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SMALL BUSINESS DOESN'T MEAN SMALL MARKETING

Small Business Marketing The days of being satisfied with a 1% - 2% response rate resulting from blasting e-mails out to a rented list are over – at least for reputable e-mail marketers.

Many factors have been forcing smaller businesses to re-evaluate the way they approach e-mail marketing, including spam filtering software, ISP efforts to filter spam messages, regulatory issues, and the vast negative consumer opinion about unwanted messages. Understanding how to plan, create and analyze effective e-mail campaigns has become a critical component of a small business' success.

E-mail is a tantalizing, low-hanging apple for many marketers:

  • It's cheap! With no production, paper, or postage costs, the average cost per e-mail is 20 cents vs. 75 cents to $2 for direct mail, and $1 to $3 for telemarketing.

  • It's effective! According to a study by META Group, e-mail response rates can reach upwards of 15% compared with one to three percent for direct mail.

  • It's fast! Jupiter Research states 80 percent of e-mail marketing messages receive response within 48 hours compared to six to eight weeks for direct mail.

However, these estimates are very slanted toward effectively planned and written campaigns.

The reality is that many e-mail marketers, despite making tremendous efforts to execute opt-in marketing campaigns, are grouped in recipients' minds with spammers that send e-mails for purchasing drugs, enhancing sexual performance, or selling pornography. To effectively use e-mail, small businesses must find ways to make your e-mail and its content stand out among the endless barrage of spam that is being sent every day.

PLANNING YOUR CAMPAIGN

Before you start sending e-mail, take the time to plan your campaign. The more questions you ask and answer, the more successful your campaign will be.

For example, before sending out an e-mail, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you want to achieve?

  • Who is your target market?

  • What is your call to action?

  • Do you have a list of recipients? If not, how do you plan on building one?

  • What will your message say?

  • What kinds of tests will you conduct?

  • Most important, put yourself in the shoes of your recipient and ask WHY they would want to open your e-mail?

It's easy to skip these steps and just quickly push toward getting your message out. However, if you're going to use e-mail as a communications medium, get the most out of it.

THE QUALITY OF THE LIST IS EVERYTHING

Small Business Email Marketing Success To maximize your return on investment and minimize the problems with unhappy customers, the most important thing next to the content of your message will be the quality of your list. Take the time to build a high quality, well-segmented, permission-based e-mail database – and keep it current. Allow customers to provide their e-mail addresses via your Web site, order forms, store fronts, etc. and tell your customers how you will use their e-mail addresses and how frequently.

For regulatory and legal issues, try to capture as much demographic, preferences and opt-in information as possible, including their location/address, preference, means of delivery, frequency of delivery, dates of contact, etc. Gathering more information from your customers will allow you to both provide intelligent, dynamic content and the ability to contact customers based upon their preferences. And most important, it will allow you to better analyze the results of your campaign, and how to do it better the next time.

LISTS: TO RENT OR NOT TO RENT

The use of rented or purchased lists is another tempting area for many small businesses where it may be hard to find the manpower to manage the e-mail database. In particular, rented lists often appeal to businesses that:

  • Do not yet have an e-mail list of their customers;

  • Have begun to have had success with their permission based e-mail program and are looking to expand with a larger list;

  • Are looking to e-mail for acquisition marketing.

Unfortunately, the use of rented lists can create a pitfall with more problems than benefits. Larger list sizes may drive more responses, but more often, they spark more complaints, an increased amount of reports to a spam-block list, and a lower return on your investment.

Be wary of any list rental company that markets opt-in lists. Bottom line: if the customer has not opted to receive your information directly from your company, chances are they most likely won't respond well to your message.

MEASURE UP

Be sure to take the time to analyze the results of your campaigns – perhaps even sending test messages before sending to your entire list. Remember, the final gauge of success of the campaign is typically not based upon the size of your list or even the number of successful deliveries – although those are good measurement tools. To fully assess your campaign you must evaluate the specifics: sales inquiries, referrals, purchases, etc. Be sure that the evaluation tools that you use to deliver your e-mail campaign captures that information and makes it easy for you to look at and compare campaigns.

NOW GET SENDING, NOT SPAMMING

While marketers should be aware about the recent legislation and legal battles being fought around spam, it shouldn't stop them from using e-mail as one of the key methods to communicate with your customers. New technologies such as challenge-based e-mails and overly sensitive spam filters may block a percentage of your e-mail from being delivered.

But if the content is valuable enough, your recipients will get your e-mail address "white listed" to ensure they get your messages. Focus on quality lists, customized content, and a reputable outsourced vendor, and your customers will look forward to hearing "you've got mail."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Goldstein is the Director for Campaign Management Solutions for Xpedite, a company that operates the world's largest IP-based messaging network with operating centers on four continents. Xpedite provides multimodal messaging solutions including e-mail, voice, fax and SMS. Goldstein can be reached at e.goldstein@xpedite.com

This article was written by Eric Goldstein, director, Campaign Management, Xpedite