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Thursday, October 22, 2009

7 Ways To Pull Your Email Marketing Out of The Dark Ages

Email has been like a direct marketer's dream come true. Just think about it: no postage, instant deliverability, highest direct marketing ROI and almost instant response to your marketing message. But these clear advantages over 'snail' mail have left a lot of email marketers lulled into a state of lethargy and failing to adopt more advanced email practices.

Usually, the more expensive an advertising channel is, the more vigilant marketers are about their investment compared to other cheaper methods. Most companies have seen a high return on investment using email and have thus been less attentive to new technologies and innovations in this field. When deliverability, for example, became a growing concern, most companies responded by just sending more emails.

Whenever a marketing method is as economical and effective as email, then you can expect overuse and even abuse of the subscribers. Email marketing abuse has led to more scrupulous subscribers who guard their inboxes like their purses. Marketers who fail to adapt to this new consumer attitude will continue to see diminishing returns for their email marketing.

Marketers must therefore continually change with the market place to remain on the cutting edge of email marketing by using the latest tools and technologies if they hope to remain viable. Below are seven ways email marketers can improve their email campaigns.

1. Be proactive about deliverability. An email message that never gets read represents wasted resources. So be sure to use an ESP that employs new technologies such as Return Path that can predict deliverability issues before your campaign is sent out rather than afterward when it is too late. Many ISPs are now using email filtering programs to determine which messages should reach customer's inboxes. Customers also have the option to rate email messages as "junk" or inbox worthy. So your email reaching its destination is no guarantee that it will get read.

2. Use updated email benchmarks. Open rates and click-through rates have been the basic benchmarks for years now, but email marketers need to go beyond these gauges. Marketers need to address questions such as, "Which links in an email were clicked, how many times and by whom?" "How many subscribers forwarded your emails and where and when they used the 'Send to Friend' link in your email?" There are more data collection tools now available than just five years ago and so other email parameters can be determined. The data aggregated from these tools can be used to improve subscriber engagement and retention.

3. Use customer data to enhance segmentation and targeting. Direct marketers agree that the more they know about the demographics of their list, the easier their targeting becomes and the higher the conversion rate. The use of surveys and other subscriber profiling strategies can allow you to further refine the segmentation of your list according to user preferences and other subscriber dimensions. The more personalized an email appears to a subscriber the more likely it would be opened and read. When subscribers view your email messages as relevant to their needs then unsubscribe rates would drop.

4. Make use of email automation. An opt-in form on a website collects a visitors contact information, automatically sends them an email response, sends them follow-up emails and allows them to manage their own subscription. Automation should lead to greater efficiency in marketing, but many marketers are not using the latest tools that can free up their time for those tasks where human input is really critical. For example, subscribers can be sent marketing messages to match yearly holidays, seasons and even birthdays without further input from the marketer.

5. Make your email marketing a conversation. The success of the new Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter shows how much consumers want to be heard. They are not lacking in opinions on a host of issues, and asking them to rate and review your products or services can lead to higher responses. These reviews can also be used in your own marketing as testimonials and as evidence that you are not just talking to the consumer, but listening as well. When consumers feel like their opinions count, your company will experience an increase in customer loyalty.

6. Integrate offline marketing with your email marketing. A hard-line segmentation of offline and online marketing can prove a mistake. An offline marketing model which has worked well for your company can be integrated into your online marketing rather than abandoning the offline approach completely. Email marketing should be seen as a new way to reach the consumer - a new communication channel - rather than a whole new other world. For example, offline coupons can be translated into online coupons sent by email. You should therefore use email marketing to compliment your offline efforts not replace it.

7. Use the cumulative data collected to incrementally improve conversion. Simply having the technology at your fingertips to collect more information about your subscribers is not a reward in itself. The real reward comes from analyzing these data and responding by making the changes that will improve results from your marketing campaign. The ultimate goal should always be email optimization and customer satisfaction. This requires testing new methods, data analysis and responding to new findings. And this cycle should never end.

No longer can the email marketer rest on his laurels and feel secure in using old methods and email approaches while ignoring new consumer attitudes and innovation in email marketing. With the new tools available and the information accumulated on consumer behavior, to continue using obsolete email marketing practices is simply foolhardy.

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