Column: Key Questions for E-Mail Marketing

Before integrating an e-mail campaign into a marketing communications plan, you should consider the following questions:

What do you want to accomplish? An e-mail campaign is a strategic technique for positioning a company as efficient, sophisticated and technology savvy. For a company trying to position itself as a key player in the technology industry, e-mail marketing is an excellent way to reach a very targeted audience. For a company looking to make a personal connection with potential customers, or trying to reach an audience without computer capabilities, e-mail marketing is not recommended.

Who are you trying to reach? Is your audience computer savvy? Do they have regular computer access? Research the demographics of your audience and understand their e-mail behavior. If your recipients receive hundreds of e-mail messages daily, they may not be as likely to respond as someone who receives only a handful of messages each week.

Do you have the right database? The best e-mail campaign in the world will not accomplish anything if you do not reach the right people. While the most reliable database is usually one you compile yourself, when starting from scratch companies often purchase existing databases. When purchasing a database, make sure to ask:

• When was the database last verified?

• Have all the people in the database agreed to receive messages? If the database includes people who have not selected to participate in these mailings, your message is considered spam.

• What is the pedigree of the database? Certain resources create more reliable databases than others. Some of the best databases come from traditional business publishers that provide print magazine subscriber information, including e-mail addresses. Only purchase from a source with a history of publishing reliable databases.

• How much does it cost? A more expensive price typically reflects more research, accuracy and a more comprehensive database.

Whether you compile the database or purchase it from a third party, it is crucial to cleanse the database to make sure it is accurate. Call and confirm information and test e-mail addresses by sending test messages to every 10th person.

Who should write the e-mail? An e-mail message is an art form and should be handled by a professional copywriter. The message is critical to the response. A good copywriter can portray your message in a most compelling way, using few words.

How do you get recipients to read the e-mail? A powerful subject line is the most important part of your e-mail. Potential customers may get hundreds of e-mails every day. Not unlike traditional direct mailing, the first challenge is getting people to open your message. The subject line should be limited to three or four words and should engage the recipient to open your message to learn more.

How long should the e-mail be? As short as possible. Think of e-mail as a tool to move interested customers to more information. Your e-mail should hook potential customers and motivate them to want more information. Keep the copy limited to one page. Chances are if you do not grab your audience in the first few sentences, they will not bother to scroll down.

What should the e-mail say? E-mail marketing rarely generates a sale. Rather, it is a tool that moves customers through the sales process. The e-mail is an enabler, so provide recipients with the most important and basic information. Grab their attention and provide an incentive or a call to action with a link to a micro site or to additional information.

Is there a way to know the likelihood that your e-mail will be effective? While there is no guarantee, it is often helpful to test e-mail before the final distribution. Test panels that parallel the demographics of your database can provide insight into your final distribution. Focus groups and one-on-one interviews are useful for determining tactics that are effective within your target market.

While there is no way to guarantee whether a campaign will succeed, research is often an early indicator of your final program results.

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