Effective e-mail marketing demands compelling content

Forrester Research estimates that, by 2004, more than 200 billion e-mails will clog the arteries of the Internet. How will your brand's e-mail strategy stick out among the clutter?

Forrester Research estimates that, by 2004, more than 200 billion e-mails will clog the arteries of the Internet. How will your brand’s e-mail strategy stick out among the clutter?

To understand the answer, it is important to understand the original premise of the Web. Marketers must recognize that, from the Web’s earliest days, users viewed the Web as an incredible research tool first and foremost. A recent study by ABC News showed that 75% of users continue to see the Web as a place to research and learn.

In contrast, most Web-based e-mail marketing efforts are little more than virtual vending machines offering little in the way of helpful research. They expect prospects to magically serve up their credit card and purchase. Marketers must incorporate the original ‘information’ premise of the Web into their e-mail campaigns or risk becoming part of the noise that clutters the Web today.

Marketers that deploy information-based online marketing find that they surpass all traditional metrics, such as higher opt-in by prospects, increased message open rates, increased click-through rates, increased product awareness, increased message pass-along and decreased message opt-out rates. This article outlines some of the key benefits that brand marketers can achieve by leveraging an information-based e-mail approach in their online direct marketing campaigns.

Have an impact on your prospect’s purchase cycle

Educational information that helps customers understand their needs, learn about important issues or gather research related to their purchase can significantly influence them toward purchase. The typical purchase cycle involves several pre-purchase steps, such as awareness, consideration and preference.

From an online customer’s perspective, this cycle is best described as a ‘visit-interact-learn-learn-buy’ process. Each of these steps is about gathering and considering information rather than actually purchasing. Offering practical information via e-mail provides incentives to customers to stay in a dialogue with you through the purchase cycle. For years, financial service companies have used this approach in an offline context by offering informational seminars to clients.

Create a state of need in your customers

Home Depot has created an educational approach in their retail stores that’s now legendary in its success, by teaching about landscaping, fencing, decorating and other skills related to their products. Using information-based e-mail will enable you to achieve the same effect.

Begin by listing all of the related issues or problems your customers must address when purchasing your service. A brand in the travel business (a credit card or airline, for example) could offer a travel e-mail newsletter complete with information on foreign etiquette and buying the right luggage, templates to help determine insurance requirements and maps outlining popular routes for tours.

Transition casual surfers into organically built lists

You got them to come to your site. Rather than let potential prospects vanish back into the anonymity of cyberspace, offer practical how-to information via e-mail to draw them in by showing that you understand their related needs.

Offer to communicate with them on an ongoing basis to keep them informed. For example, mortgage shoppers are likely interested in e-mail alerts on mortgage rate changes or e-newsletters that discuss other home issues, such as purchasing home insurance, performing home inspections and how to evaluate contractors.

Soon, your site will be bookmarked as a starting point or your e-mail newsletter will be passed to their colleagues, a key ‘viral’ tactic in building your lists.

Keep customers ‘opted in’ longer

Customers are more likely to stay subscribed to relevant, information-rich communications offering practical ‘how-to’ advice rather than skimpy product advertorials. Savvy and practical topics that address a continuous rotation of key needs will cut through the inbox clutter. Have a deeper resource area at your Web site with ‘best of’ articles to further motivate and move them to purchase.

Cost effectively communicate with multiple segments

Are working women a subset of your target market? Small business? Multicultural groups? Likely your own focus groups have revealed the differing motives of your various targets. As the marketing movement continues to evolve from product-based to segment-based marketing, content-rich e-mail newsletters can play a role in reinforcing your relevancy to a segment.

The surest way to being ignored on the Web is a ‘one size fits all’ approach to information. Implementing different interest-based e-mail newsletters shows that your brand is relevant and cares enough to connect.

Learn more about customers

What would you like to know about your customers’ needs, preferences and buying habits? Provided you have considered proper tracking and measurement metrics, a customer’s content choices from your e-mails can provide a window into his or her thinking. A customer who reads an article entitled ‘How to ensure reliability in your network’ offers a marketer insight into the customer’s buying criteria.

Build credibility and brand equity online

Banner ads’ click-throughs continue to plummet, reinforcing the fact that overt marketing on the Web turns users off. The Web is like a library. People go to it to learn, not to be marketed to. Truly meeting your customers’ needs with practical information will garner their loyalty and guarantee a repeat visitor. You’ll build trust and brand equity.

Deploying the ‘learning premise’ of the Web requires commitment, since building customer relationships is not a short-term proposition. But by combining simple online marketing logic with tried-and-true offline marketing strategies, corporations are well positioned to begin this very ‘educational’ and lucrative process.

Evan Wood is a principal with online direct marketing firm Digital Cement, based in the company’s Toronto office. He can be reached at 1-800-354-0264 or at ewood@digitalcement.com.