E-Mail Campaigns That Click

We all want to have more compelling e-mail marketing. The challenge is to find a formula that works for everyone. In offline mailing, we know there are certain truisms that work, such as list, offer and creative. E-mail is a little different.

Here are a few things about e-mail marketing that we have learned:

The list. This is unquestionably the most important characteristic. E-mail addresses deteriorate faster than offline addresses and require more hygiene. There is no standard NCOA for e-mail. While some e-mail services offer a hygiene and suppression, don't count on every company doing so.

Targeting. Just as in offline marketing, identifying the right audience segment is critical to generating a high e-mail response. By targeting wisely and not spamming, we have generated up to a 30 percent response rate.

Personalization. Every marketer knows how important this is. But doing it right is difficult. Most of today's systems do not have the ability to personalize. I don't mean just a name. A name is no big deal. I mean having the ability to embed individualized content into each e-mail. Relevancy is extremely important to the success of e-mail.

Click-through. Studies have found that you will lose 50 percent of your possible audience if they have to leave their e-mail environment. So try to keep them there as long as possible. The hyperlink is a big turnoff. However, some traditional methods work well with e-mails. A toll-free number is one successful example.

Incentive. No matter what the ultimate sales pitch, a good part of what makes a message special lies in the initial offer. The best offers tap into the core desires of the target audience.

Subject line. This is the key to getting people to open the message. People who create and spread viruses have it down pat. The message on the subject line should read like a billboard — short and with the “what's in it for me” clear and prominent.

Length of message. Short is not always better. According to some tests, longer-copy versions have generated larger responses. However, you are better off if you get your message across in the first few lines. The offer should follow immediately, leading off the second paragraph.

Timing. Some e-mail marketers have found that sending e-mails on a Friday is deadly. People tend not to act on Friday e-mails, as they are looking forward to the weekend. Then Monday is a madhouse. The best time for responsive e-mails is the middle of the week.

“P.S.: Act now.” This traditional offline approach also works well online, particularly if you are e-mailing a longer message. The P.S. should include the various ways the recipient can reach you and a restatement of the offer or an additional incentive if they do something extra.

HTML messages. Many browsers are not equipped to receive HTML or graphic-laden messages. AOL and Hotmail targets, for example, will not receive your active HTML messages. In fact, they may receive nothing at all. Check your file to see how many AOL or Hotmail clients you have before you decide to create an HTML e-mail.

HTML graphics. The use of bold, italics and underline does not work as well online as offline. Make all graphics clickable. Embed your call-to-action URL in every image in your promotion. Break up long strands of copy. There is no bigger turnoff than trying to plow through a block of copy. It's just difficult to read.

Tracking, reporting and analysis. Simply put, this step will help you define the next offer, copy and target segment. There are a variety of e-mail behaviors you can track, including how many recipients opened the message, which specific links were clicked, how many e-mails were forwarded and, naturally, how many went on to buy a product or download a white paper. Reporting is important in order to track the historical activity of your e-mails. Analysis is self-explanatory. You will want to analyze the list, the offer, the creative and the responders.

I am sure you've figured most of these out from experience. However, if you have an agency or direct marketing partners do the creative, you might remind them that there are some rules for making e-mails that click.

The following is more advanced e-mail strategies for marketers who want to understand what happened to their campaign and want to implement specialized methods of collecting information from their e-mail campaign responders.

According to Forrester Research, 250 billion e-mails will travel through cyberspace by 2002. Jupiter Media Metrix's latest study reports that e-mail ad response rates are averaging from 1 percent to 15 percent. You can see why online marketers are clamoring to jump on the e-mail bandwagon.

It's no wonder that e-mail marketing is such a hot topic. When properly planned and targeted, e-mail is the most effective, fastest and lowest-cost marketing tool available to marketers today.

The benefits don't stop there. E-mail is also quickly becoming an all-around customer relationship device because of its ability to process transactions and handle everyday issues such as customer service, inquiries and feedback. E-mail does this faster, keeps the customer or prospect engaged longer and increases responsiveness because e-mail customers are less likely to forget why they contacted the company in the first place.

All these abilities are making e-mail much more powerful than traditional offline customer relations methods.

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