Opt-in e-mail campaigns continue to be a cost-effective way to generate sales and traffic to your Web site. If you execute your own campaigns in-house, the cost practically is zero. Even if you use an outside e-mail marketing firm, the cost to send each e-mail is miniscule compared to the cost of a mailed, printed piece.
However, as consumers get more and more frustrated with inbox clutter and shady offers, it’s even more important that you ensure your offers are effective and provide value and/or interest to your customers or prospects. Otherwise, the cost to you may not be in simply executing the campaign, but in annoying — and even losing — customers.
No doubt you’ve read many tips on what to do and what not to do in opt-in e-mail campaigns. Rather than repeat those proven tactics, I’ll share with you some overall e-mail campaign concepts that have proven successful in generating strong traffic and order response for our catalog company. Many of these ideas are promotional in nature. But remember, if your marketing promotional costs are standard for a catalog company, they’ll be around 20 percent. So you can give away up to 20 percent on the sale and be equal to a mailed effort in contribution, since your promotional costs for the e-mail are almost nothing.
1. Sale. Still the most effective campaign out there in my experience is a sale of some kind. It could be a site-wide sale (e.g., 20 percent off anything), clearance or bargain bin sale, tent sale, private sale, sale on a certain range of products (e.g., a specific category, bestsellers), or a sale on a single item that’s broadly popular.
2. A shipping offer. Shipping and handling charges still are one of the largest reported barriers for people ordering from catalogs or online, so making an offer on shipping can drive response. But be creative with such offers. For example, half-off shipping or $1.99 shipping on any order may be just as profitable as free shipping. You won’t beat free on response, but the extra $2 to $5 an order might make a real difference on your profit and loss statement.
3. A private/exclusive offer to, say, past buyers or your e-mail newsletter subscribers really gives value to consumers for providing you with their e-mail addresses. It reinforces that they shouldn’t opt out of your campaigns, and it makes them feel part of something special. Sales that customers can access via private codes they key in at your site, exclusive products, shipping offers just for them, all of these can drive home a good relationship between you and customers who’ve trusted you with their e-mail addresses.
Be sure that if you tell people it’s an exclusive offer, that it truly is. Give them a link to click on in the e-mail, provide an exclusive URL, or give them a code to access a special area. This way recipients know that only a select group has access to this; it’s not available to just anyone who lands on the homepage.
A site that specializes in overstocks annoys me with this all the time. I receive e-mails with special shipping offers for being a great customer. Then when I visit the site, I see the same offer is made to anyone. I don’t feel so special anymore.
4. A sweepstakes or contest. Entering contests is easy on the Web: no card to fill out, no stickers to find, no postage stamp to apply and no trip to the mailbox. People love entering contests on the Web, as long as the entry process is quick and simple, and prospects are assured they aren’t going to get spammed.
At my catalog company, we’ve successfully increased click-throughs and orders with small contests. Just a simple “click here to register to win a FREE KitchenAid Mixer worth $100,” works really well. (Tip: Ask a vendor to give you the product in exchange for the brand exposure.) You’re also reminding e-mail recipients there’s value in your having their e-mail addresses.
We also find that if the contest fits the e-mail creative concept, it tends to work better. And of course, the more generally appealing and high-value the product, the better your response to the contest will be. If a contest has a lot of participants, yet the e-mail campaign itself wasn’t as strong as we would’ve liked, it’s still a winner, because it got recipients involved and probably made them more likely to open the next campaign. Along those lines, we also publish the contest winner in the next e-mail campaign to reinforce its value and make sure people realize there really was a winner.
5. Free gift with purchase. We’ve lately had good luck with offers of a high-value product as a gift with any purchase. We also like to tie these offers to current events like National Hamburger Month or National Cookie Month. It makes them fun, and when you can tie the product to the event, it gives the whole e-mail a “reason to be.”
6. Scarcity. We’ve had luck with promoting popular, though backordered, items. When we have them in stock, we tout: “Hurry and get yours while supplies last.” Or when we know the item will be in stock soon: “Get your name on the list now, so you’ll get yours when we get our next shipment.” This creates a bit of a stir and reinforces that many customers love this product.
7. Last chance. If your product has seasonality or your offer is about to expire, a reminder or “last chance” e-mail sometimes can produce as well as the initial campaign. We send reminder e-mails toward the end of our sale events. We tell people there are only two days left, and we get about the same order rate as we do on the initial e-mail. It could also be “last chance for chocolates until fall” or “last chance to use your private code for FREE shipping.”
Phil Minix is senior vice president of catalog and tours marketing at Reiman Publications. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.