Going E-Postal!

E-mail marketing is a form of direct marketing which uses electronic mail as a means of communicating your messages to an audience. In its broadest sense, every e-mail sent to a potential or current customer could be considered e-mail marketing. However, the term is usually used to refer to:

    • sending e-mails with the purpose of enhancing the relationship of a merchant with its current or previous customers and to encourage customer loyalty and repeat business,
    • sending e-mails with the purpose of acquiring new customers or convincing current customers to purchase something immediately,
    • adding advertisements to e-mails sent by other companies to their customers, and

SMS and E-mail marketing is popular with companies for several reasons:

  • A mailing list provides the ability to distribute information to a wide range of specific, potential customers at a relatively low cost.
  • Compared to other media investments such as direct mail or printed newsletters, e-mail is less expensive.
  • An exact return on investment can be tracked (“Cost per Conversion or “Track to Basket”) and has proven to be high when done properly. E-mail marketing is often reported as second only to Top Ten Google Local Search Listings or search marketing as the most effective online marketing tactic.[2]
  • The delivery time for an e-mail message is short (i.e., seconds or minutes) as compared to a mailed advertisement (i.e., one or more days).
  • An advertiser is able to “push” the message to its audience, as opposed to website-based advertising, which relies on a customer to visit that website.
  • E-mail messages are easy to track. An advertiser can track users via autoresponders, web bugs, bounce messages, unsubscribe requests, read receipts, click-throughs, etc. These mechanisms can be used to measure open rates, positive or negative responses, and to correlate sales with marketing.
  • Advertisers can generate repeat business affordably and automatically.
  • Advertisers can reach substantial numbers of e-mail subscribers who have opted in (i.e., consented) to receive e-mail communications on subjects of interest to them.
  • Over half of Internet users check or send e-mail on a typical day.[3]
  • Specific types of interaction with messages can trigger (1) other messages to be delivered automatically, or (2) other events, such as updating the profile of the recipient to indicate a specific interest category.
  • E-mail marketing is paper-free (i.e., “green”).
  • Tracking and response metrics enables tuning and optimization of the E-mail marketing channel by a process of testing different variants and calculation of statistically significant results.
  • Opt-in e-mail advertising, or permission marketing, is a method of advertising via e-mail whereby the recipient of the advertisement has consented to receive it. This method is one of several developed by marketers to eliminate the disadvantages of e-mail marketing.[6]
  • Opt-in e-mail marketing may evolve into a technology that uses a handshake protocol between the sender and receiver.[6] This system is intended to eventually result in a high degree of satisfaction between consumers and marketers. If opt-in e-mail advertising is used, the material that is e-mailed to consumers will be “anticipated”. It is assumed that the consumer wants to receive it, which makes it unlike unsolicited advertisements sent to the consumer. Ideally, opt-in e-mail advertisements will be more personal and relevant to the consumer than untargeted advertisements.
  • A common example of permission marketing is a newsletter sent to an advertising firm’s customers. Such newsletters inform customers of upcoming events or promotions, or new products.[7] In this type of advertising, a company that wants to send a newsletter to their customers may ask them at the point of purchase if they would like to receive the newsletter.
  • With a foundation of opted-in contact information stored in their database, marketers can send out promotional materials automatically. They can also segment their promotions to specific market segments.[8]

E-mail drip marketing is a form of e-mail marketing where a company sends (“drips”) e-mail messages to subscribers on a scheduled basis established using e-mail marketing software.[1]

As an example, a real estate lead may be interested in home listings for a specific area. He could be sent an introductory message, then be placed on an automated e-mail drip campaign where updated home listings are sent to him on a weekly basis.

E-mail drip marketing can be an extremely effective way to brand a business to big ticket leads that may still be in “research mode” for weeks if not months.[2] A lead may be more inclined to do business with a company whose email drip marketing campaign is effective, meaning that the company has sent him helpful information throughout the research period.

As with any form of e-mail marketing, e-mail drip programs must be constructed carefully so that the messages will not be intercepted by spam filters.

LIST RENTALS? Fact or Fiction?

Finding Prospective Vendors

Renting third-party lists is one of the most common ways to acquire customers and/or build in-house email lists. Where do you begin? Doing your homework saves headaches later — headaches driven by poor results, spam complaints, wasted time and money, and bad PR.

There seem to be a limitless number of companies pitching email lists. Truthfully there are more outfits to avoid than those you’ll want to do business with. Get recommendations from colleagues, and call vendors yourself. Grill them on their list-acquisition practices. What kind of permission do they secure from individuals on their lists? Permission-based marketing isn’t enough. Don’t accept anything less than confirmed opt-in or double opt-in.

What you are looking to establish through this initial contact is individuals on this list truly want and have an interest in receiving messages similar to yours and they granted this specific vendor permission to send them these messages. If the vendor in question works with partner sites to build its lists, ask for a list of the partners. Check out the sites that pertain to your target market. Make sure these partners are required to follow the same permission rules.

In addition to contacting traditional and email-only list brokers, you might want to look at possible alternatives. Consider your target audience and try to determine where they go for information, or perhaps entertainment, in the case of a consumer audience. What do they read? What sites do they visit?

Then, contact these organizations and inquire if they have an email list you can rent. But only do so if individuals have given explicit permission to receive email marketing messages from third parties.

Alternately, you might be able to acquire names via ads on relevant Web sites or online publications.

Questioning Prospective Vendors

After whittling down the field of prospective vendors based on this first round of research, take your questioning a step further. See if they can deliver the list and services you need. Below, topics you may want to start with (your own questions may differ, depending on your business):

  • Demographic selects. In addition to interest in a particular topic, can you select names based on geography, title, company size (e.g., revenue or number of employees), industry, or purchasing power? If consumers are your target, gender, age, and income are selects you’ll want to explore. Keep in mind with each additional demographic select, you’ll typically pay an additional change.
  • List hygiene and quality. How many bounces does it take before an address is removed from a list? How old are the names on the list? What’s the turnover rate (i.e., how many times have names been contacted within a given month, and when was the last contact)?
  • Service-level agreements (SLAs). Perhaps the company doesn’t have formal SLAs, but it should be able to guarantee a specific turnaround time. It should also guarantee the names will be validated, the number of names you bought will be delivered, and you won’t be labeled a spammer. A money-back guarantee is a positive sign the company takes its business — and yours — seriously.
  • Creative capabilities. Can the vendor handle HTML and rich media messages in addition to plain text? What percentage of the list base elected to receive HTML messages?
  • Price. Perhaps this should top the list, as it’s the overriding factor in most of our decisions. In list rental, it shouldn’t be. Important: If you speak with several vendors (as I recommend you do) and find one is significantly cheaper than the others, warning bells should go off. You get what you pay for. In the case of email lists, perhaps more names at a lower price. You risk quality and lower response rates, as well as working with a less-than-ethical company that gathers names through harvesting and other dubious means. Price inquiries can also include minimum buy and discounts for follow-up mailings.
  • Reporting. What kind of tracking is available? How do you gain access to it? Make sure to get sample reports to see what statistics you’ll have when your mailing is complete. Can the vendor split a mailing and track different messages? Does it track pass-along emails? Specific URL tracking? Figure out what’s important for your campaign and see if the vendor can meet your needs.
  • Additional services. Some companies offer additional services, including recipient feedback and advice on copy and subject line. Find out what services are included and which will incur additional fees.