Tips for Effective E-Mail Marketing

To be a marketer today, it is essential to consider e-mail marketing. First, it is more immediate; and second, the return on investment is generally higher than with traditional direct marketing. However, many marketers run into trouble because they make the false assumption that they can use the same techniques they use in direct marketing.

Believe it or not, some people like receiving e-mail from marketers. Some consumers gobble the stuff up. And when they do, businesses — not just Hormel Foods (the makers of Spam) — cash in. Our experience has confirmed one absolute truth: E-mail messages that are relevant and timely get a response.

Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, estimates that the e-mail marketing industry will reach $4.8 billion by 2004 as marketers send more than 200 billion e-mails. How many of those e-mails will encourage new or repeat business? That depends on the content, timeliness and new technological delivery of e-mail messages for the future.

As e-mail matures, consumers are changing the way they view their e-mail. E-mail had tremendous appeal with consumers early on. Now, we are seeing that the longer users have been online, the faster they lose interest in e-mail promotions. As time goes on, users find promotional e-mails less relevant.

This is particularly interesting because most of the time e-mails are being sent to people who asked for them in the first place.

So how do you develop e-mails that work? Here are the top 10 tips for creating effective promotional e-mails.

· Make the e-mails relevant to customers' interests.

· Ask permission to continue to e-mail on each communication. Customers absolutely expect you to do this. When you send several e-mails to the same person that have no purpose or relevance, the customer starts to ignore them, and your messages become spam.

· Make the e-mail as personalized as possible. This means you must have strong customer data. You must know what types of products your customers are responding to in order to tailor the e-mails to their desires.

· Drive prospects to a microsite where you can personalize their entire experience, ask additional questions, deliver content dynamically and retain the information the visitors provide to be used at another time.

· Put short messages in the subject line so recipients do not have to open it to read the note. The message line should be regarded as a billboard; it must be catchy and arresting to capture the recipient's attention.

· Use graphics and attachments sparingly. Let your e-mail target request them. Generally, recipients consider these to be annoying. Also, many consumers' systems lack the software to open them.

· HTML messages are graphically more arresting. But use only small graphic files of less than 30K. Otherwise, the recipient may have to wait for the file to open or download, causing him to get annoyed.

· Before sending HTML, try to determine whether the recipient has HTML access. Many companies do not have software capable of identifying HTML vs. text-only. HTML messages have higher impact and generally engage the recipient longer.

· The first paragraph of the e-mail must get to the point quickly. Define what's in it for the recipient. Spell out the value proposition and the benefit of reading the message. Remember, many people scan the first paragraph in the e-mail preview window.

· Don't treat e-mail like electronic direct marketing. E-mail allows much more of a conversation between the marketer and customers. It is more personal. E-mail opens a channel between the marketer and customers. The customers are asking to be in the conversation with the marketer.

The good news is that more people than ever depend on e-mail. An example is business employees' growing reliance on e-mail for daily work and personal communication. Workers polled this year by market researcher Gartner spent an average of 49 minutes a day on e-mail. This is 30 percent to 35 percent more time than a year ago. Ferris Research estimates that management-level workers will spend four hours a day on e-mail by 2002.

The bad news is this means stiffer competition for each customer's time. Not only is the average online user wading through 2,052 e-mails this year, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, but many are also battling an overload of instant messages, spreadsheets and Web pages, not to mention old-fashioned phone calls and snail mail.

The mass of e-mail sent by individuals is 500 times larger than the entire collection of Web pages. With all this communication, if you are using e-mail as a marketing tool, it must be unique and timely. We are seeing e-mail responsiveness dropping to levels of “junk mail” marketing.

Take the time to create e-mails that are strategic and personal, and you can still get the 15 percent to 20 percent response rate and lower your marketing or operational costs.

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