Permission-based eMarketing

There's a hotly contested debate about spam . . . . what it is and who should control it. Government and public interest groups are on one side; businesses and marketers are on the other. Government (www.ftc.gov/privacy/index.html) is being pressured by public interest groups to curb unsolicited emails (which is ironic since the government is the biggest collector of personal data without permission.) The Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org/library/privacy) is lobbying hard for self-regulation, and has taken the lead in developing standards for the industry. At this writing, the FTC appears to be leaning toward self-regulation. That obviously would change if businesses don't take charge.

There are many reasons why eMarketing has become such a hot topic. First, it's economical and can be very effective in promoting a company's brand, products and services. Second, the public at large is beginning to realize that their personal information, their privacy, is a commodity that has value. Third, there is real, legitimate concern that personal information will fall into the wrong hands and be exploited.

Junk mail v Spam email

The genesis of the debate began decades ago as the proliferation of unsolicited USPS-delivered mail reached its zenith in the '80s. As negative public response grew, it was ameliorated when digital technologies gave marketers other avenues of reaching and targeting customer interests.

While Internet-delivered mail enables businesses to more finely tune messaging to customer interests, many companies haven't adopted the mechanisms and methodology to do so, particularly in the B2B environment. As an increasing number of the workforce is held captive at their computer monitors, the opportunities to market to them have multiplied exponentially. However, in today's depressed economy, and most likely in many years to come, these same workers have even more responsibilities and fewer hours in which to perform them.

So how does one go about using this cost-effective medium? How does one make sure the message gets to the right prospect and is read? How does one get permission to market to a prospect in the first place? To help answer these questions, here's my 10-step eMarketing recipe . . . without the spam.

Step 1. Determine if a regular series of email messages will help your business. Companies are good candidates for email campaigns if they: offer regularly developed content, market regularly through direct mail, or provide B2B or B2C newsworthy content. Printers and related graphics companies are good candidates only if they commit to a sustained program and can generate market-specific content of value to customers and prospects.

Step 2. Identify objectives and the market(s) you want to address. The goal is to design a program that initiates and maintains 1:1 relationships with customers/prospects. The more narrowly defined your market is, the more finely tuned your message can be. Acquiring email addresses is always a particular challenge, since there are relatively few available lists and those that are available are usually extremely niched. This is one reason why it's so critical for management to get sales contacts into centralized, networked database. Without this database, effective marketing (email or mail) cannot be conducted.

Campaign timeframes depend on goals, so you need to set them at the outset. For example, if you want to promote a particular product offer to your existing client base, a four-week campaign might be appropriate. On the other hand, if you want to build customer/prospect relationships or communities, a sustained 12-month campaign is necessary. Setting sales targets for defined product offer campaigns should also be determined in this phase.

Step 3. Build your e/mail databases, preferably in an open-platform contact management software program-ACT!, Access or Goldmine; or even FileMaker Pro-so they can be segmented by SIC Code (among other filters) and be imported by your chosen email distribution service (see #7 below.) The closed-loop, referral strategy of this program continually feeds new prospects into your database.

Step 4. Create your direct mail piece(s). Spam-proof eMarketing campaigns begin with direct mail to gain permission to market to them. The mailers should contain an incentive, or offer, with a BRC order form, which asks for their email address and permission to send more information. The form obviously comes back to you for database entry.

The mailers may include an incentive/offer that will drive recipients to your website landing page where they'll read more. Again, the order form asks for email address and permission. You should be as specific as possible about what you propose to send them. If you can, send a sample of the eNewsletter, if that's the mechanism you've chosen to build customer/prospect relationships. Obviously, the higher the value recipients place on your proposed material, the more likely they'll give you permission. For this reason, many companies outsource content development to keep it informative, targeted, and as unbiased and non-promotional as possible.

The offer may be an invitation to subscribe to a monthly eNewsletter or quarterly Webinars that have content of specific interest to recipients. A book, white paper or invite to a special event may be offered in exchange for the recipients' permission to add them to your email database for regular updates. Note: The incentive/offer concept also can be used to get referrals to purchasing decision-makers in large organizations.

Testing the offer or incentive is always a good idea. For recipients to respond to the call-to-action, it must be something they're interested in. Customer surveys and focus groups will help you nail down the offer for each of your market segments. And don't forget what appeals to designers and ad agency types likely will be different than what piques corporate marcommers' or purchasing agents' interests.

Step 5. Design your email program. Once you have gained permission from recipients, you need to develop emails of relevance to targeted recipients. You also must always provide an easy way for them to opt out. Emails may be market-specific newsletters, case studies, or white papers for positioning and brand development. Or they may be a product or service promotion with a call-to-action, if direct sales is an objective.

Step 6. Develop graphics and content for emails and/or website landing page. Both should include a Privacy Policy. Keep all graphics and messaging consistent with your brand strategy. Submit to search engines and arrange links to target sites. Note: Your Privacy Policy should be reviewed by your attorney to make sure it aligns with your business. Once in place, it must be strictly adhered to. A standard Privacy Policy includes the promise not to sell or rent collected information. The more e-commerce-based a business is, the more stringent and expansive the policies are; e.g., http://www.ebay.com, However, some companies today are stipulating that email databases are transferable in the event the company is sold.

Step 7. Deliver your emails. There are a number of distribution services that will manage your list, graphics, distribution, and track response in real time. Some will also do mail merge for personalized emails from the sender, and even track recipient interests, if you put coded links, called clickable text, into body of the message. If you want branded, rich-media emails-with graphics, animation, music and/or streaming video-you will need to subscribe to a distribution service. Email distribution services range from $20 per month on upward, depending on the numbers of recipients, complexity of media, and reporting requirements.

Step 8. Fulfill your orders and immediately respond to inquiries. This is a critical phase of the campaign. If you fail here, you've wasted all campaign dollars spent thus far: Customers will lose faith in your services; prospects will turn to your competitor.

Step 9. Capture information and update databases for lead generation. These are your inbound sales leads, which are entered into your database and segmented (by SIC code, sales territory, product code, revenue projection code, etc) and then distributed to sales for follow up.

Step 10. Program analysis. Your email service and/or Internet Service Provider should be able to provide statistics on email and website click-throughs. As mentioned above, some services also provide real-time stats on content links to help determine interests of specific recipients, which helps further refine messaging in the next round of emails or the next campaign. As always, conversion rates are dependent upon sales buy-in to the program, timeframe of follow up, and individual sales rep initiative, so it's wise to monitor sales efforts as prospects are identified. That's another reason why your database should be housed in a networked, contact management program.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2002 Charlotte Mills Seligman

March 2002
Print & Graphics
Col #36, 3/02
Printing Journal
Col#36, 3/02
Emarketing Best Practices
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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