Use E-Mail Communications Wisely

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E-mail is fast becoming one of the most popular weapons in marketers' arsenals around the world. According to a study released by Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, MA, e-mail marketing managers plan to triple e-mail spending by 2004, creating a $4.8 billion industry.


However, don't get caught up in the frenzy and start zipping off e-mails haphazardly just because your customers have given you their e-mail addresses. Be wise. Keep the following guidelines in mind before you send a single message and you're bound to achieve success:


Get permission from your customers/prospects. Before conducting an e-mail campaign, be sure people have opted in to receive e-mail. Industry statistics show that consumers who opt-in buy five to seven times more frequently than those who visit your site anonymously.


How do you get them to opt in? Include a form on your site where they can join your mailing list. Tell them what type of information you'll be sending, such as product updates, informative newsletters or coupons), and ask for their permission to send it.


Don't overdo your e-mails. Even if your customers have given you permission by opting in, they don't want to be overwhelmed with constant messages. Don't send them e-mails daily.


Dan Murray, e-mail marketing strategist for MessageMedia, said that sending once a month or several times a month is probably the limit. More than that and customers will start thinking you're spamming them. Send them a message only when you have something worthwhile to share.


Give careful thought to the content of your messages.. Make sure your e-mail benefits customers by providing valuable content. According to a survey conducted by e-BuyersGuide.com, the e-mail offers consumers respond to the most are special discount promotions, 72 percent; free shipping, 63 percent; coupons, 58 percent; and rewards or points programs, 49 percent.


Murray explains that it doesn't always have to be a promotional message. "People appreciate informative messages (i.e. newsletters) that share tips and guidelines on topics of interest. Informative content lures customers to your newsletter, they anticipate its arrival and refer their colleagues to it. That means more customers for you."


Start with a compelling or personal subject line. If this line sounds like another spam from someone your customers don't know, if it doesn't spark their interest, they'll erase your message before even reading what you have to say.


That's why Murray says although "Free" is one of direct marketing's most valuable words, you should avoid using it in your subject line. Instead, consider using "A special offer from ABC Company."


Remind recipients that they gave you permission to e-mail them. Start the message off with something like "You're receiving this message because you signed up on our list."


Personalize your message. In direct mail, packages that read "Dear Mary" are more effective than those that start off with "Dear Friend." The same holds true for e-mail. For the best results, insert the first name of your customer in your e-mail greeting.


Get to the point. Don't make your message several pages long (e-mail newsletters are the exception). Convey your message quickly, in two to three paragraphs or the equivalent of approximately one screen. Give customers benefits and always provide a call to action.


It may sound obvious, but tell them what you want them to do. Are they supposed to reply to your e-mail with a "yes," sign up for an event, subscribe to your newsletter?


If your goal is to have them click through to your Web site, start with a brief paragraph and a link to your URL, then another paragraph with another link. Remind them to "click here." Make it easy for people to respond.


Choose your time wisely. If your own e-mail inbox is any indicator, you probably have many messages waiting when you log on first thing in the morning. Such is the case for those people on your e-mail list. Therefore, send your messages later in the day.


Track your response. One of the great benefits of e-mail is that it's a trackable medium. You can quickly account for who responded, when they did, and what they purchased. You quickly know whether your campaign was cost-effective and profitable which, in turn, helps you plan future marketing efforts.


Murray of MessageMedia says that approximately 80 percent of the response to an e-mail offer is received within the first 48 hours. Providing customers with a link to a dedicated URL (an HTML page) designed for your specific e-mail offer allows you to track responses accordingly.


Respond to customers' inquiries and questions. Anticipate your response ahead of time. If you've begun to develop a rather large e-mail list, you may get hundreds of replies, messages about invalid e-mails, questions, and more. Be prepared to handle them with either personnel or technology.


Get back to customers within 24 hours or you'll have disappointed customers. Which, in turn, may eventually convert into lost customers who want to opt-out.


If customers ask to be removed from your list, remove them. Derek Scruggs, MessageMedia's Permission Advocate, writes "Always honor users requests to opt out." He goes on to explain that you should "make it a simple process and include a Web site URL in every message that allows the user to opt-out."


If you read about e-mail marketing, you'll find that many of these guidelines are mentioned. They are quickly becoming the standard among professionals in the industry. Therefore, your best weapon for e-mail success is to stay informed.


Read as much as you can and, as with every direct marketing vehicle, test, test, test. The beauty of this medium is that you can test ideas quickly and change content accordingly as results come in.


Take advantage of it. Put the latest weapon into your marketing arsenal today and use it wisely.
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