Don't Stymie Your E-Mail Plans

Many companies want to make the leap from direct marketing to direct e-mail marketing. They know that a customer database that includes e-mail addresses opens a new customer communication channel, paving the way for campaigns such as subscription renewals, software upgrades and cross-selling executed at Internet speeds.

Unfortunately, many direct marketers find their progress slowed by either a lack of e-mail address information on their customers or because they made fundamental mistakes compiling their e-mail address databases.

The quickest way to fill your e-mail address gap is to incorporate e-mail addresses into existing methods of gathering customer information.

Wherever you ask for a customer postal address or telephone number, capture the e-mail address, for example, on registration/warranty cards, coupons, customer surveys, reader response cards, your corporate Web site, order/renewal forms, during telephone orders and support calls. Also, add e-mail to your order-processing and call-tracking screens.

Be sure to store e-mail addresses in your current database. Adding e-mail addresses to existing client profiles creates a unified picture of the customer, including their direct mail, direct e-mail, telemarketing and order history.

Don't spam. E-mail campaigns will be well received if your company initiates a responsible and ethical respect for your customers' e-mail addresses. Give customers the option to withhold their names from being released or rented to third parties. Use a request such as, “From time to time we make our list of customers available to other companies offering high-quality products and services. If you do not wish your name or e-mail address to be released, please check here.”

Be aware of the technical requirements for collecting e-mail addresses. While a successful e-mail campaign depends primarily on the list, offer and creative, its delivery relies on correct e-mail addresses. Unlike mailing addresses, a single typo can render an e-mail worthless. Attention to detail is a must.

Do not allow your database firm to translate e-mail input files into all upper-case letters. The local part (to the left of the @ symbol) of an e-mail address is case-sensitive. For example, [email protected] is not necessarily equivalent to [email protected]

Another error that could potentially cripple your e-mail communication is truncating e-mail addresses because of limited space on a database. E-mail addresses require the entire address to be valid. For the maximum e-mail campaigning success, allow for at least 35 characters. I recommend 64.

One coveted feature of the direct e-mail marketing medium is that some software programs, such as Netscape Mail and Microsoft Outlook, can receive e-mail that looks like a fully featured Web page. Manipulating this feature for maximum impact can make the difference between an ordinary campaign and an explosive one.

Find out which of your customers read their e-mail using HTML-enabled software. As you collect your customers' e-mail addresses, ask them, “What software are you using to read your e-mail?” Then you can send these customers an HTML version of your message letting them take full advantage of their software and consequently, boost response.

If your business is based on renewals, upgrades and cross-selling, direct e-mail can be a boon to your bottom line. Direct e-mail can slash the time and expense of a direct marketing cycle and help bring in next quarter's revenue now. But you can't take advantage of these benefits if you don't collect the addresses correctly.

Tom Klenke is president of eClass Direct, Half Moon Bay, CA, a direct e-mail service bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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