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Make e-mail marketing work for you

Posted Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Most people will tell you that target marketing using e-mail is a terrific way to track customer acquisition. The good news is that that assumption is proving true, both for business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) models.

Once your brand name has been established, target marketing using e-mail can be an effective and inexpensive companion to more traditional media advertising. But there are a few things to keep in mind.

It doesn't replace traditional advertising. E-mail is only a supplement to traditional advertising for most businesses. Advertising is very important because it maintains your firm's visibility. It also reinforces your brand identity, brand value and brand promise that are so critical to success in targeted marketing. E-mail or direct mail is always more effective when the recipient knows who you are and what you provide.

Don't pester. People have been getting direct mail for decades. If it's not of interest, they toss it. The worst thing that occurs is a wasted marketing dollar. But e-mail and telephone calls are different, particularly at home. Unsolicited e-mails or phone calls can often make recipients so angry that they vow not to do any business with you in the future. That means you should avoid unsolicited e-mail contacts.

But you should certainly send an e-mail to someone who wants to receive it from you. People sign up for e-mail lists every day. But as we all know, it is the customer's right to change his mind. Every e-mail should end with a simple way for recipients to remove themselves from your list.

No excuse for lack of content

The most important aspect of any e-mail marketing effort is message content. If your messages are nothing but undifferentiated or repetitive sales pitches, they will be worse than ineffective. They will annoy those people who could become your most profitable customers.

Suppose you operate a gourmet restaurant. As you're settling up customers' checks, why not ask, "Would you like to be put on our e-mail list to occasionally receive notes from our chef?"

From there, customers who sign up could be asked one or two questions about their food preferences. From that information, the content of your e-mail marketing messages can be tailored to their preferences. Vegetarians won't get messages about meat dishes. Wine-lovers will get messages about what new vintages are being stocked. The whole list can get messages about what yummy things the pastry chef is preparing — and what talented jazz musician will be playing on Tuesday nights.

Each e-mail message might also contain a calendar showing dates available for reservations and a simple reply mechanism with which they can make actually make those reservations. Customers, of course, need to receive a confirmation and a reminder e-mail on the day of their reservation — a process that could be highly automated. In short, e-mail marketing could cement the relationship that a fine restaurant has with its best customers. E-mail marketing can do the same for many other businesses.

Ensure privacy

All customers should be reassured that you will not ever sell or trade their email addresses. Privacy is an important part of the trust between any business and its customers.

E-mail marketing: an option for B2B?

E-mail marketing is a good option for all business models — if you view it as a relationship-building technique rather than a lead-generating device. While it is possible to buy consumer e-mail lists just as you would buy a "snail-mail" mailing list, we don't recommend it. And for businesses, precisely targeted lists of qualified prospects are hard to find. While high-tech prospects (such as network administrators or database managers) can be purchased as e-mail lists, low-tech prospect lists are seldom available. And even if they were, realities like frequent changes of job titles, job hopping and dot-com downsizing make a high proportion of the names on such lists obsolete.

This may change in the future. But for now, we suggest using e-mail to maintain contact with individuals who have volunteered their addresses to you.

Don't prospect — communicate!

Whether you sell B2B or B2C, focus your e-mail marketing on:

* Discovering customer needs
* Communicating your offering's benefits
* Responding to requests for information
* Asking for referrals from satisfied customers

Stick to these basics and make your marketing communications a two-way street.

Automate your response

Automated-response e-mails can take the work out of maintaining an e-mail marketing program. A series of messages can be sequenced to go out automatically (sometimes called "triggered e-mail" or "auto responders.") Just as you can set your e-mail to respond with "I'm on vacation" when you're out of town, you can set specific messages to go out when certain events take place. For example, a prospect who downloads your technical-specs sheet can get a follow-up e-mail from you asking, "Is there anything else you'd like to know?" If someone has made a purchase on your e-commerce Web site, you can follow up in a few days with a satisfaction inquiry or cross-sell message.

E-mail marketing works

E-mail marketing can work for any small business where the service or product is purchased often or the nature of what is provided changes fairly frequently. If having a good long-term relationship with the customer is extremely important, e-mail marketing can work very well indeed.

Every list of customers, however, gets smaller over time and every e-mail list needs to be refreshed with new names and new information. People move away, change jobs or just no longer want or need what you provide. Any business needs to periodically spend money on advertising to bring in new customers, add new names to the e-mail list and maintain brand awareness.


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