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Reach Customers Faster, Better and Cheaper With an Email Campaign 

By Michelle Bohlman

As more and more emails bombard inboxes around the country, companies and organizations are challenged to send engaging messages that will be read and not immediately tossed into the virtual trash bin.  Just how many marketing messages are we talking about? U.S. marketers are expected to send some 250 billion emails in 2002, according to Forrester Research Group.

Email marketing is the wave of the future. With its simplicity, low cost and high response rate, it is no wonder more companies are flocking to this medium to attract and retain customers.

The cost comparisons are no contest. While it costs between 33 cents to $1 to send out a brochure or catalog in the mail (not to mention the cost to produce the piece), emails cost only pennies each. Banner advertising can cost up to 20 times more than email marketing.

According to email marketing specialist 24-7 Media, a direct mail campaign that includes design, printing, fulfillment, postage and lists costs $27,500, with an average response time of six to 10 weeks.

An email marketing campaign at 24-7 costs only $14,500 with a response time of only 12-48 hours. With links to your Web site embedded in the email message, consumers are able to instantly go to your Web site to check out the products and services you have to offer.

While employing an experienced company to manage your program is a more secure way to have a successful campaign, you may decide to keep the operation in-house to save money and retain control. 

Starting the Campaign

 The first step to developing a successful email marketing campaign is strategic planning. List and analyze your goals to figure out what you expect from your campaign. Determine a specific target audience and develop an effective message. Ask yourself: ``What are the opportunities I can take advantage of?"  Proper planning will go a long way in determining whether your plan succeeds or fails.

The next step is developing a database or a mailing list. In email marketing, there are three popular business strategies you can use to develop a mailing list: opt-out, opt-in and confirmed opt-in.  No matter which method you choose, each comes with its own set of positives and negatives. You'll have to decide which one suits your business goals. 

Opt-Out: Not Quite Spam, but Pretty Close

 Your opt-out list is comprised of existing customers who gave you their email address and/or other contact information. These customers never actually requested to be included on a mailing list, but they are always given the chance to unsubscribe.

Some may say the opt-out method is not unlike spamming, which is loosely defined as unsolicited email. Take care to make your email as unobtrusive as possible.

Keep in mind that just because they are your current customers doesn't necessarily mean they want to receive email solicitations from you. Be forewarned: you will likely get some customer complaints with the opt-out method. Handle these customers carefully or you may lose their business forever. The key is to expect their complaints and handle them accordingly.

Opt-out may provide quick results, but in the end may prove to be a detriment to your company.

Many Internet users will opt themselves out immediately by providing a fake email address or deciding not to purchase from a Web site as soon as they see a form requesting information. According to research group IntelliQuest, 64% of Web surfers don't fill out registration forms because they don't trust the site.

Opt-In: The Better Solution

The opt-in approach is probably the most popular and widely used. With opt-in, customers actually choose to receive content from you. These people want to know what you have to offer.

An example of this is when a customer goes to your Web site and fills out a form giving you their email address and other contact information. At the bottom of the form, there is usually a box to check next to a phrase such as ``please contact me with updates on products, sales or events."

This is where you as the marketer must make a decision. Do you design it so that the box is checked by default or do you leave it for the customer to mark? Some people will simply scroll to the bottom and click ``OK" to move on to the next step. However, you run the risk of upsetting these people with unwanted messages. Again, the number of customer complaints are likely to be higher if the customer feels as if he or she was duped into giving consent.

Even with this method, there is always the chance of receiving fake email addresses. The following method should eliminate this problem.

Confirmed Opt-In: Be Sure They Want It

 Confirmed opt-in is by far the best way to develop a list of customers who want to receive your information. Customer complaints should remain at a minimum and those using fake email addresses are filtered out.

There are two methods under confirmed opt-in–passive and active.

With the passive method, customers are automatically sent an email confirming they have agreed to receive information. If that message bounces back, you automatically know the address is fake. But there will always be the possibility of a person signing someone else up for a list. Or perhaps the recipient of your email did not receive the part of the message granting permission.

The best method is active. By doing this, you are sure to build a list of willing customers who expect to receive your mailings.

This method is quite simple. A person fills out your form and you send that individual a confirmation email stating that he will only be added to the list if he replies to the message. Those people interested in your information will reply, giving you a legitimate mailing list.

Although you run the risk of missing some potential customers with this method, the positives greatly outnumber the negatives. Your message will not likely be construed as spam and your business retains its good reputation.

Spamming Hurts More Than Your Business

When building an email marketing campaign, the issue of spamming is one to be aware of. The definition of spam differs from person to person, but one thing is for certain: spam is annoying.

Junk email filters make it even easier for people to ignore spam. You may think your email is getting to that individual, but in actuality, the person has decided to send your message directly to the trash instead of going to the trouble of unsubscribing. And never make it a hassle for someone to remove his or her email address from your mailing list. Respect that person's wishes and make it a simple process.

Sending emails to strangers seems harmless, but spamming can do serious damage to your business' reputation by upsetting potential customers. Sending unsolicited commercial email can also be considered an invasion of online privacy. Spamming hurts your business and sets back ecommerce as a whole. Don't forget that 64% of Internet surfers don't fill out registration information because they don't trust the Web site. Spamming by a few careless businesses will only increase that number.

Getting New Customers and Keeping Current Ones

 Once you have your list of valid customers, there is one very important rule to follow–do not sell or rent out your list. The list is a very valuable asset to your company, so use it wisely. If you do decide to share your mailing list with a partner, make sure it is a co-branded effort and take the extra step to let your customers know why they are receiving your email.

When creating the email message, there are a few things to remember. One of the most important components of the message is the subject line. It's likely to be the first thing your recipient sees and may be the reason a person opens the email or sends it straight to the trash. Make it interesting and relevant. Give them a reason to open the email.

Whether your mailing list contains 10 or 10,000 recipients, direct the message toward the individual. Personalize it as much as possible to create a close relationship with your customer. There's more likely to be a payoff if you take those extra steps.

Acquiring new customers may be your goal, but keeping your current ones is just as important. With the right campaign, you are well on your way to doing the right type of business online.

 

Michelle Bohlman is account services director of Schraff Group, a fully integrated ebusiness agency with a successful 22-year history. The firm leverages its expertise in advertising, public relations, Internet application development and Internet business consulting to offer its clients truly integrated business and marketing support. Schraff Group is Orange County's leading firm for hot ramp Internet start-ups, as well as established companies with ebusiness initiatives.  Additional information can be accessed at http://www.schraff.com.

 

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