Autoresponders Can Boost Efficiency and Effectiveness

Remember the dog cartoon from the early days of the Web?

A friendly-looking pup sits at a computer, his paw resting on the keyboard. The caption reads: “Nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The Internet is the great equalizer. Whether you’re a one-person shop or a Fortune 1000 company, you can use online marketing tactics to create a significant online presence and promote your products and services.

One technique you might overlook, however, is autoresponders. You may associate the term with the automated, predefined text replies that verify your opt-in or double-opt-in permission to receive email messages.

But there’s more to autoresponders than acknowledging your sign-up for an e-newsletter. In fact, a number of small-business sites are using autoresponders as a powerful email marketing tactic.

Usually it’s the little guys who steal from the big players. This is an instance where the big guys can learn a thing or two about a low-cost, under-the-radar technique that takes full advantage of email as the “killer app” of online marketing.

In contrast to downloadable PDF files, autoresponders can deliver a sequence of messages that build on one another and push the benefits of your product, service, or technology to prospective customers, rather than pulling customers to the benefits.

The secret is to make your information seem so valuable that your recipients can’t wait for the next installment and feel compelled to save and refer back to your messages.

Deliver a Minicourse

Marcia Yudkin is a marketing consultant, prolific author, and popular speaker based in Boston. The following copy in the upper-left-hand corner of the navigation bar on her home page caught my eye a while back:

      In a rush?

Click here

    to receive a FREE 7-day “virtual seminar” by email. Learn how to overcome common marketing challenges and redo brochures and sales letters for greater response.

Click — and a blank message pops up on your screen, prepopulated with marketingseminar@getresponse.com in the To: field. Just hit the Send button, and you’ll receive daily, for one week, Marcia’s seven-part “Marketing Makeover” course.

(It looks like Marcia is using the free version of GetResponse to deliver her text messages, requiring her to include third-party-sponsorship text ads. Another autoresponder vendor is AWeber.)

Each daily lesson is written in Marcia’s informal style, is a digestible length of about 700 words, and includes a “real” example of a collateral sales piece that she critiques and improves.

A few best practices: The subject headings are all the same except for the number of the lesson (“Marketing Makeover Virtual Seminar — Day 1,” “Marketing Makeover Virtual Seminar — Day 2,” etc.).

Each message is organized and formatted identically, so you know where to find what (e.g., introductory information, the body of the message, unsubscribe information).

And she includes a phone number as well as a personal email address if you want more information.

Another master of the autoresponder minicourse is Ken Evoy, an e-book publisher who runs SiteSell. Not ready to buy? Just sign up for one of his free five-day “master courses” that give you a hefty taste of what’s in his books.

To get his free course on writing for the Internet, send a blank email to: twms@sitesell.net. It previews his $20 e-book “Make Your Words Sell.”

Ken’s target audience is a small-business one, and his writing may be too sales-y, repetitive, and wordy for some.

My point is not to be critical, but to remind you that copy is key when you use autoresponders to market your products and services. If you are selling a product that costs several hundred thousand dollars, your copy has to be right on target for your intended audience: well written, not too long, and in just the right tone.

A White Paper in Chunks

One big player using autoresponders as an email marketing tactic is Responsys. (Yes, I know that Responsys sponsors this column, but the following example is a good one.)

Director of Customer Acquisition Jeff Kostermans got the idea last fall to demonstrate the Responsys Interact interactive marketing platform by delivering a white paper “in chunks” rather than as a PDF download.

(It requires a series of steps to obtain a “free” PDF file. The usual sequence is to register, submit your information, wait for an acknowledgement, and click to download. Not everyone knows how to “right click” to save the file to the hard drive.)

His target audience is global 2000 companies that he identifies as “very astute marketers. They do a lot of research. They are diligent in learning best practices — and they need to be impressed.” They are also accustomed to a long sales cycle.

His solution: Use an autoresponder to deliver five email marketing “imperatives” (text or HTML) over 15 days.

Why deliver the tutorial message every three days? “It’s a lot of information,” he said. “It needs to be spaced out. But once a week is too infrequent; you lose top-of-mind awareness.”

More than 7,000 have “signed up” to receive the free tutorial, according to Kostermans, making it “one of our more effective marketing methods to attract larger clients.”

To receive the five sequential messages, go to Responsys or click on “Email Imperatives” on the banner on the right-hand side of this page.

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