RETAIL & E-COMMERCE: Good E-mail Marketing – Let visitors opt in and out

We’ve all felt our expectations rise as the “You’ve got mail” message flashes on the screen. Maybe it’s an invitation to the party the office is buzzing about. Maybe it’s the quotation you’re actually supposed to be working on. Instead, it’s junk e-mail. You hit the delete key, your mind already on your next deadline.

With so much spamming going on these days, how do you use this convenient technology to reach customers without inconveniencing them?

“It’s really challenging,” said Tim Gillen, owner of Terrapin Network Services in Traverse City. “Anything that is unsolicited is junk e-mail. But, bit by bit, customers are finding out that it is more convenient and less intrusive than the phone.”

A Harris poll of computer users revealed that, out of those who are receiving unsolicited bulk e-mail, 42 percent wish they didn’t. But Forrester Research Inc. predicted that by 2004, $4.8 billion will be spent on e-mail marketing–via 200 billion e-mails sent by marketers. In such a huge market, local experts concede that success is a two-part equation: 1) contacting receptive readers and 2) making it worth their while.

Opting to be in

E-mail address lists can be bought, rented or pirated. But many companies are finding success by professionally gathering e-mail addresses on an “opt-in” basis, where customers volunteer their e-mail addresses for such lists, often at the company’s own Web site.

“E-mails should only be sent to recipients who have agreed to receive such messages by an opt-in procedure,” noted Michael Conlon, an attorney with Running, Wise, Ford and Phillips, PLC in Traverse City. (See “E-Marketing Legalities” next page.) Gillen’s business, in fact, chooses to only e-mail customers they have an existing business relationship with.

“It depends on your relationship with the customer,” Gillen said. “I will invite customers to ‘drop me an e-mail.’ But I tend not to initiate it.”

Some of Terrapin’s clients, however, do initiate e-mail contact, but Gillen said they generally use very targeted lists.

“In general, they have done some type of business with them in the past. Otherwise you’ll never foster a positive mind-share by sending out junk.”

Michael Schmidt is always sure to ask his clients if they have an e-mail address they would like him to use. As director of business development for Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtor’s commercial division, Schmidt also belongs to several organizations that collect e-mail rosters.

“I use e-mail marketing as a general newsletter for existing clientele,” he noted. “I also have brochures of my properties in a digital format so I can send it to people via e-mail.”

Besides using opt-in lists, it is imperative to give customers a chance to “opt out.”

“Include a notice indicating that if the recipient does not wish to receive similar communications from the sender in the future, the recipient can follow a no-cost opt-out procedure to be removed from the sender’s e-mail mailing list,” noted Conlon.

This results in a list that is up-to-date, effective and non-intrusive. Regardless of how e-mail addresses are collected, though, one thing remains the same: The message better be good.

Get to the point

The key to e-marketing is making the message powerful, but short. One way to do that is to e-mail customers links to follow for additional information.

“(I make my messages) short, to the point, with links for additional information if the client so desires,” Schmidt noted. “And I send something useful because there is so much nonsense e-mail being distributed on a daily basis.”

His newsletter message, while only a few sentences long, provides a link to a full-scale newsletter where clients can read about home-care subjects that are far from selling prices and pressure. From that site, they can then link to his personal Web site and peruse the real estate listings.

Much of Gillen’s e-mail contact with customers, on the other hand, is in regard to their questions and concerns.

“It’s more efficient for both of us,” he said. “They don’t want to call me, and they don’t want me to call them. I keep it narrowed and focused and don’t send chit-chat.”

“Five Steps to Responsible E-Mail Marketing” at www.morebusiness.com offers these insights on effective e-marketing:

1. Send service messages, not selling messages

2. Use the e-mail to bring the reader over to a Web page–a more effective selling environment

3. Short messages are far less intrusive than long ones; they’re easier to read and don’t clog a user’s desktop with long downloads

4. Require confirmation, or at least send a warning e-mail, for new subscribers to any e-mail list

5. With every e-mail you send, make removal-from-the-list instructions clear and easy to execute. But remember that sending effective e-mails also means responding to return e-mails quickly. BN

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