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10 rules for successful e-mail marketing

Posted Saturday, August 30, 2003

1. Send e-mail only to those who have "opted-in" to receive it.

Ideally you should use "confirmed" opt-in, in which a confirmation message must be sent to the recipient, who in turn must reply to the message for the opt-in to take effect. Avoid "opt-out," which forces the recipient to receive messages until he says no.

The widespread practice of opt-out appears to actually discourage e-commerce. A recent survey by the research firm IntelliQuest found that 63% of Web users agreed with the statement, "If I buy online, I'll end up getting junk e-mail." And the trend is up — IntelliQuest found only 58% agreed with that statement in 1998. Perhaps this is why many people use fake e-mail addresses when buying online; found in a 1998 survey that 60% of surfers have given false information when filling out online forms.

Bottom line: Consumer trust is something you have to earn. One of the best ways is to respect their wishes when it comes to e-mail.

2. Always honor user requests to opt-out.

Make it a simple process and include a Web site URL in every message that allows the user to opt-out. (A simple "reply to unsubscribe" does not always work if the user has multiple e-mail accounts, which can be extremely frustrating for the end user.)

For some companies, it might make sense to "down-sell" the end user. For example, a news site that provides daily deliveries may have success in offering the user an opportunity to "downgrade" to weekly digests. After all, many opt-outs are simply a natural reaction to too much e-mail in general; a reduced burden is often welcome.

3. Confirm everything by e-mail: The initial opt-in, orders, shipping notification and changes in the customer profile.

This blunts the problem of false information. If a fake e-mail address has been entered, the confirmation will either bounce or be delivered to someone who possibly has never heard of you, in which case he will contact you and let you know your database needs to be updated. Always include an opt-out mechanism in these messages. As an added bonus, use these messages as an up-sell opportunity. For example, an airline could offer the user a reduced rate for renting a car from a particular sponsoring vendor.

4. Allow users to specify their preferences.

What kind of information do they want to receive? How often? Encourage the user to give you as much information as necessary to allow you to effectively target them in your e-mail promotions and other e-commerce activities. But avoid asking for her life story. Instead, structure your program so that you gain more information over time — with her permission, of course!

5. Give and you shall receive.

Customers don't give you their e-mail address and other personal information out of altruism. They do it in exchange for something of value. It could be information (on your Web site, via e-mail or through some other media), a free gift, a coupon or a chance to win a sweepstakes. Be creative, but also follow through by delivering real value to the recipient with every message.

6. Your list is an asset that only you can use; do not sell or rent it.

If you want to realize incremental revenue beyond your own offerings, allow the users to opt-in to receive offers from your partners. If you do this, make sure you control the mailings, and that your brand "introduces" other brands. Example: "Because you opted to receive promotional offers from our valued partners, we at ABC Corp. are pleased to give you a special offer from XYZ Corp." Ask the company doing the promotion to give you an exclusive on the offer for a limited time; limiting the offer to only your customers increases the value of opting in.

7. Develop and post a privacy policy for your Web site.

It reinforces how valuable they are to you and reminds them that there are real, live people "behind the scenes" of your Web site.

8. Respond to customer e-mail inquiries promptly.

9. Don't use rented lists.

The only exception is vendors who use the method described in No.6.

10. Always remember the network effect.

Bad news travels much faster than good on the Internet.

An angry online customer can broadcast his ire to millions by creating an "I hate [your company]" Web site, e-mailing the experience to friends, posting it on message boards and other ways. Remember, in the new economy the customer is in control. Do not make the mistake of treating e-mail and the Web like the telephone and snail mail.


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