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New Challenges to E-Mail Marketing

E-mail makes it easy to target different segments; it’s more personalized than regular online advertising; and the potential for a strong ROI is greater because of inexpensive production costs.

However, as with every online trend, e-mail marketing already has reached its saturation point. DoubleClick reported that the volume of e-mail consumers received rose 60 percent from 2001 to 2002, and Gartner expects that amount to triple by 2005.

People are tuning out most e-mail, even the ones they opted into. Sixty percent say they delete most e-mail without reading it. Also, ISPs are boosting efforts to block spam, making it tougher for messages from legitimate marketers to reach their audience.

Here are five basic dos and don’ts to keep you on track:

Do provide something of value. To prevent spam, ISPs increasingly are adopting “trusted source” policies in which their customers will have to add a vendor to their personal address book in order to receive e-mail from them. For that reason, marketers will be pressured to provide something of value in e-mails, not just sales pitches or empty marketing messages.

· Provide tips on the best way to use your product.

· Allow a feedback mechanism so people can get customer service easily and feel they can have a genuine dialogue with you.

· If your recipients have an account with you, give updated and personalized information on how to make the most of it. For example, an airline should provide the latest frequent-flier mileage balance as well as specific offers available to that customer.

· If you can build a profile page that lets recipients choose topics of interest, plus their preferred format and frequency of communications from you, your customers will appreciate your efforts to put them in control. The profile page also provides an opportunity to encourage them to add you to their personal address book to overcome the ISP’s trusted-source policies.

· In all cases, ensure your e-mails are well written, to the point and focused on the recipient (what benefits “you” will get, not the great things “we’ve” done lately).

Don’t include text hyperlinks, do include URLs. Though placing hyperlinks in an HTML or rich-text e-mail is an effective way to drive prospects to a site, sometimes the links do not work, leaving recipients with no way to respond.

For this reason, you should always consider creating an online version of your e-mail and placing the URL in the e-mail, preferably at the top, so recipients can cut and paste it in a Web browser if they are having difficulty viewing your message or clicking on the hyperlinks.

Do design for the preview pane. People don’t read e-mails; they scan them. Yet how many e-mails read like they’re the sequel to “War and Peace”?

Whether you’re sending HTML or text e-mails, design them for the preview pane, which is 374 pixels (about 5 inches) in an Outlook window. This postcard approach also works for Web-based e-mail, like Yahoo Mail or Hotmail, because it keeps the message and call to action up top, making it easy for people to understand the message when scanning it.

Usual Web design best practices such as the use of sans-serif fonts (Arial, Verdana), small file-size images and bullet-pointed copy lines apply for e-mail as well.

Don’t use rich media. Though it’s tempting to use cool rich media technologies like Flash or streaming video to make e-mails stand out, e-mail is still a low-tech technology. More than 65 percent of personal e-mail accounts (AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo) do not display rich media appropriately, according to a recently published Jupiter Research report. And companies routinely strip out the Java script required to send a rich media e-mail to prevent the transmission of viruses, leaving the recipient with a blank message.

In 2002, eMarketer published a study in which only 3 percent of consumers said they prefer rich media, while 62 percent preferred text. Yet in the previous holiday season, 61 percent of marketing messages sent were HTML and 5 percent used rich media.

Do carefully craft your sender and subject lines. An e-mail’s sender and subject lines are equivalent to a direct mail piece’s envelope, and should be crafted with the same designer’s touch.

Create an identifiable sender line: the more specific, the better. Instead of sending something from “Acme Widgets,” consider identifying a specific department or program such as “Acme Customer Service.”

Make your subject line short and snappy – ideally, no longer than five words or 45 characters. Again, the more specific, the better. “Save $100 on a Widget X900” is better than “Special Widget Offer from Acme.”

Beware of spam-filter trigger words, not only in the subject line but also in the non-graphical body text. Different mail clients use different trigger word lists so you can never be sure which ones will trigger them. Steer clear of commonly used sales terms like “free,” “new” and “special offer.”

E-mail still can be an effective marketing technique. But with so many obstacles, the only way to ensure it succeeds is to provide your audience with exactly what they want to see in their in-box in a user-friendly manner.

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