Make the Most of Your E-Mail Program

Any direct marketer worth his or her response rate has to be giddy about e-mail. When used properly, e-mail can be one of your most potent marketing tools. In fact, at the moment, it may be the tool with the broadest impact for many enterprises.

Whether you want to drive traffic to your Web site, generate leads or spur sales, e-mail delivers a one-to-one medium for developing a dialogue with customers.

As marketers, we may sometimes view the Web as the center of the e-marketplace. But 84 percent of its users rate e-mail as the No. 1 “indispensable Internet technology.” Many of the basic rules of direct marketing apply to e-mail marketing, with just a twist of personalization. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of the etiquette:

Offer something of value. The importance of the value proposition may seem obvious but it can get lost in the shuffle. This axiom applies to both ads and editorial. On the advertising side, my company recently wrote an e-mail for an online clothing retailer offering a “FREE SILK NECKTIE!” The ad pulled extremely well. Why? An extremely strong offer gave it jet propulsion. Offer not only value but also the perception of high value through words and reality.

Avoid spam. Probably the most infamous term in e-mailese. Sounds just like its effect on prospective clients – they don’t like it. To legitimize your e-mailing, have a legitimate business reason to write.

Build and use your house list. The bottom line is that people who know you are likely to feel good about hearing from you. Your house list represents people who know your business and care about you or it. Do what you must to get their e-mail addresses and then brainstorm what they most would like to know about your field and your firm.

One smart tactic: hire someone to work for a few weeks on calling your top 300 customers or contacts just to ask for e-mail addresses. Offer something of value in return. Especially treat friends well (sometimes the obvious must be said.)

Consider opt-in lists. These may cost more than generic e-mail addresses, but unwanted e-mails could paint your company or product as a bad guy. The cost in good PR is priceless.

Personalize. Personalized e-mail, when done properly, can lead to long-lasting and loyal client relationships. Personalized e-mail serves as a periodic, ethereal Post-it note reminding clients of your company, your product or even to visit your Web site. And, please, don’t forget to write back. Your mother told you to thank people for presents. People deserve an individual answer. If the response numbers become too high for your firm, you can resort to auto responders as many companies do. But do all you can to preserve the personal touch.

Measure. Measuring the marketing performance of e-mail is quite simple. Sales and sign-ups (or removes) are your measurements. And results are almost immediate. A 5 percent response to an e-mail ad is considered the norm.

Call for action. Don’t forget to include a call to action. The best strategy seems to be a specific URL – direct prospects to where you want them to go. Remember that e-mail is a sales vehicle. Use it to drive customers to your product destination, your Web site. Examples of personalized e-mail I like: CDnow customizes its e-mail messages with news about the latest releases in the musical category that interests the recipient. As an example, if new rock is your thing, then you’ll get all the information you need on female rocker Meredith Brooks’ latest CD “Deconstruction.”

Likewise, puts a personal spin on its e-mail newsletter with information on what’s ailing you. Its e-mail is personalized by area of health interest, adding intrinsic value to the message. A recent e-mail addressed an upcoming chat on chronic pain syndrome, of definite interest to a sufferer of the condition.

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