Understanding e-mail marketing

In this second and final installment, Don Lange, SVP, Cornerstone Group of Companies, continues to extol the virtues of bringing fundamental direct marketing principles to broadcast e-mail marketing. In this issue, he tackles the execution and measurement of e-mail marketing campaigns. (Please see thefirst installment, looking at e-mail lists and database management, in the June 18, 2001 issue of Strategy Direct+ Interactive.)

In this second and final installment, Don Lange, SVP, Cornerstone Group of Companies, continues to extol the virtues of bringing fundamental direct marketing principles to broadcast e-mail marketing. In this issue, he tackles the execution and measurement of e-mail marketing campaigns. (Please see thefirst installment, looking at e-mail lists and database management, in the June 18, 2001 issue of Strategy Direct+ Interactive.)

Creative

It is tempting to take advantage of the full array of technical products that the e-mail or Web environment can offer. However, it is also important to consider your audience and the technical capabilities of the e-mail application that receives your message:

* Text only: There are several e-mail boxes that can only support text. Therefore, it is very important that you have a text version of your creative if you are unable to predetermine the support capabilities of the recipient. Even in a hand-raising environment where people have stated that they can support HTML, it is best to use a broadcaster whose system can detect and deliver the right format.

* America Online (AOL): AOL e-mail addresses require a specific format. Make sure your broadcaster can support this requirement.

* HTML: HTML formats are the most effective. However, if too many images or graphics are attached to the e-mail, then it may take too long to load and you try the patience of the recipient.

* Flash, streaming video and so on: Despite the obvious appeal of preparing e-mails with rich visual displays, there are many people who do not have the capability to view or play these messages. Including a download application, such as ‘install Macromedia Flash Player,’ is not a solution as you are then asking the customer to do too much. The focus has to be on the offer and responding has to be simple.

* Personalization: Like any form of direct response, e-mails that specifically address the recipients are the most effective. Broadcast software can create personalization in a letter format and throughout the message.

* Testing: Most effective broadcast applications can insert variables – both text and graphics – within a message. Combine this with land addresses and a solid database management company, and that means that direct marketers can employ any number of testing techniques, from pricing, A/B, creative and more.

Preparing for blast-off

Once you have the messaging in place, there are several aspects of the e-mail that you can control in a house mailing and with some list rentals:

* The ‘From’ box: If you are prospecting to a third-party consumer list, then it is likely that the list owner would control the ‘From’ box. However, if you have the option, you need to decide if you want the ‘From’ box coming from your company name or from a person’s name. A person’s name is more personal – however, it may not be received well when it becomes apparent that it is an advertising message. If you already enjoy a relationship with the recipients, then use a person’s name and cover off the point of the message in the ‘Subject’ field.

* The ‘Subject’ field: Avoid gimmicky slogans. Address the nature of the e-mail as fully as possible while limiting to less than 10 words – the fewer the better.

* The ‘Reply To’ box: If you can host the ‘Reply To’ box, do it. There are lots of reasons. The most important reason is that it is instinctive for many recipients to click ‘reply’ even if there is a clear hotlink or ‘Submit’ form in the e-mail. Replies will consist of positive feedback (including orders), as well as negative feedback, so get ready for customer service issues that can take many forms.

* The opt-out message: Always include an opt-out. No exceptions. The best opt-out messages are clear and in the form of a link. Putting the opt-out in a reply format leaves margins for error.

Once you have completed the database management, finalized the creative and decided on testing and the fundamental components of the e-mail, you are ready to execute the broadcast.

Blast-off

* Bad times for broadcasting: There are a few rules of thumb for the best time to send a broadcast. Most are intuitive, such as never send a business-to-business late in the day or first thing in the morning. Business people tend to review their e-mails right away in the morning – which is good. However, if they have many e-mails, they also tend to eliminate anything that is not directly related to their job – which is bad. The same business-to-business rules apply to such things as anytime after 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon or any anytime Friday after noon in the summer.

* Good times for broadcasting: For business-to-business, the best time seems to be around the lunch hour, when people are perhaps eating at their desk and have the opportunity to review links and offers. For consumers, click-to’s occur throughout the night and, in some cases, peak between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. However, the best time to send an e-mail to consumers is weeknights between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Measurement

There are several different ways to measure the effectiveness of an e-mail campaign:

* Delivery rate: Your broadcaster will be able to tell you exactly how many records were delivered successfully.

* Bad records: If you have a large number of undeliverables, it is likely you are using an out-of-date list.

* Click-to rates: The number of clicks on your links. This is kind of nice to know to see how many people are kicking your tires.

* Gross response: The total number of people who fill in your forms and order your product or service.

* Net response: The number of people who pay for your product or service. Let’s face it; this is the only measurement that counts.

You should also implement the same kind of projection tools that more sophisticated list brokers can bring to the table.

If all of these ideas sound very familiar to direct marketers – with a few new twists – they should. E-mail marketing is new and some of the rules are different. However, many of the rules that we all use in executing a successful direct response campaign remain the same.

Don Lange is SVP of the Cornerstone Group of Companies. He is currently responsible for Cornerstone Web Media – Canada’s first full service provider of prospecting solutions on the Internet.