It's In the E-mail
if you do it right, an e-mail marketing campaign can generate web-site visits and sales.
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Those who abuse e-mail marketing have the wrong attitude. They seem to believe customers are naive saps who can be manipulated into parting with money, even though the product for sale does them no good.

If you aren't using e-mail to market your products and services now, you soon will be. As Jim Sterne and Anthony Priori say in their new book, E-mail Marketing, "The most powerful tool for marketing, the most powerful tool for branding, the most powerful tool for direct response and the most powerful tool for building customer relationships turns out to be plain old, ordinary e-mail. It's cheap, it's easy and everybody on the Internet has an address."

However, the popularity of e-mail as a marketing tool is creating its own problems. We're already moving toward e-mail overload. And your prospective customers will deal with unwanted e-mails in the same way they cope with junk mail. If it isn't desired or relevant, it's trash.

The Right Attitude
You can avoid the virtual trash can--and enjoy impressive response--if you do e-mail right. Successful e-mail begins with the right attitude: one of helpfulness and respect.

Those who abuse e-mail marketing have the wrong attitude. They seem to believe customers are naive saps who can be manipulated into parting with money, even though the product for sale does them no good. These abusers are flooding customers' inboxes with spam. And customers who are offended by spam complain online about the company that sent it.

You're not interested in abusing e-mail marketing, cheating your customers or ruining your reputation. You want to build mutually beneficial relationships, giving customers what they want, getting money in return and making a profit. If your willingness to understand customer needs and help them solve their problems comes through loud and clear in everything you do, consumers will go out of their way to do business with you.

Because you respect your customer, you will not send unsolicited e-mail, but will only send e-mail to people who have:
1. Signed up to receive e-mail or an e-mail newsletter from you (make sure it's strictly on the subject they signed up for);
2. Signed up to receive e-mails on your type of product via an opt-in e-mail service; or
3. Bought something from you in the past.
In each case, every e-mail you send must give the recipient the option to unsubscribe, simply by replying with "unsubscribe" in the header. Take care to promptly unsubscribe those who aren't interested in receiving your e-mail.

The Right Message
E-mail is a direct communication between you and your customer. Your message must get right to the point. Focus on the most pressing customer problem that can be solved by your product.

One example of a company that has identified its customers' needs is LendingTree (www.lendingtree.com), a provider of online loan comparisons. In its research, LendingTree discovered that customers hate being treated like second-class citizens when they go shopping for a loan. Customers want to be "sold to" instead of feeling like they are deadbeats begging for a loan. So LendingTree promotions show the customer in the driver's seat. And when buyers visit LendingTree.com, they find that the company does, in fact, put them in control. They can pick the kind of loan they want, type in their requirements and then receive competitive bids.

Which brings us to the next step: Once you've gotten the buyer's attention with a compelling emotional appeal or a straightforward announcement of something new and useful, you will want to direct them to your Web site. As Sterne and Priori say of customers in their book, "The only thing that matters when your e-mail message shows up is getting them to open it and read it. The only thing that matters when they read your e-mail is whether they click through to your Web site and complete the desired action."

I should add that an e-mail invitation to your Web site should be courteous and appealing, so the potential customer who doesn't click through this time--for whatever reason--still gets a warm fuzzy feeling. You don't want to have a likely future customer open the e-mail and decide never to open another e-mail from you again.

Make the most of the subject line. Don't be clever or mysterious--that's what spammers do. Just give readers the facts. A good example might read: "Do-it-yourself Web sites. 30 minutes; $199." Even someone who deletes your e-mail after a quick glance will have an idea what you're selling.

The Right Format
The most effective e-mails contain invitational copy blocks. Each block consists of a headline, a paragraph and a link. In the case of the do-it-yourself Web site company, the headline could be: "Create a Customer Web Site in Minutes." The paragraph gives a brief but complete description of what's being offered. In our example: "Click over to www.imagecafe.com, pick the Web site design that suits your product, your brand and your industry. Pay only $199 for a professionally designed site. Get it hosted for an additional $19.95 a month. You can even use our self-contained shopping module, and start accepting credit card orders over the Web, immediately! Change the content on your site, as much as you like and whenever you like, with our Web Manager (all without knowing HTML!). Put the power of the Web to work for you--today--with ImageCafe." Note how the copy helps the prospective customers picture themselves successfully using the product. This is the most effective type of selling copy you can write.

Describe what will happen. Here is how you might spell out the steps if you were promoting a carpet cleaning company. "One of our highly trained cleaners will come to your door and first do a tour of your house to learn exactly what you want done. He will give you a time and cost estimate. Then our cleaning team will bring in equipment, move the furniture, clean your carpet and put the furniture back. The average 2000-square-foot house is completed in three hours." Customers are starving for this kind of information. No matter what they're buying, customers want to know what's going to happen to them after they say "yes." Most selling copy ignores this vital concern, and instead focuses on how wonderful or sexy or successful they'll become after they click through. But today's customers are exposed to thousands of similar commercial messages every day. They barely hear (much less believe) those messages. Answer their real questions: "If I take your 'desired action,' what will happen to me? How will you treat me? What will you do? What will you expect of me? What will you do if something goes wrong?"

The key to successfully marketing with e-mail--as with other marketing methods--is putting yourself in your customer's shoes. Know what matters to your customers. Explain how your product helps them. Send your e-mails only to the people who ask for them. Keep them short. Link to specific, relevant pages on your Web site. Tell customers exactly what you're going to do and then follow through. They will show their appreciation with their purchases and their loyalty.

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