Niche Mailers Choose E-Mail Marketing

While hundreds of companies have succeeded in using opt-in e-mail lists to promote computers, software, magazine subscriptions, business opportunities and apparel, it's less clear what chances unknown mailers have with products that aren't exactly Internet staples. Consider one mailer who wanted to sell coal from the Titanic.

This mailer's campaign did very well — so well, in fact, that he repeated his efforts the following week, renting gift and jewelry lists to promote a replica of the heart-shaped diamond pendant from the hit movie.

Now, it might be tempting to write off that mailer's success as a fluke — after all, Titanic was the biggest box office hit in movie history. But, over the last 12 months, I've seen thousands of small mom-and-pop Web-site owners search for specialized lists to market niche products to customers who would be difficult and expensive to reach any other way.

Because e-mail marketing is quick, cheap and highly targeted, smaller mailers who have never tried direct mail or telemarketing before are now able to conduct direct marketing campaigns for the first time. Opt-in e-mail lists typically cost 15 cents to 30 cents a name ($150 to $300 CPM) and include not only the list rental fee, but also e-mail distribution and merge/purge. This is roughly one-third to one-half the price of a postal direct mail campaign. What's more, the order for an e-mail campaign is generally very low.

The good news is that e-mail marketing offers a tremendous opportunity for millions of small businesses and the list brokers and direct response agencies that serve them. The bad news is that these smaller mailers are often clueless about direct marketing and have no idea how to put together an effective offer, Web site or mail piece. And since small mailers have limited marketing budgets, an initial failure means they generally won't come back to try again.

Here are three ways to help small businesses create winning e-mail marketing campaigns the first time around:

Start small. While it's tempting to swing for the fences, small mailers — like other direct marketers — generally do better by starting small. By testing a message to, say, 5,000 names, the mailer can get some experience under his belt without blowing his entire marketing budget the first time at bat. This way, if the first campaign falls flat, he can always come back and try again. If the test succeeds, he can roll out to the rest of the list right away.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Because small mailers tend to be less sophisticated than experienced direct marketers, they often choose one highly targeted list from a single list source. A better approach is to test multiple lists from a variety of list owners. Currently, there are hundreds of legitimate e-mail lists on the market which encompass millions of e-mail addresses.

Find out who's clicking. It's impossible to know if your e-mail marketing campaign is a success if you don't track the response. Unfortunately, few small mailers have the time, money or technical know-how to effectively do that. Unlike the catalog industry where source codes and customer codes are standard, there's still no universal way to track response to an e-mail campaign. That said, small mailers need not content themselves with guesswork. One way to track response is to create separate Web pages for each list that's rented and insert the URLs of those pages into the e-mail messages sent out. Another way to tackle the problem is to outsource the response-tracking process to an e-mail lettershop that has the ability to capture the clickstream data before it reaches the mailer's site and generate a real-time report.

With the Internet population continuing to grow and more and more small business owners setting up shop on the Web, I believe that e-mail marketing will become the marketing channel of choice to drive customers to the corner cyber-store. But I also believe that these small merchants will need some help. List brokers and direct response agencies must play a leading role in making their smaller clients aware of e-mail marketing and assisting them in reaching their target market on the Net.

Rosalind Resnick is president of NetCreations Inc., a provider of opt-in e-mail marketing. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

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