An Email Marketing Primer

11399_87607931 An Email Marketing Primer REQUIRED READING: Email marketing has displaced direct mail as the primary driver of business-to-business promotional outreach. But there is a lot more to email marketing than clicking the ‘send’ button. Indeed, there are a number of disadvantages that keep many companies from achieving the best results.

The main challenge here is passing the spam filters and actually getting the email message seen and opened. As business communications migrated to a digital format, email inboxes have overflowed with messages. And while email can, theoretically, persist indefinitely, the reality is that unsolicited marketing messages get deleted or ‘lost’ in an inbox overloaded with 3,000 emails.

The much-maligned direct-mail pieces are actually a bit more ‘in your face.’ A week later, it will be laying on a desk, awaiting attention. Email, in comparison, is often gone and forgotten within minutes – buried by hundreds of new emails that arrive with each passing hour.

There is also a question of professional-quality email marketing. When sending a direct-mail piece, there's an expectation of professional design. But too often, companies choose to knock out an email blast that looks amateurish. Email can be almost too easy, and people take the ‘do it yourself’ approach and pump out tacky looking email blasts.Â

Then, of course, there is the question of perception: What one person might consider to be an email marketing piece might be seen by someone else as cheesy old spam. Ensuring that your company's email marketing outreach isn't automatically blacklisted requires a bit of planning.

First, there is the design side of the email. Clear and typo-free messaging with quality visuals and a creative design must be in place. This email represents your company, so you need to appear professional, or nobody will take you seriously.

From a marketing perspective, it is necessary that the messaging be appealing to the right people and present the right offer. If it is a valuable message and sent to a target audience that wants the information, then it is not spam. To be blunt, spam is unsolicited crap that people do not want and would not even think of requesting.

Rocking the server

Then, there is the question of delivery and maintenance. It is important to use a quality, industrial-strength server-based service to deliver. Do not try sending a mass email marketing promotion from your desktop Outlook. This is especially important for the automatic handling of subscribe and unsubscribe requests.

Nothing will anger people more than being asked to be taken off a list and then still keep getting emails. It is a good idea to load up a server with the email addresses and send through a server-based system designed to handle unsubscribe requests instantly and automatically.

The server-based system should also make sure emails are as deliverable as possible. For instance, HTML emails are far more effective than plain text ones, but not everyone can manage HTML-formatted emails. Server-based systems have you craft two versions of each email – an HTML and a plain text – and then they intelligently serve the appropriate version on a case-by-case basis to each user. A user emailing off their desktop Outlook will not be able to handle this easily. It also looks very unprofessional to have a ‘To:’ list with 200 random other people on it, or the telltale ‘bcc: undisclosed recipients.’

Ultimately, the message should be crafted around the question of ‘What's in it for me?’ The email has to be interesting to the recipient, and it should also be as succinct and cogent as possible, with just one core concept and message.

As for question of whether or not to use file attachments, that's easy: don't do it. That's the fastest way to make sure nobody sees your email. Spam and virus filters will strip them at best, and more likely just dump the entire email, considering it unsafe spam. Instead of attaching a file, put a clickable link in the body of the email so that people can click to download it from your website.

Now here's a tricky question: How often should a business update its email database of marketing-message recipients? Stated this way, the business is doing it wrong! It should never be a question of ‘how often,’ but rather a company should have a system and process in place for continually and constantly managing this aspect of email marketing. Â

When a new client comes in, it goes onto the list. When a Web order is placed, the email is funneled into the list. It should all be constant and ongoing, in real time. Then, let the system automatically manage unsubscribe requests. To collect names and then manually push them to a list is not effective, by any means.

For higher-volume needs, there are server-based systems one can purchase for a one-time cost (circa $2,500 for the software and the hardware to run it) and then manage it themselves with relatively little to no ongoing costs. For more modest needs, or situations where a company would rather not deal with managing and maintaining hardware and software, there are several reputable, professional third-party services that can host a list for a small monthly fee.

Frequency is also an important concept to manage. While every marketer wants to stay top-of-mind, too many marketers over-spam their customers. It is crucial to find the happy medium, where you're emailing often enough to not be forgotten, yet not crossing the line towards becoming a pest.

For most businesses, once a month should be plenty. It's perfectly acceptable to have multiple lists: one for casual customers or prospects, and a separate one for the ‘power users’ who want more frequent mailings and more detailed information. In email marketing, one size does not have to fit all.Â

Eric Robichaud is CEO of Woonsocket, R.I.-based 401 Consulting. He can be reached at


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