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eMarketing Part 2:  Developing Effective Processes and Expectations For eMailers

Many eMarketing channels, such as websites and pay-per click ads, have been staples of eMarketing since the mid-to-late 1990s.  Due to early abuse, direct eMailers experienced significantly lower adoption rates. 

With the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, establishing requirements and penalties for commercial email, and the benefits and effectiveness of the medium, direct eMailers are quickly becoming one of the most popular eMarketing channels. 

Yet, many marketers are being exposed to direct eMailers for the first time.   

The following article attempts to provide some insights to help marketers looking to make the most of their purchased-list direct-email campaigns and develop realistic expectations for success. 

Getting Started
Selecting A Vendor – As with any marketing initiative, selecting the right direct-email vendor can be the difference between success and failure.  This decision becomes even more crucial considering the potential legal and financial ramifications. 

In 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act established requirements and penalties for commercial email. 

Therefore, not only should you vet vendors to ensure they have the experience and proven track record to help you effectively execute your direct-email campaign, but with six-figure penalties being levied against CAN-SPAM violators – a comprehensive understanding of the act’s regulations and process compliance are a must.

Since there have been less than reputable vendors in the industry, you will want to verify vendor claims with client references and, if doubt persists, contact the Better Business Bureau.

Effective Content:  There is the temptation to abuse the capacity of emails by cramming an abundance of information into them.

Keep in mind: you only have a few seconds of the reader’s attention and during that time; you want them to decide to take “the next step” – an action beyond reading the email that brings the closer to purchase. 

The larger your email, the less likely readers will be to comprehend your key messages.  Also, dense emails tend to create large file sizes, which also deter readers from opening them.   

Unfortunately, keep it short and simple has resulted in the practice by many marketers of “yelling” at recipients. 

There is a happy medium: if you are leveraging direct eMailers to develop relationships with customers and in turn long-term revenue, utilizing content that furthers that relationship has proven to be effective. 

While it may sound hyperbolic, show recipients you care:  from a personal letter from an executive to a special offer based on their history with the company, such as incentives/rewards for first-time/long-time customers. 

Balance Your Brand:  While there are obvious opportunities within the content of a direct email to expose readers to your brand, the structure of emails pose some interesting decisions for marketers. 

A company’s relationship with its email targets and the level of awareness of its brand play a role in deciding what information to include in the “from” and “subject” lines of an email.  Since these two areas can significantly impact a target’s decision to read an email, it’s important not to underestimate these factors.

Yes, you want to establish and reinforce your brand, but if a target receives an email from Company X or entitled Company X… but they are not familiar with the brand, then the potential success of the campaign significantly diminishes. 

Launching Your Campaign
Segment/Customize:  Content and messages will resonate differently among consumers depending on their age, gender, race, income, education, etc. 

The most successful direct eMailer campaigns segment targets through specific parameters and provide uniquely compelling content to each identified group. 

Test Your Emails:  To ensure effective content and brand balance it is beneficial to test your emails. 

Prior to launching your campaign, send variations of your emails to a sample of your target list. 

By reviewing the tracking results, you can decipher what aspects of your email readers find most compelling.   

Frequency:  Frequency is one of the most-debated aspects of direct-email campaigns:  where is the balance between informing/building a relationship and becoming an annoyance?

While the line for acceptable frequency tends to be drawn somewhere around one mailer every two-to-three weeks, the more important factor and indicator is consistency. 

The longer and more consistently a campaign is executed the more data will be provided effectively analyze its strengths and weaknesses.

Evaluating Campaign Effectiveness
Collecting Data – In order to evaluate the effectiveness of your direct eMail campaign, you first must have a reasonable set of data.  As with any marketing channel, message awareness, retention and customer activity will not necessarily be immediate.

Therefore, it would be premature to attempt to evaluate a direct eMail campaign with the goal of gleaning information that will influence strategy prior to the completion of three-to-five eMailers.

In addition to depth of data there are other factors that should be considered when evaluating a campaign:

  • Type Of Products/Services – what you are offering consumers can impact the results of a campaign and in turn its goal.  This is in no way unique to eMarketing or direct eMailers, but the immediacy of the medium can lead to unrealistic expectations. 
  • High-end products/services are not consumed as rapidly as durables or lower priced goods and eMailers do not change this behavior.  In these instances, eMailers should be viewed as opportunities to enhance awareness and reinforce product superiority, so that your organization is front of mind when the time comes for purchase. 
  • Timing – as a marketer, you are aware of whether there are traditionally slow sales periods throughout the year.  While eMailers can impact how many consumers you reach and when your messages touch them during the purchasing process, they should not be relied upon to significantly change consumer purchasing patterns.

What The Numbers Mean – Once you have collected your data, you will be able to discern what percentage of your targets read your emails and how many took an additional action: activity can range from going to your website to referencing an incentive included in the mailer at the time of purchase. 

This data does not always provide a clear and concise answer to the viability of direct eMailers, but it should be leveraged to refine strategy. The following are some results that should be anticipated:

  • High Reads and Low Click-throughs – the most common explanations for this result are: the expectations created by your subject line was not fulfilled by your content; targets are interested in your product or service, but are not ready for purchase; and activity occurred that was not tracked through the eMailer, i.e. readers enter a site by entering the URL or through a search engine, or they took action offline.
  • Low Reads and High Click-throughs – most commonly this occurs when:  an organization’s name is included in the “from” or “subject” lines and readers have yet to develop a trust of the brand; the subject line was not compelling, but targets are interested in the content; or the parameters of your targets are too broad.
  • Low Reads and Low Click-throughs – there are few if any industries that have not benefited from direct eMail campaigns, i.e. with more than 1B Internet users, your target market is on the web and the information they find is effecting billions of dollars in purchases.  If you have low reads and click-throughs, review the insights that have been provided to ensure they have been followed. 
  • High Reads and High Click-throughs – with time, direct eMail campaigns that follow the tips outlined in this series tend to recognize this result. 

While direct eMailers will require some unique processes, many traditional rules of thumb should still serve as the foundation for developing and evaluating campaigns. 

Given time, these steps, along with the tracking data provided by eMarketing channels, will allow marketers to effectively evaluate and strengthen campaigns:  helping to establish best practices for this emerging industry, while reinforcing awareness and revenue. 

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