Email is indeed the killer app for 1999. But only, of course, if it’s email done right. And there is a right way, and a very wrong way, to do approach email marketing.
In a recent column, “The Dark Side of E-mail Marketing,” ClickZ columnist Tom Hespos suggests that email marketers who rely on so-called “opt-in” lists to protect their brands are fooling themselves. Recipients, says Tom, don’t always remember when they opt in.
While this may be true of most commercial email compilers, who aggregate names from many third-party sources, the savvy direct marketer can avoid this pitfall by relying on opt-in email delivery services that meet another more key requirement — a strong relationship with the consumers enrolled in it.
Email delivery services that satisfy one or more of the following criteria are properly building relationships with the consumers who have enrolled to receive email through them. And a direct marketer can leverage the strength of this relationship in his or her own pitch. The stronger the relationship the stronger the pitch on top of it.
So let’s look at the best ways to build relationships with online consumers through email by looking at the most fundamental components of effective email marketing.
- Privacy. Make sure the email service you are using has made a strong privacy pledge to the consumers enrolled in it. In my company’s own service, BonusMail, for instance, we vow that we will never reveal a consumer’s personal information to a third party without his or her express permission.
- Relevance. With a strong privacy pledge in place, consumers will be more willing to share personal information with you — I mean, fill out a demographic profile. Such data enables the email delivery service to target messages according to members’ interests. And online consumers — as Tom Hespos notes — appreciate relevant offers as much as they are frustrated by unrelated ones.
- Control. Before going with an email delivery service, ask yourself, does the service allow the consumer to control the experience by, for instance, controlling the content of ads through a personal profile or the volume of email sent to him or her? Does the service give consumers a clear way to “opt out” of mailings? Giving the online consumer more control over the direct marketing relationship is a sure way of building strong relationships through email.
- Rewards. Some email delivery services now enable direct marketers to offer consumers a tangible incentive to respond to their offers. Online reward points are powerful tools, and a consumer who is being rewarded to participate in an email list is very unlikely to forget he or she is on it. In fact, in a recent survey of our own BonusMail membership, our members — eager to earn reward points, had only one complaint — send more email! (When’s the last time an Internet consumer said that?)
- Brand Strength. Protect your brand in an email campaign by making sure you’re keeping good company. Are you joining strong brands like Sprint and Macy’s in the consumer’s email box, or are you joining get-rich-quick schemes and Florida real estate offers? An atmosphere of trust grows in the light of strong brands. Take advantage of it.
- Engaging Interface/Personalization. Lastly, keep in mind that email is no longer just a text message with lots of mysterious code. In BonusMail, for instance, more than half of our members receive their email in HTML form (with all the bells and whistles of today’s web pages). Moreover, the email is personalized with each member’s name. Such interactive techniques can increase your brand presence substantially — which translates into higher general awareness and higher response rates.
Email can be an enormously powerful and cost-effective medium — a piece of targeted, HTML-enhanced email costs less than the price of a postage stamp, yet deliver results many times greater than offline direct mail. And responses start piling up in a matter of hours — as opposed to days, or weeks, in the physical world.
But effective email advertising requires direct marketers to play by a new set of rules — many of which I have listed above. Together, they comprise a new kind of marketing, one that combines the best of Internet interactivity with traditional relationship building.
I like to call this new kind of marketing Empowerment Marketing — marketing that empowers online consumers to solicit relevant offers and play a proactive role in building relationships with advertisers. It is a marketing philosophy that at recognizes and (at the same time) takes advantage of the Internet consumer’s powerful new roles in guiding relationships with online direct marketers.
If the email delivery service you are using isn’t playing by the new rules of Empowerment Marketing, you should seriously consider it as a major risk to your brand. If it is, then you will without a doubt enjoy stronger response rates, a higher ROI, and — best of all — a better relationship with your customers.
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