Four for ’04

No predictions. No resolutions. Just old-fashioned, practical advice on how to optimize email communications in the new year. 2004 marks what I have previously mentioned as the beginning of the “email renaissance.” The new year also marks the official start of the nation’s first federal anti-spam law, known as CAN-SPAM (S. 877).

To ensure compliance in this new world, marketers across the nation have spent the last several weeks trying to understand the new law and implement the necessary changes to commercial email messaging. I encourage you to use the next four weeks to get your email house in order. Below is an overview of key initiatives and events in the coming month that will help all marketers as they continue to optimize their email communications. Let’s get started.

1. The Strategic Imperatives

If you haven’t already spent time building, documenting, understanding, and communicating the strategic imperatives of email communications within your organization (by division, product, or service), do it now. Given recent legislation and compliance issues, email has captured corporate America’s (and senior executives’) attention. Leverage this visibility to educate management on the power of permission-based email communications in the marketing mix, including how email helps achieve objectives. Map current efforts to get a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t.

In so doing, you’ll discover opportunities to build new initiatives or enhance existing communications. By understanding the key measurements of success as related to goals, you can build the tracking and reporting necessary to effectively manage and communicate progress. Finally, and perhaps most important, by putting pen to paper and communicating throughout the organization, you keep the team focused on the goals.

2. Execution: Best in Class

When it comes to the inbox, marketers must quickly distinguish themselves from spam, as well as from competitors. Leading-edge marketers are dedicated to two things. First they have an enormous commitment to understanding consumers’ needs, wants, and interests. Second, they deliver on those needs by leveraging email’s power and their customer knowledge to build relevant, timely email communications to establish an ongoing dialogue. These leaders conduct ongoing tests and have extensively researched consumers, email, and the competition.

3. Legal: Compliance Policies and Procedures

Not having your act together no longer just means bad marketing. It’s violating the law. As CAN-SPAM quickly wended its way through the House and Senate last year, marketers began the looking at communications to assure compliance. Now, CAN-SPAM is in effect and marketers have had some time to assess their own initiatives; any outstanding compliance questions should be put to rest.

Stay abreast of ISP whitelisting policies. Many such policies include guidelines that apply to all messaging, not just commercial messages. They’re stricter than CAN-SPAM. Failure to comply can result in delivery issues (blocking/absorption).

4. Future Planning: Inbound, the New Outbound

For years, email marketing was touted as the medium for establishing an ongoing dialogue or relationship with customers. When push comes to shove, few marketers successfully achieved this goal. This is largely due to marketers’ inability to successfully plan for and handle inbound responses resulting from outbound email. Those marketers who can facilitate ongoing dialogue are the generation who will set the new bar.

Current email capabilities seldom meet customer expectations. Failure to address consumer interests and needs in this area may negatively impact your brand. Self-service reply capabilities represent one of the fastest-growing and most sought-after email functions among consumers. In a recent study we conducted with NOP World Research, an overwhelming majority of consumers (73 percent) who currently subscribe to or receive email from their financial services organization say they’d like to be able to reply to an incoming message to get more information or ask a question.

Marketers should assess their inbound reply handling capabilities based on not only this consumer interest but also continued growth of outbound message volume. The topic will receive attention in the year ahead as Fortune 2000 executives seek to increase efficiency and improve automation of online customer service while increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty rates. Due to the future importance of this topic, I recommend that someone in the organization attend the Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s parent corporation) free online Webinar on the topic, “Inbound E-Mail Automation: Making The Internet’s Killer Application Pay Off.”

There you have it, my recommendations on how to optimize email initiatives this year. An outside perspective is helpful as you optimize email communications, whether you need to build better email, understand CAN-SPAM compliance, or plan for the future.

Till next time,

Al

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