The Art of Business: Effective E-mail Marketing

Whether you’re working on an e-mail campaign for your own marketing purposes or helping clients pull together a broad marketing effort that includes an e-mail component, it helps to understand which e-mail strategies that are working — and failing — today.

More than 70 percent of consumers say they receive too many e-mail offers — an average of 110 messages per week, according to Forrester Research. (How terribly bored the remaining 30 percent must be.)

Apres Mail, Le Deluge
The problem is not only the barrage of e-mails, but also the messages they contain; Two thirds of consumers say that most of the e-mails they receive don’t offer anything that interests them. It’s a condition that leads to, at best, mild annoyance and, at worst, an acute disrespect for anything that even smells like spam.

In this new environment of e-mail overload, Forrester has pulled together a number of e-mail best practices established by companies that are successfully running e-mail campaigns without alienating their clients. The list includes, Nine West, The Economist, Procter & Gamble, and others.

Craft of Nine Mails
If you’re a marketer (and who isn’t) or you’re working on a marketing campaign that includes e-mail, these are best practices worth incorporating.


  • Think service, not marketing.


      Paper-based direct marketing was relatively expensive, so marketers had no choice but to use the medium to hard-sell products and judge success on immediate response. E-mail is relatively cheap, so there’s no need to use it for the hard sell. Instead, think of e-mail as a way to service clients, enhance relationships, or tease them into interacting with you.

Wells Fargo

    , for example, takes a service-oriented approach with its refinancing business by sending out alerts only when rates hit a level set by the subscriber.


  • Customize, customize, customize.

What exactly is spam? It’s any e-mail message that the recipient deems uninteresting or irrelevant — regardless of who sent it. If you must send an e-mail blast to a list, take the time to customize your content as best as possible by relying on known consumer traits and preferences (don’t sell snowshoes to Hawaiians) gleaned from Web site preferences or other online or offline data that may be available. E-mail may be a cheap form of communication, but it’s expensive if you’re alienating clients or customers.



  • Offer user control.

The best type of customization is self-customization. Offer recipients their choice of content and frequency. Provide a link, either in an initial e-mail or on a Web site, that allows recipients to check off topics of interest for future emails. Offer a number of content and frequency opt-in options, such as the seven choices The Motley Fool offers visitors that range from “Investing Basics” to “Investing Strategies.” It isn’t spam if the recipient volunteers.



  • Demonstrate value not information.

Whether it’s a massive blast or a one-to-one opt-in, recipients are looking for value not information. You first priority is to avoid giving consumers a reason to delete your message or offer. For example, here’s a typical opt-in offer: “Get the latest product info and special offers.” A better opt-in offer would be: “Click here for product support, tips & tricks, projects, and special offers,” supported by a sample that visitors can inspect before they opt in. Before hitting the send button, always ask yourself, “Does this message contain value for the recipients?” or better yet, “How can I increase the value of this message?”



  • Use subject and addresses honestly.

According to Forrester, consumers are twice as likely to click open a message if they recognize the sender’s address. Be painfully clear whom the message is from. Nothing, meanwhile, is as important for success as the subject line, which should be specific and provide a hint of the value contained within. “Mortgage rates hit 5.75 percent this week,” is better than “Refinance Today!” Let clients know the benefit they’ll receive from reading the message. The best subject lines balance clarity and curiosity.



  • Keeps messages short and sweet.

Say what you’re going to say, say it well, and sign off. E-mail, as you’re well aware, is a medium for the brief. Spend time crafting your message so that is reflects your integrity and intent. Add photos if it helps, but Forrester advises that images and links be kept below a file size of 55k.



  • Engage consumers.

E-mail is a one-way medium, but it still can be made dynamic., for example, sends salary calculators to recipients and Procter & Gamble’s HomeMade Simple newsletter incorporates surveys to keep subscribers engages. Even a “click here” link is better than a static message.



  • Experiment.

Direct mail advertisers have always tested offers and packaging before sending out major mailers. You can utilize the same strategy, fare more cheaply, by testing variables like targetings, text, and subject lines.



  • Benchmark performance.

Rather than using industry benchmarks of open or click-through rates to track the relevancy of their emails, it’s better to monitor your customers’ responsiveness as it changes over time. You can diagnose the health or your relationship by responsiveness. Several unopened or unanswered emails may signal a potential defector who needs a special offer, a reminder of the value of the e-mail, or a new way to select more engaging content.


Bottom line: E-mail’s similarities to direct mail lull marketers into thinking that proven offline concepts guarantee online success. E-mail’s differentiators – low cost, ease of testing and fast response – require new approaches to unlock its full potential.

Posted on: March 31, 2003

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