Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lucky 13: Tips for a winning e-mail campaign

posted by Andy Leff
Getting your business off and running requires reaching out to the masses, and letting them know you exist. How do you do this, you ask? Through a solid marketing campaign.

And in today’s Web 2.0 world, an e-mail marketing campaign is the best course of action. It’s the most convenient and effective way to drive customers to your site.

To put you on the right course, I’m offering 13 tips for putting together a can’t miss e-mail marketing campaign that's sure to heat up your ROI.

1. Set appropriate goals.

Before putting the campaign into motion, make sure you identify the goals for your campaign by asking yourself the following questions:

Are you selling a product or service? Do you want to bring people to your Web site or an Internet-specific destination? Do you want to increase traffic in a brick-and-mortar store? Are you offering coupons or special promotional deals? Are you trying to get potential customers to sign up for a newsletter?

Asking yourself these questions will dictate the direction and messaging that your campaign needs to follow. Your main goal is to produce results and get people to respond to your e-mail by asking for more information. Make sure your goals allow for people to feel not bombarded, but instead walked through a process that is simple, yet leaves them wanting more.

2. Set a reasonable response-rate goal.

The chances of reaching double-digit response rates are slim, so a response rate in the lower half of single-digit numbers is pretty good. Don’t be discouraged if only one or two percent respond. Those are decent industry-standard response rates. Remember, you will have the opportunity to follow up with those respondents, and potentially start long-lasting relationships.

3. Know what you're buying.

If you’re planning to purchase e-mail lists from third parties, make sure you’re buying what you want. Many services do not check if e-mails are still active, yet charge you for their use anyway.

Ask the e-mail provider if their information is for sale or for rent. There is a big difference between the two. If the information is for sale, you obviously can reuse the e-mail addresses over and over again.

The charge per e-mail is usually a bit higher than if the e-mail is rented. When it is rented, you have no control over who receives the e-mail being sent out. All you receive is an invoice from the company saying they sent 5,000 e-mails out on your behalf -- but you don't know who that is.

4. Resist the shotgun approach.

In other words, don’t send e-mails for the sake of sending e-mails. It is ineffective and costly. If you can’t pinpoint a target audience, then re-evaluate your marketing strategy. A shotgun approach will drastically diminish your ROI.

5. Write great copy.

Your audience doesn’t want to receive e-mails or letters with bad grammar or spelling errors. It’s unprofessional, and will likely be discarded. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If spelling errors abound, then your message goes straight to the spam folder.

Keep your copy short and to the point. You don’t want the reader guessing what you’re offering, or have any doubt about what your message is. The average reader’s attention span is already short. Just think how many long e-mails you like to read. And attention spans get even shorter when the e-mail is coming from someone people might not already have a relationship with.

Don’t bore them with every detail. Hit them with the most important facts, and make sure they make sense. Use short paragraphs consisting of three short sentences.

One- or two-word sentences work well. For example, Sign up, Buy, and Save. The word free also will get people to respond. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Even if the free stuff you’re offering is limited to a report, people will want it, simply because it's free.



Instead, keep your text on a conversational and informal level. You want the recipient to feel comfortable with you, and not feel they are being force-fed propaganda, which they are. But if you follow these tips, they won’t think they are.

7. Give a call to action.

Make sure you have a proper call to action in the first two or three sentences of your e-mail. Describe what you’re offering in the most concise way possible. Make sure the prospective new customer knows how to reach you. Do they visit your Web site? Do they respond to this e-mail? Do they call you on the phone?

Include all of this in the beginning of your pitch. Like I said before, don’t leave the reader guessing, or they will get frustrated and move on.

8. Set deadlines and termination dates for the product or service you offer.

Even if you extend those dates, or don’t have drop-dead dates at all, people don’t want to miss out on special deals. If they feel that they have a limited time to act, the rate of impulse buying goes up.

9. Offer plain text.

If you are sending an e-mail with graphics in an HTML format, also offer a plain text format in the message. Some e-mail browsers will not display HTML-based e-mails. And nothing is worse than spending the time, money, and effort on a campaign that some recipients can’t read.

If you have pictures and other interactive features in your e-mail, make sure the file size does not get unwieldy. Nobody is going to download any e-mail from someone they don’t already know and trust.

Save the file attachments and PowerPoint presentations to follow up e-mails once you receive a positive response from an e-mail recipient.

10. Let recipients unsubscribe.

Don’t forget to have a way for recipients to unsubscribe from your list. If there is no way to unsubscribe and a recipient gets e-mails from you every day, you will be flagged as spam. This increases your company's chances of ending up on a spam list, and blocked from e-mail services such as Google or Yahoo! Mail.

11. Test, test, test.

Don’t roll out your campaign until you test it. Send the e-mail to all of your coworkers. Set up e-mails in different types of e-mail services so you can verify that all of the elements described above are correct, and that your message is in fact what you want it to be. Get everyone’s feedback, and implement the appropriate changes.

12. Track, track, track.

Make sure you can track your e-mail results and responses. Otherwise you can’t calculate your ROI and figure out if the campaign was successful and worth doing again.

An easy way to track responses is to direct that e-mail to a Web site that only recipients of the e-mail can access. Then you only have to track the views you get on that specific Web page.

13. Grow your bottom line.

Obviously, the whole point of an e-mail campaign is to accomplish something that grows your company’s bottom line in some way.

To do this, follow up with any respondents' questions or responses you receive from the e-mail campaign. If a customer has to wait a week to hear back from you, they will lose interest. You want to keep the prospect hot and thinking about your offer.

Also, follow up quickly, and have your follow-up tailored to the question or response the e-mail recipient poses.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to match the right customers with your business -- and reap greater profit in the process.

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