It’s important not to annoy with e-mail

Quick, a show of hands: How many of you recommend using e-mail to market to business-to-business prospects and customers? I suspect there are plenty of hands now in the air. According to a DMA “Power of Direct” study, the ROI for commercial e-mail marketing averages $45.65. The ROI for all commercial non-e-mail-related online marketing is less than half of that — only $20.19.

Clearly, e-mail is profitable, and it works. But how many people really like receiving e-mail from marketers when they are at work? Not many, I believe.

And that’s the dilemma. We have a hard working, effi­cient medium that also has the power to annoy. Today’s inboxes are quickly filling up, and patience is wearing thin. According to Forrester Research, eight out of 10 broadband users delete most commercial e-mail without reading it. Six out of 10 say most e-mail offers nothing of interest. Once users are trained to expect uselessness, they stop paying attention.

Forrester predicts e-mail volume will reach 838 billion messages by 2013, thanks to wider adoption by smaller companies, more aggressive tactics by current users, lower costs from service providers and the “green” trend.

And, people like e-mail — a Merkle Quris survey reported a growing interest in and willingness for e-mail to replace many traditional direct mail functions.

E-mail will remain an essential medium for business-oriented communications. To make it work effectively, use your company name and/or a real name in the “from” field. Personalize and customize content as much as possible. Segment e-mail content so that recipients get information that most interests them — if you don’t know what interests them, ask. Include interaction, like polls or quizzes. Offer reports and whitepapers. Keep messages short, simple and focused. A text-heavy appearance is deadly.

The ideal frequency of e-mail contact with customers is to communicate as often as you have relevant information to share. In some cases, it makes sense to ask customers how often they’d like to hear from you.

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