Use Opt-In E-Mail to Capitalize on Your Existing Database

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When most e-tailers think of opt-in e-mail, they think of renting a list of consumers' e-mail addresses and sending out solicitations.


When done correctly to receptive consumers, this can be one of the fastest, least expensive and most effective ways to promote a company's name and products while bringing in new customers.


But in their zeal to build and expand their customer bases, many e-tailers do not take full advantage of their tried-and-true sources of business - their existing customers and prospects. Traditional marketers agree that it is far easier to sell more to existing customers than to turn cold leads into new customers.


If you have been looking for hot prospects in other companies' databases, take a look at what you already have. Opt-in e-mail is an invaluable tool that can be used to increase profitability, build customer loyalty and convert existing prospects into clients.


Start with who you know. If you had the foresight to set up a voluntary


registration page on your Web site that invites your customers and prospects to opt-in to receive messages and special offers, you already have a valuable source of critical information. This probably includes their e-mail addresses, demographics and areas of interest, among other personal information.


Opt-in e-mail can be as simple as informing past customers about an upcoming sale on items in their areas of interest, or it could be as complex as tracking customers' preferences from their online and instore credit card purchases, and then targeting the message, according to their previous buying habits.


For example, an Internet bookstore could track a customer's buying preferences and determine that he likes legal suspense novels, specifically books by John Grisham. When a new Grisham book comes out, or something similar in that genre, the customer could be notified.


Either way, customers appreciate the personal service this type of campaign provides and are more likely to remain loyal to your company.


Opt-in e-mail can also be used to get feedback. E-survey topics could include potential new products, pricing, logo designs, name changes, customer service, sales gimmicks, or anything else you want customers' opinions on. You will have to offer your clients an incentive for their participation, such as a discount on products or a free item, but Internet surveys on average produce higher response rates than traditional surveys and offer virtually immediate results.


Renting your list. Another controversial, yet often highly profitable use of an opt-in e-mail customer list is brokering it to third parties. Many companies are very interested in buying lists of users who have purchased products that may tie in with their own. For example, financial managers might market their services to those registered with an online brokerage. Travel companies might solicit those who have purchased airline tickets online. Movie theater owners may want to contact people who have visited local entertainment sites.


With the help of Internet marketing companies, list owners can generate anywhere from $2 to $5 per e-mail address in the course of a year, allowing a 100,000-name address file to bring in $200,000 to $500,000 in additional revenues for the Web site owner.


To do this legitimately though, you must first be sure to invite your customers to opt-in to receive offers from your marketing partners. This makes it a true opt-in list for your marketing partners and their products. At the same time, create a prominent link that gives customers a chance to opt out. Your privacy policy should also be updated to specify that users' information may be given to a third party.


Convert prospects. But what if your site is informational or gives away its main product? You can still use your database of opt-in prospects.


A music software company whose Web site mainly attracted users who wanted to download free music products used the opt-in list of music lovers it collected from its site to market digital MP3 players and other related products. The company already knew that this group had an interest in digital music, so it made sense to target them with products they might also want.


A database of prospects is also valuable as a quick and inexpensive way to test a variety of marketing offers. If the prospects do not respond to a 15 percent discount offer posted on your Web site, maybe they will purchase something if you offer a one-time 20 percent discount. Or maybe a 30-day free trial of your service will convert them to customers. By trying a variety of marketing messages, you will be able to zero in on the one that delivers the most conversions. The information you gather could also be applied to other forms of traditional marketing, including direct mail or print advertising.


No customers or prospects? If you do not have a database of customers or prospects and want to do e-mail marketing, you will have to rent lists while you start building your own databases. Begin by setting up a section on your Web site where users can enter information about themselves and request information from your company. This can be optional or a requirement to access anything beyond your site's first few pages and basic services. Some Internet marketers may even provide you with the software to set this up.


If you do start your database from scratch, do it right. Clearly explain what users are opting in to receive. Outline a privacy policy that explains exactly how the information will be used, both now and in the future. This will help you avoid sending e-mail to those who do not want to receive it and assure that you are sending the right e-mail messages to the right targets.


So before you scour other companies' databases for leads, take advantage of the databases you already have. It may be your most valuable means of increasing sales and expanding your customer base.


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