The Need for Speed in Developing E-Mail Campaigns

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Most of us know the importance of speed when it comes to delivering promotional messages, whether via snail mail or e-mail. Timing often is critical in response.


I believe that e-mail response is especially sensitive to fluctuations and delays in delivery. After all, the Internet as a marketing medium thrives on its ability to deliver information quickly to those who use it. However, it's not just about how fast your message output is to your list, but in how quickly recipients receive a response to a particular action they have completed.


For example, if a prospect registers an e-mail address on your site for the first time, how do you respond? Do you: 1) Serve an immediate follow-up page after he hits "submit" that simply says, "Thank you for registering..."; 2) Send an autoresponse welcome message; 3) Both of the above; 4) None of the above.


Ideally, for obvious reasons, the tactic to employ is No. 3. However, since an immediate reaction to a registration is needed, the first two would suffice in most cases as long as the new registrant receives a confirmation of some sort. Remember that first-time registrants often are complete strangers, and the sign-up stage can be a credibility-building point. Plus, a follow-up welcome e-mail can give you the chance to enhance their interest by reiterating all the wonderful things that you have in store for them in future e-mails.


Of course, immediacy of response is about more than just keeping people interested. Often, it's about deadlines that can't be missed. For example, one seminar company regularly uses e-mail to send newsletters and reminders of upcoming events. It also offers a free workshop that acts as a lead generator for its paid seminars. The sign-up area for these events is online, and the mechanics are set up so that once someone signs up to the free workshop, he immediately receives a confirmation "ticket" along with directions to the event.


Because many of the promotions that drive people to this sign-up page take place the day before or even the day of the evening workshop, the speed at which this confirmation message is sent is vital. Due to server and provider issues, this company has experienced a few instances where the autoresponse message was delayed for several hours, thereby creating missed opportunities.


So one of the more obvious mandates for your company is to respond quickly to newly registered prospects and customers. Just as important, however, is to ensure that the initial call to action, the filling out of the form, is quick and easy as well.


Have you ever tried to complete an online registration form but were constantly delayed because you weren't filling it out to the company's exact specifications? This happens constantly with e-mail promotions and their connected splash pages. The form may not indicate required fields for you to complete, or they are unclear, so you type in only your name and e-mail address and hit "submit." An annoying pop-up appears, saying that you didn't fill in your company name, so you type that in. Then another pop-up tells you that you neglected to fill in your job title. This goes on and on until (if you're patient) you've got that entire form filled out. And marketers wonder why their conversion rates are low when their click-throughs are high.


We all want to capture as much information as possible from the onset; however, we do our campaigns a disservice by requiring prospects to fill out lengthy online forms the first time out. Keep required fields to a minimum and clearly mark them with an asterisk or colored text. Then if you must ask for other information, keep it optional. You can always gather that information later if you play your cards right.


From a marketer's perspective, it's easy to see how planning for timely responses and ease-of-use can play an integral role in a campaign's success. Many of these items are often overlooked because they are overshadowed by weightier components such as copy and offers and headlines. But they are the backbone of a solid campaign.


Technology contributes to this backbone. After all, you can pull together a plan that addresses all of the requirements just mentioned. But if your server capacity is low and 1,200 other projects are in the pipeline, all of the planning in the world won't do you a bit of good. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to list a few questions to ask either your internal IT resources or your vendor. If you're looking at new resources to handle your deployment needs, the checklist below hopefully will benefit you as well:


· How many servers are there in total? How many messages are pushed out each month? Generally, if the number is in the tens of millions, there should be at least one server for every list that is mailed in this range each month. However, there is no true benchmark because so many other factors such as bandwidth, routers, server capacity as well as size, frequency and duration of all mailings come into play.


· Is there a queue in which the campaign will reside before it deploys? Can you (the marketer) see where in the queue your mailing is at any time? If there is a queue, be sure that it doesn't hold up your campaign by more than a few hours. Less than an hour is good. No queue is, of course, ideal. There are solutions that have the ability to send multiple large campaigns simultaneously.


· How quickly are messages sent? What is the delivery rate per hour? Depending on the size of your list, your goal should be for your campaign to be completed with delivery within a two- to three-hour window. This is especially critical when testing, as test segments ideally should go out at the same time. Analyze your traffic pattern and define the real maximum that you will need.


These are all things that marketers, and not just the technology folks, need to be mindful of in order to send successful campaigns. Pay attention to them while integrating your unique campaigns with the appropriate solution, and you'll be on your way to deploying timely and easy-to-respond-to campaigns. Make it snappy, would you?


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