E-mail marketing used to be a breeze. Fast, easy and cheap, it was a boon to marketers everywhere. But what a difference a few years makes. The sheer volume of e-mail correspondence has exploded, bringing with it a tide of undesirable missives. Spam filters are everywhere - often trapping legitimate correspondence alongside the torrent of Spam - and recipients are increasingly wary of opening e-mails if they don’t recognize the sender. Despite all these roadblocks and challenges, it is still possible to mount and run a successful e-mail marketing or customer education campaign, if you pay attention to some basic guidelines.
- Manage all your subscription requests - including "unsubscribe" ones - as promptly as possible. If you don’t have an automated system to handle these requests, consider getting one. If you bungle "unsubscribe" requests, or move too slowly to delete those who want to get off your lists, you may find yourself facing charges of spamming. If for some reason you are unable to automate this process, be sure to update your e-mail lists before each mailing.
- Make list maintenance a priority. The same people who devote so much time and effort to developing the right messages, and appealing visuals, often delegate mailing list maintenance (clean-up, deletions and new subscribers) to the lowliest staff member or to an unpaid intern. It makes no sense to invest all your time and attention to the "message" and neglect the delivery. You might have the best products and a very convincing e-mail marketing program, but if the mail doesn’t get to the correct addresses, your best efforts will come to nothing. Even if you get your e-mails to the right people, you can still alienate your customers if you send duplicate messages, or fail to take the trouble to customize your master list. Make list maintenance a priority. Remove duplicate addresses promptly. Clean your lists up frequently and purge old addresses that are no longer valid. You can readily identify these: they’re the e-mails that "bounce-back" because the address is not recognized. The address may no longer be in use or it may contain typos or errors. Either way, the address is not valid, so purge it and don’t waste time and energy in any more fruitless attempts.
- It pays to customize. Sort your master list to make sure that recipients of your e-mails get relevant information from you. Marketers who segment their lists - perhaps based on customers’ previous purchasing habits, age group, or zip code - score substantially when it comes to getting their e-mails opened. Marketing gurus believe that companies who segment their lists score "click through" rates more than 60 percent higher than those who do mass e-mailings.
- Get personal. The most effective way to get your emails read is to personalize the subject line. Take a look at the variety of e-mail list software that is available now. Investigate the various options for personalization that various software packages offer and determine what makes sense for your business.
E-mail remains an efficient, effective, and inexpensive way to reach and influence both current and potential customers. Consumers and business executives continue to regard e-mail as their most important means of communication. As e-mail becomes a standard feature on commonly used portable electronic devices - like phones and PDAs - its impact can only grow. Opportunities abound for small business owners who are willing to stay current on e-mail list management technology, segment their target audiences, and do the back-office work needed to best reach their customers.