As I am increasingly asked for input into direct e-mail strategies and activities, I thought it would be worthwhile going through a few sound principles that form the basis of successful direct e-mail campaigns.
Those attempting to sell us the tools to get on the direct e-mail bandwagon claim that this type of activity helps companies grow online revenues, build brand awareness, cut operating costs and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
My thoughts today are based on research, common sense and experience. With the plethora of e-newsletters, e-groups and e-offers, differentiating your e-mail messages is the biggest challenge today.
We all understand that e-mail can be a highly effective vehicle to communicate with customers and prospects due to its cost-effectiveness and speed. All of us subscribe to one or two newsletters (I must confess to subscribing to 18 and, herein, lies an essential problem which we should probably discuss on another occasion).
I have been involved with many organisations now that have gone enthusiastically down the e-newsletter path only to realise after about six months that it was an unsustainable rod to their backs. The theorists tell us that direct e-mails must be regular to be effective. You need to examine your resources and researching capabilities to be able to produce your meaningful e-newsletter at least once per month.
Sounds easy? Trust me, you need a dedicated person developing the content and hooks for approximately 25-35 hours each month. Management must be committed to allow that person to concentrate on the e-newsletter no matter what other prioritising is in place. Creative content and standout incentives require special marketing and market knowledge - not all organisations have the internal resources to do this.
Remember, briefer is better. As the words by a well-known author (whose name escapes me just at the moment) go, "I'm sorry my dear, but I ran out of time so I couldn't make this letter briefer". There should be no more than four key messages in your newsletter, and these should be succinct, clear and crisp.
Establish a quality program before embarking on the direct e-mail path. If you create an unfavourable impression at the start, it is an Herculean job to regain the interest of the reader. Multiple copies of e-mail, e-mails that appear not to have been proofread or content that is not relevant will all reflect badly on your company. Review what you're are about to post and send a sample preview posting to yourself or a review alias through e-mail so that you can check formatting.
And in today's increasingly security conscious environment, make sure that the "send" button for e-mailing to your precious list is behind a firewall with a suitably protected password setup. Unfortunately, spammers are forever on the lookout for ways to post to other people's lists.
Are you prepared to outsource some of this? To pay for what is supposed to be a simple do-it-yourself marketing tool?
Never put people on your list who don't know who you are and who did not ask to be explicitly included on your database. There is a multitude of ways to build up that list using an "opt-in" approach and the easier the subscription requirements are the greater the guarantee of those joining up.
Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter when they visit your Web site. At exhibitions, put out flyers inviting them to subscribe. After each sale, capture the e-mail address. And, always, produce a newsworthy and relevant communication, rather than a self-indulgent piece, with regular offers and incentives. Content is critical to retaining those subscribers.
For example, if your company develops computer games, provide a newsletter that contains information on the latest games around the globe, include tips and tricks, reference to two to three Web sites that offer some additional insights and make special offers on new releases.
We all like to see our names on a letter, we all like to be addressed in a welcoming way when we enter into a shop just to browse, we like to be recognised as individuals. Personalised messages sell.
This does not mean writing a personalised message to each recipient on your mailing list, but there are some things you can do.
Ensure the message is coming from a person and not the company in general - from "Janet Ford" rather than "Ford Inc" makes the reader fell as if they can reply to a real human being. And send the message to them - "firstname.lastname@example.org" rather than "newsletter recipient list".
Adding the user's name to the top of the message is another simple way of making your reader feel like you are talking solely to them. There are many cheap packages out there (as well as free shareware) that integrate to your e-mail system to add this personal dimension. Always invite your readers to respond to your newsletter or offer and provide a personal e-mail address to do so.
So, what is my message? Do it, commit to do it right and insist on doing it better.
Dolores Diez-Simson is managing director at Rivers of Communication. Reach her at email@example.com