Getting personal in b-to-b e-mail marketing

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Jane Giles
Jane Giles

Technology is grand. It enables us to do very sophisticated e-mail promotions, and there is no shortage of articles on deliverability and analytics. When e-mail is your direct marketing channel, it's no longer just about the lists, offers and message. But perhaps when trying to get our arms around filters and metrics we overlook a basic tenet, especially in b-to-b subscription marketing: Our audience is human — they are individuals, and they have egos.

So it was refreshing to hear Shannon Aronson, group audience development director at Everything Channel, a division of United Business Media, talk about how to get personal to boost e-mail response at a recent seminar sponsored by the National Trade Circulation Foundation Inc. in New York.

Shannon's main message in e-mail solicitations for her publications usually revolves around one of two themes: The recipient has been singled out as someone very special in a select community, or the sender's job is on the line if the recipient does not respond.

She often includes a picture of the sender, a joke or an image that recipients see repeatedly. She thanks the person for subscribing earlier. This is relationship-building.

“FREE!” “SAVE!” and “REPLY BY…” take a backseat to “Thank you” and “I might be forced to give up the space I reserved for you to someone else if I don't hear from you by….”

In Shannon's playbook, long subject lines and messages are just fine.

Technology can aid in this personal approach, of course, by embedding unique variables such as the individual's name, job title or recent transactions in the text. Re-sending to out of office bounce-backs with a message that acknowledges the earlier absence is another way that marketers can leverage technological tools. And let's not overlook how easy it is to change a message or price and track the returns via the links from the e-mail blast.

Cambey & West clients, for example, are using dynamic Web order pages that change on the fly, based on the URL extension, to make special offers. An e-mail blast (or even a personalized message on a magazine cover wrap) can direct the reader to a custom page that might say “Because you were at the XYZ Conference, you are eligible for…”

It's all about making the prospect feel special.

Jane Giles is director of business development for Cambey & West Inc., a circulation fulfillment service company. You may reach her at


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