Loving Email: Let Me Count the Ways…

Last month, ClickZ Publisher Andy Bourland wondered aloud, “I’m wondering why email marketing isn’t more mainstream.” He went on to encourage Internet marketers to really use email to its best advantage.

Excellent perspective, Andy. Many marketers simply take email for granted and neglect to use it or (worse) abuse it as a marketing medium. Face it, email isn’t sexy or glitzy, so it gets a lot less attention than it should. But you know what? When used ethically and sensibly, it works. And here are some of the ways it can work for you.

  • Customer communications.

Customers tend to be more receptive to email marketing, especially if the email is used to give them advance notice or an “inside track” on new product developments or late-breaking news. As such, email can be a very effective way to pre-announce products or upgrades to customers, send a flash about a product update or a problem, inform customers about changes in service, announce important news about the company, invite them to a customer-only event and so on.

Assume that customers will receive your email hospitably if they have given freely of their email addresses. But even some customers may be upset by promotional email, so you may want to offer them the ability to opt-out or unsubscribe.

  • Follow-ups.

Both customers and prospects will be more accepting of email marketing if it is used to follow up on inquiries or orders, especially inquiries or orders which were electronically sent by them to your organization. If the email message clearly states that it is in response to an inquiry or order, it is generally acceptable if that message also includes some marketing information and a call to action.

An increasingly common practice in business-to-business direct marketing is using a direct mail, fax or telemarketing follow-up to an original promotional contact. Email holds great promise as a replacement or enhancement to the follow-up strategy. If you have a prospect’s or customer’s email address, sending an email that reiterates the offer and messaging of an original contact could be effective, because it may break through in a way that a follow-up mailing or phone call may not — and at an even lower cost than mail or phone call, to boot.

Email can also be very effective as a means to quickly follow up on a personal meeting, summarize what was discussed, and offer an opportunity to respond. And email is a wonderful, personal way to just say thank you when you can’t reach someone by phone.

  • Major announcements or breaking news.

It may be appropriate to do a “broadcast email” to a large number of customers and prospects when you have something very important to say. Of course, what qualifies as “big news” is often a matter of interpretation, and not every email recipient will react the same way. But if it really is big news (such as a merger, an acquisition, a new president, going public, or a Starbucks opening across the street), then nothing can beat the immediacy of email. (Just kidding on that last one.)

  • Email newsletters.

Shrewd electronic marketers have already figured out a way to implement email in a non-objectionable format that reaches target individuals on a regular basis. It’s called the email newsletter.

The email newsletter (like the one you are now reading) is basically a piece of email that is regularly and automatically sent to a customer or prospect — upon request. The best email newsletters contain information of high perceived value about a pertinent topic area but they are, of course, marketing vehicles as well. While most are free, some email newsletters are sent on a paid subscription basis.

Email newsletters have rapidly gained popularity, especially in the high-tech marketing arena. Every major high-tech information provider, including C|NET, CMP, IDG, and Ziff-Davis publishes free email newsletters, some on a daily basis. Reportedly, some of the more popular email newsletters have circulations as high as one million subscribers.

Why do these and other organizations send these free email newsletters to so many people? For one thing, it keeps their names in front of a very large number of people, all of whom have given the information providers their email addresses. As a result, they are building their own opt-in lists for free, and the email addresses they acquire will be available to them for on-going marketing use.

This is not just good public relations, it’s smart business. As the regulatory environment changes, unsolicited email is likely to be restricted or that subscribers have opted into, you can continue to use it to send email, because the recipients have asked for it.

There are other benefits to publishing email newsletters:

  • As an email newsletter publisher, you are promoting your site. Many email newsletters drive subscribers back to web sites to learn more about a particular topic.
  • Email newsletters can be distributed at a very low cost. Imagine the cost for printing and postage to send one million paper newsletters. Or faxing to the same number of subscribers.

    Email, on the other hand, can be cast across the Internet at a very low cost. As long as you have the proper email addresses and the necessary software and systems support, you can send email to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of individuals.

  • Email newsletters are revenue-generators. Many of the larger circulation email newsletters are also vehicles for Internet-based advertising (like this one). Some email newsletter publishers accept paid advertising messages and append them to the newsletter text. In some cases, the advertiser is positioned as a “sponsor” of the newsletter and can even embed a live link to a web site in the promotional message. If a subscriber’s email program accepts web links, this can be an effective way of driving a target prospect directly to a specific URL.
  • Email surveys.

Surveys which solicit the opinions of customers or prospects, allowing them to respond simply by copying and answering the survey questions, can be as effective as surveys conducted via mail, phone and fax — maybe more so. Email surveys are easier to respond to and less intrusive than phone surveys, so they may ultimately prove to generate a higher level of response. People like giving their opinions and will do so willingly. It is always a good idea to offer survey respondents a compilation of the final survey results.

  • Email discussion groups.

Discussion groups about virtually every subject exist on the Internet, so chances are one or more of them relate to your product or service. Some of these groups allow free or paid “advertising” or sponsorships by appending some copy about your company, product, or service to the discussion text. It must be done appropriately, in the proper context, and always with permission — but it does present you with another way of reaching a very targeted audience via email.

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