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The Realities of Email Marketing

March 16, 2001

Reality television has swept the nation, in case you haven't noticed. Everyone's talking about who should be kicked off this or that show next and why somebody or another can't last for long. People seem to enjoy talking about the "baddies" and "goodies," and apparently some primal need is filled when dealing with the "realities" of different situations.

I'd like to sweep some reality into email marketing as well. Here are a few issues that are being taken more seriously and starting to become best practices. Don't get kicked off your island, and take notice.

  • Make unsubscribing easy. The systems to handle subscriptions and unsubscriptions are starting to actually work and make my life easier. Many opt-in emails I get these days have very easy-to-use systems to handle my subscription. They range from one-click subscriptions and unsubscriptions all the way to the online email subscription and preference center, where you can select what you do and don't want to receive and in what format -- all on one screen. These systems are a must. The reality is that email-based subscription and unsubscription systems that force you to email a message with a specific body or subject line are error prone and not user friendly. I vote that technique off the island.

  • Make messages relevant. The emails I get contain more relevant information. The well-designed emails that work usually come from the big three product categories of e-tailing: books, music, and computer/electronics. These emails are the best because they demonstrate how the products are used and always show the price prominently. These emails mirror traditional direct marketing (which we know works well). Some special approaches work as well, such as tying in geographically relevant information (e.g., closest bookstore to your zip code), but usually when the email becomes too complex, my interest is lost.

  • Make messages interactive. Your audience needs to be listened to. I know this has been driven into the ground, but the curmudgeon really hates it when people don't listen. Most times when I reply to a marketing email with a request and await a response, I get nothing. Thankfully, some of the emails have phone numbers to call, and that works 99 percent of the time and much more effectively than the email method. The basic idea is that when you send out email, you should expect to get something back. (Usually about 1 percent of your outbound email will come back as actual requests from your customers.) People like to share ideas, concerns, questions, and rants. If you ignore them, don't expect them to remain customers for long.

  • Pay attention to demographics. The spam-meisters must have known something everyone else didn't. The increase in Spanish-language spam that I have been getting is possibly linked to the most recent Census 2000 findings. The Hispanic and Latino population increased to over 12 percent of the U.S. population, a 58 percent increase since the last census, taken in 1990. This is a newsworthy event, not something to brush off. The demographic makeup of your customers is changing, and notions such as language, format, and the people featured in your marketing message cannot be taken for granted and may need to be reviewed. You may be surprised what you find and how many new customers you attract.

So there you have it — a few ideas that can help you stay on the island that is email marketing. Please let me know of other best practices that you have learned over the years of email marketing, and I'll rant or rave about it for you. It pays to be the "Richard Hatch" of email marketing, doesn't it?

by Alex Sirota, © 2001 Corporation


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