Getting Results in an Oversaturated Market

Whether you are an e-mail marketing veteran or just a beginner, you may have a tough time reaching consumers this year.

A steady rise in the number of e-mail marketing campaigns and exponential increases in the amount of e-mail in general mean competition for users will be fierce.

E-mail marketing is still one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to reach a very targeted audience. Once a simple technique whose novelty alone set it apart, today e-mail marketing is a sophisticated science with definite rules on how to get noticed.

Until Sept. 11, online marketing was growing steadily. Understandably, all direct mail campaigns virtually ceased for several weeks after the attacks. Then came the anthrax scares.

Desperate to keep their products in front of consumers, many traditional direct marketers turned to e-mail for the first time to get their messages out. Subsequently, the number of e-mail marketing campaigns skyrocketed nearly 50 percent, according to some surveys.

So how does a company get noticed when so many marketers are vying for the same users and the medium is at an all-time high for general business communications?

For starters, take a very close look at the list(s) you use. Choosing the list is probably the most critical aspect of a successful campaign, yet marketers often do not give this step the time it deserves.

In the early days of e-mail marketing, marketers simply targeted e-mail users who showed an interest in topics related to their products or services and sent a simple text message. With the increasing number of e-mail campaigns, marketers must consider the level of saturation of the list they choose.

It does not matter how good your message is. If it is not sent to a responsive audience that is interested in what you have to offer, you are wasting your time. Here are some tips to help you choose the most responsive list:

Choose as targeted a list as possible. Remember to consider not only who uses your products or services, but also how likely they are to buy something online. General lists of users will be the most saturated. Companies that narrow their focus will have less competition for customers and, therefore, less of a threat of receiving lists containing overmarketed users. Also, choose a list provider that limits the number of times a list is mailed each week. A reasonable number would be no more than three to four times per week.

If you use a general list, inquire about the company's policy on nonbuyers. Look for a company that drops the name of a person from a list if he does not open five offers over a 30-day period.

Test market a portion of a list. Or test portions of several lists before sending out an entire campaign. If there are several undeliverables or repeat names, test market another list until you find one with better results. But choosing the right list will carry a campaign only so far. In a market with many companies vying for the same consumers, it also will be critical for companies to devise enticing e-mail offers and present them in unique, eye-catching ways. If you have a great campaign, you will not have to worry as much about the competition.

The following are some suggestions for getting your e-mail opened and getting the user to complete the desired action:

Subject line. The importance of the subject line cannot be overstated. An enticing subject line draws buyers in and keeps them from deleting the message without opening it. Subject lines that feature a free offer or include a familiar source/topic have a much better chance of being opened.

Message body. E-mail messages can be deleted in an instant, so short, direct messages are best. Most e-mails are read top to bottom, so lead with what is in it for the consumer.

The call to action for the bottom. Do not clutter the offer with a lot of details. Include enough information to pre-qualify the prospect. Save the rest of the details for the Web site.

Enhanced messages. Consider streaming video or music to make your message stand out. This is especially true if selling a visual product or service such as cable television, a car or a soundtrack. Keep the load time to less than 10 seconds for the most basic computers. Most consumers will not wait longer than that for a sales message to open.

No attachments. Do not include an attachment with your sales message. Most people do not want to take the time to download it or they fear it might contain a virus.

Consistency. If you send regular updates to the same list, keep the design consistent. This enables regular users to quickly find the information they are looking for and respond accordingly.

It was only a matter of time before e-mail marketing gained acceptance as a mainstream marketing tool. All of its innate advantages — the ability to directly target specific demographics, speed, cost-effectiveness and sophisticated tracking — make it too good to have remained a secret.

As with any marketing medium, though, for those willing to research their lists and come up with an attractively packaged, enticing offer, there will always be plenty of responsive customers.

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