Tips on e-mail marketing

Marketing through e-mail has many benefits:

  • It costs little.

  • It is instantaneous.

  • It is interactive.

  • It spreads your message to many customers at once.

  • It doesn't wait for customers to visit but pushes your message to them.

  • It makes it easy to track such things as incorrect e-mail addresses (through bounce-backs), positive and negative responses, visits to Web pages (from a link embedded in an e-mail message), and increases in sales.

E-mail marketing makes it easy to establish a regularly scheduled communications program that builds your brand and your business.

E-mail marketing has its disadvantages, too. Deluged with e-mail, customers can filter your messages out of their e-mail inboxes and delete them without ever reading them. Worse, they can mistake your e-mail messages for spam, especially if they get too many irrelevant messages. Worst of all, customers may decide that your message is spam if the content doesn't match what they thought they would receive. Then they may remove themselves from your mailing list and think ill of your business.

The bottom line is: E-mail marketing done right can reinforce your customers' positive interactions with your business.

In this article

Components of successful e-mail marketing

Build customers' trust

Components of successful e-mail marketing

What do you need to do to succeed in e-mail marketing?

  • Keep it legal.

  • Make the content relevant and brief.

  • Offer a clear call to action.

  • Make the message personal.

  • Be consistent.

  • Format the message carefully.

  • Test the message before you send it.

The key to successful e-mail marketing, as with all other marketing, is to make sure that the right people are on your recipient list, set expectations about what they will receive from you, and deliver what you promise.

Keep your e-mail marketing legal

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) outlines requirements for those who send commercial e-mail. It also spells out penalties for spammers and companies whose products are advertised in spam if they break the law, and it gives recipients the right to ask e-mailers to stop spamming them.

The law covers e-mail whose primary purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service, including content on a Web site. A "transactional or relationship message" — e-mail that facilitates an agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer in an existing business relationship — may not contain false or misleading routing information, but otherwise is exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act. For more information, click a link in the See Also section.

Make the content relevant and brief

Expect that most of your customers and potential customers have time and interest for reading only what pertains to them, as long as it gets to the point quickly. The more you target each e-mail message to individual recipients' interests, the more likely they are to open, read, and respond to your messages. The E-Mail Merge features in Microsoft Office Publisher 2007 can help you to efficiently direct the content at each recipient's interests.

The types of content that work well in e-mail marketing include:

  • Weekly specials, discounts, and other promotional offers

  • Event and seminar invitations

  • Product information updates

  • Informational newsletters

Effective e-mail marketing messages include the following elements (most of which are also required by the CAN-SPAM Act):

  • A clear, concise subject line    Although you want recipients to open the e-mail message, play no tricks and use no gimmicks. Just promise a real benefit or value that you can deliver. The CAN-SPAM Act requires that the subject line accurately represents the content of the message.

    Also, keep the subject line under 50 characters so that it is not truncated in the recipient's inbox, and avoid punctuation unless you are asking a question — it wastes precious space. Above all, avoid using exclamation marks. They are a good tip-off that the message is strictly promotional.

  • Notification that your e-mail message is an advertisement or solicitation    The CAN-SPAM Act requires that this notice be clear and conspicuous and that you provide a way for recipients to remove themselves from the mailing list — a method for opting out.

  • A valid return address    The CAN-SPAM Act requires that you provide a street address. It is a good idea to provide a phone number as well. After all, you want the recipients to contact you.

  • An opt-out option    The CAN-SPAM Act requires that you provide a return e-mail address or another Web-based response mechanism that allows recipients to ask you not to send future e-mail messages to that e-mail address. You must honor the requests within 10 business days of receiving the opt-out request and for at least 30 days after the e-mail message was sent. Nor can you help anyone else send e-mail to the address of someone who has opted out.

Offer a clear call to action

Make clear in the first paragraph what action the recipients can take. Don't make them scroll through the message to find it, but restate it at the end as well in case they decide to read the entire message before they act.

Some options for a call to action include the following:

  • Click a link for more information.

  • Register to receive a special offer.

  • Visit a Web page to qualify (and make that page relevant to the specific offer).

  • Download a newsletter, game, screen saver, coupon, or white paper.

  • Make a phone call.

Make the message personal

The more personal the tone, or voice, the better — write your message as though it is from a human being rather than an impersonal institution. People want to build relationships with other people, not with a company.

Add to the personal touch by providing a little something extra, such as information that is related to your customers' interests in your business. For example, a restaurant might include wine reviews or recipes as part of a regular e-mail communication. When customers try these wines or recipes at home, the restaurant builds the perception of its expertise and enriches the relationship between customer and business. Education, reasoned opinions, principled stands, or humor make your business seem more helpful and human — but recognize the risks that they carry, too. Make sure that you know your audience well and how they are likely to react.

Be consistent

When you send a series of e-mail messages, strive to be consistent in your messaging, in the layout, and in the timing of the mailing. This consistency supports the perception that your business is reliable, organized, and well-established.

Send a series of e-mail messages at the same time each day, week, and month. If your messages are directed at other businesses (or people at their work), send them so that they can be read during the work week but not on Monday morning (don't send your messages between Friday noon and Monday noon). If your messages are directed at consumers at home, send them so that customers will see your messages on the weekend.

If mailings aren't frequent enough, customers will forget your business. Start by testing a schedule of weekly e-mailings and go from there. But if you have any doubt, it is better to send too seldom than too often.

