E-mail Marketing: Communicating Effectively
In the online battle for customer loyalty, catalogers have increasingly turned to e-mail marketing. However, an e-mail in-box—like the home telephone—is a communication channel that consumers rail against when it’s used to trick them into hearing a sales pitch. Unlike the postal mail box, consumers take personal umbrage at hearing “You’ve got mail!” for messages, not from friends, but from companies out to sell something unsolicited.
Catalogers’ e-mails, then, must be user-friendly. Effective e-mail marketing campaigns can result in double-digit response rates, increased sales and exponential growth in e-mail address lists. On the other hand, impersonal bulk newsletters, excessive e-mailings and complicated opt-out systems are sure ways to alienate customers.
As more online merchants utilize opt-in e-mail marketing, the challenge is growing for online catalogers to use e-mail as effectively as possible. Opt-in e-mail is a must-have marketing tool, but the results depend entirely on how you use it. Here are a few tips to improve your chances of success.
#1 Know your customer.
Billions of dollars have been spent over the years on focus groups, market research and test products, all trying to figure out consumer tastes. Instead, nowadays catalogers can use opt-in e-mail marketing as a quick, low-cost way to track customers’ interests.
Opt-in e-mail marketing allows catalogers to capture a customer’s profile when he or she first opts in, providing them with specific customer information that can help shape and target promotions. Opt-in e-mail marketing services can provide customizable lists of survey questions, but do not think of them as a replacement to market research—where a consumer will happily answer questions about chocolates for 20 minutes. Remember e-mail is a medium that thrives on speed. Requiring a customer to provide too many answers will leave you with many empty checkboxes.
Also, some e-mail marketing services offer test marketing features—allowing catalogers to test the response rate to particular offers based on demographics, kinds of promotions and potentially even virtual focus groups.
#2 Reinforce the value of your e-mail.
Catalogers need to be aware that even though a customer has opted in to receive e-mail offers, he or she may not always remember having done so. It’s very important for catalogers to gently remind the consumers that the e-mail is not only something they themselves requested, but also has relevance and value.
What you say in the first five to six lines of an e-mail is decisive—for one thing, e-mail viewing windows often only show that many lines at a time. First, personalized greetings are an obvious necessity. Second, let customers know that they requested the e-mail and how they can opt out. This is crucial and does not pose much risk to the cataloger, as most customers will not opt out as long as they are comfortable knowing they can. Third, reach out and grab them with the most compelling offer based on their interests.
For example, this offer from Roller Warehouse uses the speech of its target audience of dedicated in-line skaters:
Gotta give mad props to the sk8man for bringing even more of these sick deals your way yo!
IN THIS EDITION:
* FREE skate bags when you buy Wheels & Bearings
* Closeout Pads, Gloves and Helmets @ SICK PRICES !
#3 Brand everything.
A generic “WIN CASH PRIZE” subject line may net click-throughs but it is just as likely to result in your company being flamed (being inundated with messages from angry anti-spam Web users)—particularly if the reply-to address hides your identity. Branding is crucial for opt-in e-mail. Remember, consumers look forward to receiving e-mail from friends, who are easily identified by their addresses.
Also, e-mail offers should look and feel as sophisticated and attractive as a page of your catalog. When reading your e-mail offer, a consumer is only one click away from your Web site. Think of e-mail as the VIP entrance to your online merchandise—an attractive e-mail, particularly in HTML, is the equivalent of rolling out the red carpet. Some e-mail marketing services can deliver your Web pages right into your customers’ in-boxes. And HTML response rates are double those of plain text.
#4 Keep ‘em wanting more.
Use e-mail judiciously—once a week is a good rule to follow. If it is a question of sending out two e-mails with three offers each vs. one e-mail with six, opt for the latter. Too many mailings clog an in-box and lead to fast deletion.
JC Whitney, a catalog marketer of after-market automobile products, launches five to 10 offers at a time. Not every consumer gets all the offers because they are matched and delivered by personal preference. This assures no unwanted pitches. JC Whitney’s results are typically 2 percent to 5 percent click-throughs per offer, 15 percent to 30 percent click-throughs per e-mail and consumers returning to the site for a multitude of shopping interests.
#5 Collect e-mail addresses any which way you can.
Gather e-mail addresses at every opportunity. Direct mail reply cards should have a place for customers to list their e-mail addresses. Capture e-mail addresses when customers place orders over the phone. Talk to an e-mail list broker. Leverage your expertise in harvesting addresses for your print catalog and apply the same techniques to broadening your e-mail options.
Many catalogers may be hesitant to go after e-mail addresses aggressively for fear it will label them as “spammers.” However, when you have acquired a new batch of addresses, you can avoid the spam label by simply sending out a short e-mail invitation to check out your personalized e-mail “newsletters,” “update” or “specials.” In the invitation, be sure to stress to the new recruits that they will not receive additional information from you unless they choose to opt in.
We generally see sign-ups from this invitation process in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent.
Catalogers are also finding value in maintaining two or three levels of opt-in lists. The basic list comes from those who check a box for notices on future specials. This feeds into an opt-in list with preferences. The top-end lists are those with the opt-in on preferences plus individual buying or response traits.
#6 Target the end user.
Particularly for business-to-business catalogers, the purchasing decision-makers do not always directly use the products whose buying they oversee. Through opt-in e-mail, b-to-b marketers can reach beyond purchasing managers and develop relationships with the end users of their products. Boise Cascade Office Products has found that through opt-in e-mail marketing, it has been able for the first time to market directly to the desktop of its customers: the administrative assistants and office managers who buy and use office products.
As the holidays approach, consumer catalogs must capture both gift buyers and gift receivers. When mailing out gift items, include your Web address as the primary place to go for refunds and exchanges. This not only encourages potential new customers to experience shopping online, but also allows you to acquire new customer profiles and e-mail addresses.
E-mail marketing is currently the best option for catalogers to achieve one-to-one marketing relationships with customers. But the stakes are rising and catalogers need to be more and more strategic in order to continue reaping the rewards. By following these tips, you can further increase the return on your e-mail investment.
Jim Williams is a vice president and general manager of e-mail services at ClickAction. ClickAction ERM (E-mail Relationship Management) has more than 50 clients including L.L. Bean, Park Seed and Jos. A. Bank. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.