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"Email Marketing: Using Email to Reach Your Target Audience and Build Customer Relationships"

by Jim Sterne and Anthony Priore

2000 John Wiley Publishing, New York

303 pages; US$29.99

Review by Madanmohan Rao

While the World Wide Web seems to have hogged most of the press and business attention, it is actually permission email that can be the most powerful and cost-effective tool for branding, marketing, direct response, and building meaningful customer relationships.

"Email Marketing" by Jim Sterne and Anthony Priore is a useful guidebook for developing, rolling out, monitoring, and assessing email marketing strategies. The book is a must-read for marketers, advertisers, salespersons, brand builders, and customer relationship management specialists.

Jim Sterne is the author of other Internet bestsellers like "Customer Service on the Internet" and "World Wide Web Marketing." Anthony Priore is the VP (marketing) of YesMail.com, the leading outsourcer of permission email marketing technologies and services.

10 chapters cover a wide range of issues including viral marketing, spam, mail ethics, campaign strategy, writing style, list management, and measuring return-on-investment.

Emailing is cost-effective, selective, trackable, and can ensure higher response rates. Email - in the form of newsletters - is also a publishable medium. A recent survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers indicates that people spend as much as 84 per cent of their time on the Internet for email.

At the same time, marketers should resist the temptation to spam, or send bulk unsolicited email to users. Some states in the U.S. have passed laws protecting Internet users from spam; ISPs are also suing miscreants who abuse email privileges.

The most effective approach, therefore, is opt-in email lists where users explicitly give list managers the permission to send them marketing messages on certain topics at specified frequencies.

"These aren't people who were interested at one point in time. They are interested now. As soon as their interest wanes, they get themselves off the list," according to Sterne and Priore.

The site YesMail.com offers access to email ids of millions of primed respondents, in categories ranging from automotive and health to shopping and travel. Response rates on such lists can thus be as high as 18 per cent.

One chapter is devoted crafting an email campaign; key steps include defining a clear strategy, setting objectives, targeting relevant messages, choosing appropriate formats (HTML/ASCII), determining frequency of communication, preparing linked content ('bridge' pages), and measuring the results via success metrics. 5 worksheets are also provided as a roadmap.

"Crafting a good plan is more than half the battle. It separates the marketers from the master marketers," according to Sterne and Priore.

Email campaigns can be used for promotions, discounts, newsletters, product releases, product line extensions, prospecting, awareness building, customer management, cross-selling, alerts, reminders, market research, retention, and other marketing/advertising messages.

Email campaigns can be leveraged to recognise and reward the most valuable customers, improve customer satisfaction index, and involve customers in collaboration on future product development.

"Make sure your mailings are never sales-y, never look like spam, and never employ pressure, manipulation or evasion. Make sure that each mailing is a gift of learning, news or valuable links," the authors advise.

The right audience can be targeted by contacting owners of appropriate email newsletters (eg. tech newsletters of The Industry Standard magazine site), or of mailing lists like YesMail.com and SRDS Direct Marketing List Source (www.srds.com).

Publishing groups like IDG also run email list rental services. There is a huge growth industry in "professional audience gatherers" - via contests, shopping coalitions, and coupon traders.

Pricing, quality of data, references, response history testing options and list validity are key considerations to weigh here. Messages can then be sent in ASCII or HTML (which offers the advantage of being able to check whether your message has been opened).

"Just be ready to design your HTML for email a whole lot differently than you do your Web pages," the authors advise.

As for writing style, it is important to write positively, use pithy subject lines, create sentence rhythm, make smooth transitions, include calls to action, and repeat the links to click on; the 'landing page' should also be appropriately designed and tracked. Numerous samples of email pitches are displayed and discussed in the chapter.

"Email Attention Deficit Disorder dictates short blasts of communication," according to Sterne and Priore.

"It is a fine art to make things irresistibly appealing while also keeping people on the main path of action, and the first step is being aware of the need to do both," according to Ron Richards of email consulting firm ResultsLab.

Email (ASCII or HTML) newsletters are also good vehicles for customer retention, promoting new launches, and even advertising revenues. "A well-defined niche, a well-written newsletter, and a clear idea of what it takes to get people to sign up make all the difference," the authors advise.

Newsletters should be promoted on as many pages as possible on the company Web site. Newsletters should be archived, and users should be told what the company will be doing with the demographic data it collects.

Encouraging "pass along" or re-circulation information also helps increase secondary circulation of the newsletter. The ultimate success is online viral marketing, or "word of mouth on steroids" (as with Hotmail or Instant Messaging).

Companies like Amazon.com make superb use of email-based alerts to pull users back in to the site for repeat purchases.

Far too many companies embark on email marketing without appropriate testing, according to Sterne and Priore. The format of the message, subject line, target list, message length, day/time of posting, and response mechanism should all be subject to layered tests.

Response measurement metrics include clickthroughs, length/depth of visit, repeat visits, conversion, and intensity of email interaction.

"The majority of responses will always come in on the first day and taper off from there," the authors observe. "Internet buyers are impatient buyers. They expect answers to their questions and concerns the same day they ask them."

Here's where autoresponders, filters, intelligent responders and other automated email management software and services can be harnessed to deal with large volumes of incoming emails.

Still, there's nothing like the personal, human touch - especially for important and valuable relationships. "It's critical that your staff members act on leads while the customer's interest is still high," the authors urge.

"Of all the people who came to our site, the ones we engaged in an email conversation were three times more likely to book a trip with us than the rest. Case closed," says Richard Davidson, head of the Ski-Europe.com Web site.

Other case studies are also discussed in a separate chapter. Companies like Macy's, Internet Shopping Network, and J. Crew have reported better clickthrough rates from email campaigns than via search engines or banner ads.

Powell's Books, which deals with rare and out-of-print books, features email newsletters with quotes from old books. Virtual Vineyards leverages sprinkles humour in its newsletters; the site offers samplers in its emails and even sends messages to special customers offering them wines that are not featured on the site.

eCRM company eShare.com follows up on email marketing by actually monitoring live Web visitors. "By giving them an option to speak online with a live agent, a company is more inclined to capture the visitor and even close a sale at the time of the decision," says  Mark Swanson, marketing manager at eShare.

ClickZ.com observes that Tuesday mailings (especially around lunchtime) tend to do better than Thursday mailings.

On a lighter note, newsletters of Joke-of-the-Day.com and WordSmith.org are great vehicles for testing and launching email ad campaigns.

Useful online resources for effective email marketing include CRMcommunity.com, EmailToday.com, Personalization.com, JunkBusters.com, SpamCop.net, InteractiveHQ.com, American Marketing Association (www.ama.org), AnalyticTech.com, Griggs-Anderson Research (www.gar.com), SurveySystem.com, 1to1.com, ClickZ.com, Worldata.com, FirstLogic.com, FingerHut.com, WilsonWeb.com, eZineSeek.com, eMailRobot.com, eGain.com, Iconocast.com, and Lyris.com.

In conclusion, the authors note that email marketing finally boils down to knowing enough about each customer to know what interests them, and knowing when and how they would like to find out.

"Email will grow as a communication tool. Personalisation databases will get more precise. Digital signatures will allow us to include more transactive content," the authors conclude.


The writer can be reached at madan@techsparks.com


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