Secrets to Improving Campaign Success

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Stacy Forster at The Wall Street Journal has been running a very lucid series recently on the topic everyone loves to hate - spam. Much of what has been said is right on the money. Our inboxes are overflowing with intrusive, if not downright unpleasant, e-mail. Yet e-mail is a true "killer app" in marketing today.


It is the route to the ideal marketing scenario: getting the right message to the right person at the right time while being cost-effective.


For marketers who heeded the pioneering advice of Seth Godin and took hold of the promise of permission marketing, e-mail marketing works. Even with the possibility of aggravation, virtually all of us still sign up for e-mail newsletters, alerts and special offers.


As a nation of informed consumers, we want to make informed decisions. But we don't want to be buried in messages that have no relevance to our lives. Web banners, e-mail reminders and all those newsletters are ignored unless they answer the question, "Why should this matter to me?" A recent campaign for one of our clients showed what we think are some keys to successful e-mail campaigns.


Your customers are more likely to open your e-mail - 11 times more likely, it turned out, in the case of a campaign Sullivan Direct produced for CincinnatiExchange.com. We sent the same e-mail promotion (a chance to win a $50 calling card for clicking through to information about the Cincinnati regional online directory) to 25,000 customers from an in-house e-mail list, while 10,000 were delivered to a purchased list of Cincinnati residents. The in-house list had a 22 percent response rate. The purchased list had 2 percent.


The secrets were:


o The existing relationship. When the customer is familiar with the sender, its products, services and reputation, credibility is immediately present. Having credibility upfront, we were able to jump immediately into the offer details and benefits, leaving the long-winded introductions, justifications and low open rates to the new guy trying to break into the market.


o Data overlays. In-house lists generally include account details and history that can be leveraged for maximum offer-targeting and personalization. Customer details and purchase history can drive the offer, cross-sell products and create powerful relevance through personalized text and imaging.


The Direct Marketing Association says that 79 percent of all companies have in-house e-mail lists. What are some more secrets to e-mail marketing campaigns?


The message is the medium. Literally. The subject line, the "to" and "from" are critical. An e-mail campaign's biggest hurdle is getting opened. Recipients delete much of their e-mail based on the "subject," "to" and "from" line information. Be clear and conserve space.


Most e-mail browsers don't show the entire subject line or "from" field. Optimize your space by turning the subject line "Get your Free Cincinnati Bell Widget" into "Get your Free Widget!" and use the "from" information to get "Cincinnati Bell" across. A good rule of thumb is that the subject line must say either something they can't ignore or something they can't afford not to do. You have 25 characters and two seconds to get it opened.


Make the first 10 lines count. That's the average size of an opened message on a typical PC screen or preview pane. Lead with your best what's-in-it-for-me pitch. Don't be apologetic, appreciative or otherwise squishy within this valuable real estate. Get to the point and fulfill the promise suggested in the subject line. If you can't get the whole story across in this space, make the content draw the user's eye deeper into the e-mail. Partial bullets, split pictures, animated graphics and numbered paragraphs entice the recipient to read on.


Keep it simple. Internet readers generally don't read; they scan. Keep your sentences short and sweet. Use words that pop and are interesting, but not confusing. Bulleted lists are far better than comma-separated lists to explain benefits, features or outline a process. Experience has shown that once an interesting word is found, the viewer will read around for meaning. It is important that any concept be contextually relevant within one or two lines before or after any word grouping. This is true for graphics also.


Call to action. Don't make the reader hunt for the link to respond to your offer. Scatter links throughout the text and graphics. You never know when your reader will be moved to click. Fulfill on all implied and explicit promises. An "Order Now" link should dump the user well within the ordering process. If you say FREE, then give it up. Don't make the user wade through extensive qualifications. Credibility and patience are paper-thin online. You're always just a click away from the trash.


Personalize appropriately. You engage in a personal dialogue with an individual as soon as you enter their inbox. Show throughout your message that you appreciate and respect this privilege. Give them content, graphics and subject lines that honor them and the relationship that you wish to develop with them. But remember, not all personalization is good. Account numbers and other personal details may be inappropriate content unless the information is relevant to the offer or a necessary element for their reply. If the graphics, links or content can be customized, do it. Nothing outside of face-to-face contact comes so close to one-to-one marketing.


Keep your in-house list and database up-to-date. Targeted e-mail to an in-house list gives you the most control you'll ever find over a marketing campaign. You own the list, control the frequency of contact, know the opt-in preferences and can leverage your back-end systems to target and deliver relevant content. A relationship with someone for whom you have not only an e-mail address, but a physical address, plus purchase, response, preference and complaint history is powerful.


Smart e-mail marketers know from experience how important e-mail campaigns can be to their customers: saving them time and money and showing that loyalty is recognized and rewarded. Never forget that the permission is the customer's, not yours. It is always being negotiated and can be terminated at any time.


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