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E-Mail as an Effective Marketing Tool

By Steve Emory

We have all received obscure e-mail messages that tell you how you can earn a college degree at no cost, make thousands of dollars a day while working from home, search for long-lost relatives, spy on your significant other and lose 10 pounds a week.

Yes, this is a reference to spam, one of the ugly stepchildren of the great Internet.

Organizations are struggling to figure out how to use e-mail to reach their target audiences while distinguishing themselves from spammers. According to Jupiter Communications, 65 percent of companies are spending only 1 percent to 5 percent of their marketing budgets on e-mail campaigns, and an additional 22 percent are spending more than 5 percent.

There are many reasons e-mail marketing is effective, but there are critical steps companies should take to easily and inexpensively implement successful permission e-mail campaigns.

According to a May report from Jupiter, the commercial e-mail market is expected to reach $7.3 billion by 2003, thus decreasing direct mail revenues 13 percent. The reasons cited for such an increase from $164 million in 1999 include quick time-to-market and strong return on investment.

Factor in the $7.3 billion figure with Forrester Research’s prediction that the number of e-mail messages will increase from 3 billion in 2000 to 250 billion in 2002 and you see that businesses have room to expand their e-mail-based communication.

With e-mail communication, marketers are able to control which messages consumers see and when they see them. It is crucial that marketers build a relationship with customers before the use of e-mail reaches overload mode. Marketers also cannot ignore that e-mail costs pennies per message as opposed to five times more with direct mail and as much as 20 times more with Web banner advertising. Those marketers who have cultivated relationships through permission (opt-in) e-mail will continue to enjoy significant ROI, while marketers who do not employ e-mail marketing now will face an experience gap that will be difficult to overcome.

One of the first steps organizations should take in developing and implementing a permission e-mail campaign is strategic planning, which ties in to integrated marketing efforts. Marketers should set their objectives in detail and rank them by priority. They also need to determine their customers’ business profile and motivation, which will provide a foundation for the message. Even more important, organizations need to review their current and previous online and offline marketing efforts and their results.

Next, marketers have to set up their e-mail database, then enhance and segment the data. This e-mail database needs to be linked to the organizations’ customer service/telemarketing representatives. The e-mail list also must be as accurate as possible, which can be done through syntax checking, domain name verification, address de-duplication, merge/purge and postal comparison.

As the e-mail database is being refined, marketers must develop Internet and offline advertising promotions to solicit permission to use their customer e-mail addresses and engage them in proactive e-mail dialogue.

Third, marketers need to build a customer contact management strategy to sustain a continuous dialogue. This involves creating messages embedded with source codes that can be tracked and measured through a Web site, reporting on messages delivered and undelivered.

Most important, e-mail marketers must install software to help automate and manage customer expectations for fast (customer service) response to their e-mail, including questions about your e-mails and unsubscribers. It is also necessary to implement browser detection of HTML vs. plain text format compatibility because only about 40 percent of U.S. households are able to click open and view HTML format images. Marketers also can compile and develop relevant e-mail content for a customer e-zine or newsletter, which can deliver rewards in customer retention.

Establishing efficient e-mail management processes is worthless without effective and creative message delivery because consumers are being forced to filter more and more e-mail messages. Marketers have to carefully develop each section of a customized e-mail message, ensuring that it best reflects the brand and overall strategy. The proper media/text format must be determined, as well as the incorporation of appropriate graphics, audio and video streaming, e-commerce and hyperlinks to Web pages. Marketers also cannot overlook their privacy statement and e-mail transmission security, which is an increasingly important element in Internet-related marketing.

Finally, an e-mail marketing campaign has to be continually managed. This means that “undeliverables” have to be processed, flames (irate customers) need to be filtered, responses must be tracked and customer files have to be updated. Furthermore, marketers must maintain the continuity of e-mail contact after the “e-relationship” is established.

A study sponsored by a subsidiary of the Direct Marketing Association states, “E-mail marketing targeted to prospects or existing customers who have consented to receive marketers’ information is one of the most cost-effective tools marketers have ever known.” By taking into consideration the above steps, permission-based e-mail marketing campaigns are destined for success. Organizations will therefore solidify relationships with existing customers and reach out to new ones rather than prompt the click of the delete button.

Steve Emory is founder and CEO of NetworkDirect, which recently launched a new division, EagleEmail.

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