E-Mail From Concept to Distribution

E-mail marketing programs are getting great exposure these days, and deservedly so. The medium can help marketers target their customers faster, more precisely and economically than any other direct marketing channel.

Many are still slow to dip their toes into the water, however, for fear of what lurks in the dark corners of the Internet.

That fear is unfounded. As e-commerce becomes more prevalent within the business world, it’s evident that the e-marketing side of the equation will catch up. Moreover, when it does, the adage, “The first to market wins,” will prevail again.

So how do you navigate these uncharted waters? First, get your feet wet. Set up test programs. The initial tests should be focused on functionality and design. Test within your organization to get a grasp on how things flow and be certain the format is consistent on computers with different e-mail applications and browsers. You need to know now what your entire audience is experiencing, which will help avoid serious problems down the road.

As you create various test formats, the same offline DM basics apply. Test, sample, track (and repeat). There are several items you should test, including A/B format, testing subject lines and HTML vs. text only. Before testing, however, there are three major components you need to plan: copy, timing and tracking.

Developing the Copy

View the subject line in your e-mail message as your digital teaser copy. There is no formula for success here. Some marketers prefer personalization in the subject line while others believe citing offers works best to grab attention.

Whatever you choose, be creative. One company achieved a 10 percent increase in opened e-mail by using the recipient’s first and last name in the subject line. Another company tested an e-mail version with and without “save” in the subject line. The latter did significantly better.

Online users tend to be more skeptical than traditional audiences. One particular company seemed to step over the line between embellishing and exaggerating a product. The recipients questioned statements the company made. As a result, it received a significant number of negative e-mails questioning the truthfulness of the claims. Not only did the marketers have to repair the company image, they inadvertently created a customer service nightmare as well.

One technique that does not translate from traditional print DM to digital is copy length. While longer text often outperforms shorter copy in traditional direct mail, that is not the case with e-mails. Keep them short and keep the details above the fold or scroll line of the e-mail. In that space, list the benefits, provide call to action and site the hyperlink.

You should offer details below the fold, but you’ve probably already lost recipients if they have to scroll to get to the heart of the promotion. Include your hyperlink three times in the copy. Keep only one above the fold with the other two spread throughout the e-mail.

Timing the Distribution

The best time for business-to-business e-mail distribution is Tuesday through Thursday. Monday, your customers put out fires. Friday, they are finishing up for the week. The weekend is when most consumers have time to get online for personal needs.

Some companies send e-mails to consumers on Thursday and Friday, hoping to get ahead of weekend competitors. However, test this strategy as your message could end up under a sea of other e-mails. If you precede the rest of the recipient’s e-mails, there could be a wait before they get to yours.

Determining how often to send an e-mail depends on whether you own the list or rent. If it is your list and you are certain the targeting is relevant, test until you find the magic number. The objective is to get your audience to respond to who you are, not just what you offer.

After awhile, they should become comfortable with you and the return address they see in their e-mail inbox. If you’re renting a list, understand that it may take a couple of executions to grab attention.

An online computer company recently rented a list of online shoppers. To get the response rates needed to justify the ROI; it had to return to them three times before ending the promotion. The initial ROI was 48 percent, followed by cumulative returns of 75 percent and 118 percent.

Tracking Response

How can you determine the number of recipients who opened your e-mail? If it’s text with a hyperlink, you can include some programming that will keep count of the number of e-mails that were opened. You will not have that feature for text, but you will be able to see how many clicked on your hyperlink. (This holds true for text e-mails as well.)

Site tracking software can tell you how many visits there were to every page. A visit is when an individual comes to your site and navigates within it. Hits are the number of files accessed on your Web site. The same person could move back and forth between two pages on your site with each click appearing as a hit.

If you create a separate URL for recipients to hyperlink, you can count the number of visits from each individual e-mail promotion. For direct tracking of sales, set up a separate 800 number and fax number. By using a separate telephone system for orders, a catalog marketer discovered its e-mail promotions accounted for 20 percent of its offline sales.

Once you’ve developed your copy and outlined your strategy, it’s time to test. As with traditional direct marketing, it’s often not difficult to execute a simple, one-time offer to a targeted list inhouse. If you’re planning to launch an entire e-mail marketing campaign, it’s safer and smarter to go outside of the company to the experts. Nevertheless, before you select an Internet direct marketing company to dive into your marketing program, make sure it’s qualified.

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