Format the message carefully

If you create an e-mail message from a print publication, it may be too wide and force the recipient to scroll horizontally. Also, the more that recipients must scroll vertically, the less likely it is that they will see all of your message. Even if you choose a publication that is designed for e-mail messages, preview the message to verify the layout and size so that you can make any necessary changes to text, graphics, and layout before sending.

How do I change the page size?

  1. On the File menu, click Page Setup.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Under E-mail, click a standard page size, or click Create a custom page size.

    • Under Page, change the measurements for Width and Height.

Some of the fonts that you use in a printed publication may not be easy to read online. Consider using a Web font or font scheme that is designed for screen readability, especially for users who may have screens of different sizes and resolutions. For a list of the Web fonts and font schemes in Microsoft Office Publisher, see Apply a font scheme.

Consider also the e-mail capabilities of your audience. If they are on broadband or corporate networks, they don't have to wait long to download graphic-rich files. Because an e-mail message with a lot of graphics and color formatting will require a fairly large file size, it may take recipients with slower connections a long time to download or open the message. These recipients are much more likely to decide that your message is not worth the wait.

Test the message before you send it

Before you send e-mail to a large list of recipients, make sure that you test the e-mail message, its contents, and any mechanisms that you set up for tracking and responding, including hyperlinks in the body of the message. Start by previewing the message. Because some problems may not appear in the browser preview, send your message to yourself to verify the size of the file and the final formatting. It is best to ask several others to test the message and give you their feedback. You learn the most about what you may have overlooked if you can observe impartial testers while they open, read, and respond to the message.

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Build customers' trust

The foundation of a successful e-mail marketing program is a list of customers and potential customers who are interested enough in your offerings, business, or industry that they want to receive e-mail about them.

When you ask customers and potential customers if they want to receive messages from your business, you are asking them to trust you. Do everything you can to earn and retain their trust by setting their expectations and clearly communicating. Do this and build a loyal following. Loyalty is the best way to bring in business.

Opt out or opt in?

People receive e-mail by two primary methods: by surprise or by request.

  • Surprise!  — Opt out    Unless an e-mail message comes from someone you know, you likely consider unexpected or unwanted messages to be spam. You need a way to request to be removed from or to opt out of further mailings. Opt-out e-mail is an unsolicited e-mail message that provides recipients a way to remove themselves from further mailings.

    Opt-out e-mail is usually (but not always) an annoyance. An example of possibly legitimate opt-out e-mail is an unsolicited message about an upcoming event that is relevant to attendees of a previous seminar that you hosted. There is a good chance they will be interested. Still, there is a better way.

  • I asked for that!  — Opt in    Instead of sending unsolicited e-mail to attendees of last year's seminar, it would be better to have asked them at the seminar to provide their e-mail addresses if they want be notified about upcoming events. Those who choose to be notified have opted in, giving you permission to send to them and telling you the kind of information they want to receive. This list of prequalified subscribers ensures that you don't waste messages on uninterested customers. It means you have a golden opportunity to continue building a relationship.

Opt-in guidelines

To build a relationship with customers and potential customers, you want to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Set clear expectations in every step that your customers must go through to opt in. This process may be the most important part of your e-mail marketing effort. Follow these guidelines to build your customers' confidence in your integrity:

  • Offer several ways to subscribe    Ask for e-mail addresses at every point of contact (service counter, cash register, Web site, catalog, newsletter, phone calls). For example, on every page of your Web site, include an abbreviated subscription form, link to a subscription page, or prominent graphic that encourages visitors to subscribe.

  • State clearly what you need their personal information for    Building trust begins here, and you need your customers' trust to gain their loyalty and business. Tell them that you don't sell or share your mailing list (and make sure you don't). Make your privacy policy available (in print or on the Web) near the point at which they subscribe, and make it easy for them to send or ask questions about it.

  • Explain the benefit of subscribing    Give your customers a good reason to subscribe. What is in it for them? Do they get to find out about sales before they start? Get free shipping on their first purchase? Receive special offers, updates on new and upcoming products, or product tips?

  • Provide incentives    Give subscribers a coupon or discount. Enter them into a drawing for a new product. Offer free shipping on their next purchase.

  • Let subscribers tell you how often they want to receive e-mail messages    If you can't decide the right frequency, let them tell you, and make sure that you follow through.

  • Ask subscribers to enter their e-mail addresses twice    People often make typing errors. Make sure that they validate the e-mail address they give you.

  • Use double opt-in registration    If it is possible that people might add themselves to your mailing list inadvertently or that people might submit someone else's name, ask them to confirm their submission. Asking interested individuals to confirm their interest risks annoying those with marginal interest, and it confirms that everyone on your mailing list really wants to receive your e-mail messages. Double opt-in makes the effort to ensure that you don't send unsolicited e-mail messages, which can damage the reputation of your business.

  • Thank users for subscribing    Immediately. Describe what they signed up to receive and how often, and how to remove themselves from the list.

  • Make unsubscribing as easy as subscribing    You might let your subscribers use the subscription form for removing themselves from your e-mail list.

  • Remind users that they subscribed    In each message that you send, include a heading that thanks them for subscribing.

  • Keep track of each subscriber    Whether you track it in a customer management system, a database, a spreadsheet, or a printed list, keep this information with your customer data. If subscribers later forget that they subscribed and complain about receiving unsolicited e-mail from you, you want to be able to cite the date and manner in which they subscribed. (In writing? On a Web form? In e-mail?) And you need to graciously offer to remove them from your subscription list.

  • Be responsive    Reply to inquiries, requests, and complaints as quickly as you reply to orders. Again, focus on building trust to gain customers' loyalty and business.

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