively and strategically test online market segments and use a variety of subject lines, incentives and messages to determine how to turn those users into buyers. As with any new medium, this can be a slow process, but the potential for profits far outweighs the costs and the time required.


Traditional marketers have found advantages in using opt-in e-mail to drive traffic to their Web sites. Many of them are bringing in income by setting up Web-based affiliate programs with other companies or simply putting links or advertisements for others' services on their sites. The additional traffic can make a site more attractive to companies hoping to advertise or set up relationships. At sites where users can opt in to accept special offers from the company or a third party, direct marketers also are selling their e-mail lists to businesses with complementary products or services.


Direct marketers also have found opt-in e-mail to be an excellent vehicle for building relationships and selling more to their online, catalog and in-store customers.


While a catalog might be produced once or twice a quarter, a Web site is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Opt-in e-mail's ease of use and low cost allow marketers to send more frequent and targeted offers to consumers who previously were contacted only a few times a year.


E-mail campaigns are being used to alert customers about new products or services, special promotions, discounts or information that applies specifically to them. Some are as simple as informing past customers about an upcoming sale on items in their areas of interest.


Other strategies involve tracking customers' preferences from their online and offline credit card purchases and then targeting the messages according to their buying habits. Either way, customers appreciate the personal service this type of campaign provides and are more likely to remain loyal.


Direct marketers also use opt-in e-mail to get feedback from customers. Survey topics include new products, pricing, logo designs, name changes, customer services, sales gimmicks and other topics that companies want opinions on from their customers. E-surveys must include an enticing incentive for customers' participation, such as a discount on products or a free item.


On average, they can produce higher response rates than traditional surveys and nearly immediate results. Instead of focusing solely on sales, progressive companies are using opt-in e-mail to explore new customer segments, drive traffic to their Web sites and touch base with their customers.

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