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Email Campaigns: Put the Customer in the Driver’s Seat

  |  November 1, 2001   |  Comments

As interest in email marketing continues to rise, so do the number of marketers who "get it." Initiate a dialogue with recipients, and they’ll be back for more. Spam them and you not only kiss your customers goodbye, you could also help blow it for your brand... and the rest of us.

It’s refreshing to see a surge in interest in email marketing. I’ve been speaking with a lot of my colleagues in the online marketing industry, and many top media buyers have noted increased client interest in email programs. Equally refreshing is the notion that online marketers are beginning to understand that email marketing doesn’t mean "get a bunch of email addresses and blast out a mailing."

The online ad community is mindful of "email overload" and recognizes that consumers are get lots of spam these days. My mailbox is hit hundreds of times a week by folks who found my email address published on the Web in various places. Nearly all of the spam I receive purports to be "opt-in," claiming that I’ve opted in directly or indirectly to the spammer’s list. As I know this is not the case, I delete most email sight unseen, noting that companies that initiate relationships via spam aren’t scoring points for this sneaky maneuver.

Spam backlash helped my company develop guiding principles to assist clients with email initiatives. As I mentioned in a previous article, we prefer to help our clients build customer lists organically, as opposed to buying email lists. By building our own lists, we maintain control over prospect quality, ensuring that each participant in the program is legitimately interested in receiving regular content from the client. Organic list building also allows us to minimize the "hey, I didn’t sign up for this" factor.

Two recent releases show the approach of taking a respectful "high road" gaining traction. This week, Bigfoot Interactive released a set of email guidelines to help advertisers in the current climate. Among them was the point, "Narrow the ’Database Gap,’" which advocated auditing all consumer touch points, including email collection mechanisms. In other words, leverage all communications assets to build your list. Smart advice. Also smart is the recommendation, "Develop preference pages and ongoing surveys... to better understand current and future customer needs." In other words, let consumers manage the relationship and provide feedback on how they would like to receive email, in what format, and how often.

These principles outline an integrated communications plan using email, but not in an obnoxious or off-putting way. Consumer-centricity is the key concept. Let customers provide you with feedback about your email program. Leverage that feedback to make email more effective. Spam campaigns never solicit feedback from recipients (just imagine what they’d say). Instead, they put the marketer, who controls all aspects of communication, in the driver’s seat. The distinction is the difference between a company respected for email practices and one that damages its brand by failing to respect its potential customers.

According to a MediaPost MediaDailyNews article, Jupiter Media Metrix says that one-third of companies plan to spend over 5 percent of their marketing budgets on email. That represents serious spending in this medium and poses the question: Will this spending result in campaigns that respect the online user and allow consumer control over the marketing relationship? Or, will it damage brands by piling unwanted email into in boxes for the sake of building a quick contact list?

Taking the high road will ensure that marketers will be able to continue to utilize email as a marketing tool. Doing otherwise might decrease the overall effectiveness of the medium. It will create the perception that all commercial email is destined for the trash bin.

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Tom Hespos

Tom Hespos heads up the interactive media department at Mezzina Brown & Partners. He has been involved in online media buying since the commercial explosion of the Web and has worked at such firms as Young & Rubicam, K2 Design, NOVO Interactive/Blue Marble ACG, and his own independent consulting practice, Underscore Inc. For more information, please visit the Mezzina Brown Web site. He can be reached at thespos@mezzinabrown.com.

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