Reach out to customers instantly

PROBLEM: Sales are brisk, but how do you turn one-time transactions into repeat business?SOLUTION: Get the word out to all your customers with the push of a button, using direct e-mail marketing.
Written by Jason Compton, Contributor

PROBLEM: Sales are brisk, but how do you turn one-time transactions into repeat business?

SOLUTION: Get the word out to all your customers with the push of a button, using direct e-mail marketing. The good news: sales are up. the bad news: Once you deliver the goods, you're a memory. How do you keep your customers coming back for more?

Stay on their radar with personalized contact. You could try a direct mail campaign, but that would take weeks or months to get rolling. Plus it would cost you several dollars per address. For a healthy customer list of 5,000 names, that's a minimum of $10,000. Then you'll be lucky if you see 200 responses.

Time to rethink your strategy. Use e-mail direct marketing instead and nab response rates as high as 25 percent. And with the right message realize an even bigger return. Scott Woodside, president of Woodside Works/ Platinum Pen, a retailer of high-end writing instruments, sees an unbelievable 90 percent response rate to his company's e-mail newsletter, which he manages with ListBot. And Woodside gets an average of 10 to 20 new subscribers—and repeat customers—per day. Here's how you can get those kinds of results.

1. Plan Your Strategy

Talking to all your customers with the click of a mouse is a powerful promise. But first you need to figure out what you want to say. Have a distinct goal: Do you want to alert customers to a special event, let them in on sales promotions, or drive traffic to your Web site? Also think about what level of response you expect. For example, if you are having a special promotion, do you have the staff to handle the increased sales or customer service requests? In fact, Woodside says, "Whenever we send information on a new product, factory outlet specials, or a special 90-minute sale, we have to be ready because look out—the orders pour in."

Your expected response will also dictate what kind of e-mail service to choose. For a basic do-it-yourself mailing that doesn't require any special follow-up, try a free service such as ListBot (www.listbot.com). For more ambitious mailings—such as those that let you create and track campaigns—you can outsource them to a service like Kana Connect (www.kana.com).

2. Build Your Mailing List

Whichever route you choose, you don't want your mailing confused with spam. Each respondent should be specifically chosen to receive your message—it's that simple.

The best way to ensure that your message goes only to those who want it is to collect subscriptions to your mailing list. Take a cue from direct clothing retailer Lands' End. Its weekly e-mail newsletter, What's New, goes to some 200,000 subscribers. And every person on the list signed up by completing a form on the company's Web site (www.landsend.com).

Entice your own customers to fill out a Web form with offers of discounts or special news and deals. Also make sure your Web site and the mailing contain clear instructions for removing their names from the subscriber list.

If you want a broader, more generic audience for your mailing, for example, to generate new business, use an opt-in service like YesMail (www.yesmail.com) or MyPoints (www.mypoints.com). These services collect names of people who want to receive promotional e-mail.

3. Refine Your Message

Once you have a list, you may be tempted to send a targeted sales pitch. But "blatant sell" e-mail messages are the least effective kind. A better way to reach customers is through mailings they expect to see: receipts, statements, and customer service replies. Overlay your marketing message in those e-mails. Or start a regular customer newsletter. Newsletters fare better than targeted marketing messages.

Take special care with the language you use in your mailing. Free! Win! and **LOOK** are passé. They've been overplayed, and most people associate them with spam. If you want to grab attention, do it with real value. For example, Lands' End uses its newsletter to highlight new or improved products, using the same friendly, easy-to-read language that has made its catalogs famous.

Contests and prizes are short-term thrills too. People either decide that the prize isn't worth winning or come to realize that their chances of winning are extremely slim. If you want to have a giveaway, add a contest to a special edition of your newsletter.

4. Dress It Up—Or Not

Along with written content, you need to consider graphics. With HTML, you can jazz up your e-mail messages with eye-catching visual elements. But just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Industry experts agree that effective HTML e-mail yields substantially higher response rates. But if a recipient's e-mail client doesn't support HTML or if the option is turned off, the user can't read your message.

Ideally you should ask customers to choose HTML or plain text when they sign up for your mailing list. Unfortunately, many people don't know which type of e-mail they have. A solution? Send plain text as well as HTML in one e-mail and in most cases your customers will see whichever is right for them.

If you use HTML, go for a clean look. Keep linked graphics to a minimum so that your message loads quickly. If you stick with plain text, design a consistent, easy-to-read message with clear, underlined headings.

5. Make a Schedule

Because e-mail marketing is effective and easy to do, it's tempting to keep doing it. But resist the urge to stuff mailboxes. A good model: Start with a bimonthly mailing, then increase to weekly if you need to.

Also, make sure that other people in your organization aren't flooding your customer list. For example, a company with three independently managed product lines may share a contact database. If each product manager sends out a weekly mailing, customers will feel bombarded. Many mailing services let you automatically coordinate such overlap—if not, plan a rotating mailing schedule or combine your messages into one.

Jason Compton is a freelance business writer.

Direct E-mail Resources

Kana Communications www.kana.com
Use its Kana Connect to create flexible, custom direct marketing campaigns.

ListBot.com www.listbot.com
Manage your direct e-mail lists with this free service.

MyPoints www.mypoints.com
Get targeted mailing lists instantly— and MyPoints takes care of the details.

YesMail www.yesmail.com
More than 8 million names to choose from for your mass mailings.

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