Increasing Your Reach
In today's fast-paced environment many businesses tend to have a myopic viewpoint that extends no farther than revenues for the current fiscal quarter. Driven by this mentality marketers can be tempted to employ email blast marketing schemes that promise wide distribution and quick results.
The smart marketer, however, realizes the long-term value of establishing specific goals for any email-marketing program. It is one thing to attain quick results, but are they sustainable over the long term? The intelligent marketer does his or her homework and clearly defines the scope of the email marketing effort with a well-crafted plan that addresses objectives, target audiences, strategy, and implementation. Overall, the plan should answer many or all of the following. Are we looking for new customers? Retaining existing customers? Generating more revenue from current customers? Cross-selling among our customer base? Thinking about using a combination of the above?
With a plan in hand, a set of objectives, a roll-out schedule, benchmarks for success, and a process for continuous improvement based on past results you are ready to implement.
Build Your In-house List Using Business Touch Points
Begin with the email addresses that you already have access to and permission for--your customers. If you have nothing relevant to say to your customers via email, there is almost certainly nothing compelling to say to perspective customers. Thus it makes sense to craft your messages for customers first, and then roll out your program out slowly over time, rather than trying to reach everyone in the first email contact.
Statistics and anecdotal evidence prove repeatedly that an in-house email list will consistently outperform a purchased third party email list. The reason is simple. Customers and prospects on your house-list generally have some built-in affinity with your brand, your products and services, and your organization. In other words, they know and trust your organization, and thus would be willing to listen to what you have to say--as long it is relevant.
But how do you develop an in-house list when you are starting from scratch? First, think of all the daily points of contact that you have with your customers. Would any of these points of contact be an appropriate time to ask for an email address and email marketing permission? For example, when a customer telephones your service department, do you train your representatives to alert customers to the benefits of signing up for your email program? Likewise, do you send benefits-based opt-in requests to your customers with statements, invoices, correspondence, or product/service information? If not, you are missing opportunities to build your in-house email list.
Some possible points of contact to ask for email and permissions include:
direct mail pieces
Email Marketing Campaigns
You may also want to consider the percentage of customers with email addresses to total customers. Say for example, you have 10,000 customers in your database and only 15 percent (1,500) of those have provided email addresses and marketing permission. In this situation you may want to consider putting together a more formal campaign to capture the remaining email addresses or set a target of achieving 80 percent of them.
Renting a Third Party Email List
How much does it cost to rent a third party list of targeted emails? This is the most common question that I receive from our clients on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, it is probably one of the weakest ways to begin implementing an email marketing program. It is very tempting to take a short cut that appears to solve your problem. But does it? In my experience, this apparent quick-fix solution causes more organizations to abandon email marketing almost as soon as they start.
Now don't get me wrong, renting access to third party email lists can be very effective if done correctly, through a reputable list broker (a broker that provides permission-based addresses, responsibly and ethically). It is not just the act of renting the list that causes problems, as much as it is thinking that the list is the answer to your challenge. You still require a well thought out marketing plan.
Remember that renting email lists is usually a one-time deal. If you fail to capture an email address and marketing permission in one mailing to the rented list, you must pay each and every time your retransmit to that list. This can make testing creative images, messaging, or the lists themselves a very expensive proposition for the uninitiated.
With very few exceptions I almost never recommend that a client begin their email-marketing program by renting a list. Save this concept for a time when you have considerable email marketing experience and a record of performance with your existing house list.
Execute an Offline Campaign to Build Your House List
When you are attempting to reach prospects that are not already in your customer database, offline-marketing efforts will out perform online marketing in most industry sectors.
As an example, a targeted direct mail campaign to qualified prospects, with a call to action to register for your email marketing program, will often net a much higher response rate than a campaign asking for another response such as a purchase. You can then use the list you build with direct mail (provided you asked for an email address and specific email marketing permission) to market via email on an ongoing basis.
Similarly, you can also use other offline traditional media, including direct response radio, outdoor advertising, transit shelter, and television to build your email list.
Many marketers foolishly dismiss the use of offline media in their online marketing efforts, because they believe the costs of marketing offline are too high. However, generally this is not the case.
Purchasing brokered email addresses is still relatively expensive compared with direct mail lists. The relative cost savings for printing and postage can often be eaten up quickly if the email list fails to perform well. While renting an email list from a third party can be very effective in many cases, it is still prudent to test a variety of acquisition techniques, and choose the mix that works best for your company. In short, take nothing for granted, and test everything.
Although the direct mail costs are considerably higher per piece than the email costs, the email costs are still far from negligible. If, for instance, the direct campaign pulled double the response, the return on investment for both campaigns would be equivalent. Remember, unless you test, you will never know for certain.
Co-op Space in an Existing Email Publication
Another way to acquire customers online is to purchase space in an existing email publication that speaks directly to your target audience. Many traditional magazines, industry associations, and Web communities have created e-newsletters to communicate with their customers, members, and other subscribers on a regular basis. You can often purchase ad space in these email publications, speak directly to their readers, and ideally add a good percentage of those names to your prospect list.
Of course, the success of this strategy depends as much (or more) on the publication that you are buying into as it does on your creative and messaging. When buying space in an existing publication, you are essentially renting the relationship the publication has with its audience. If it is a strong, mutually beneficial relationship, chances are you will do well with your offer. However, if the relationship is strained through abuse by the list owner or by lack of relevance, chances are that you are wasting your time and money. You can also tarnish your good corporate reputation. The bottom line: Research the publication and the list owner thoroughly before engaging in any relationship.
Execute an Online List-Building Campaign
Banner ads and other online media have been fodder for the news media since the much-talked-about tech meltdown of 2000. If you listen to popular opinion, the effectiveness of online media has been reduced to near zero and the entire medium is a waste of time.
For the most part these doomsayers are correct. That being said, it is still possible to run a successful online marketing campaign and, because the perceived value of online advertising is relatively low, there are definitely bargains to be had. The trick is to target your advertising campaign with laserlike precision. Make certain that the audience you are purchasing is as close as possible to target customer profile in every way. Then test, test, test, and retest.
Try variations in creative, messaging, and media to find the combination that works best for your company. In addition, make sure that you negotiate the best possible deal with your online media buy. If you are not familiar or are uncomfortable with buying media space, engage the help of a professional media buyer. They are easy to find, and the additional expense will usually be more-than covered by the savings they negotiate. More important, you will avoid making costly mistakes in targeting your audience.
If you don't have a large number of email addresses to begin with, don't worry. Begin with your customers first. After all, if they don't want to hear what you have to say, chances are neither will a total stranger.
Practice your craft and sharpen your skills as an email marketer before attempting to enter the fickle world of email customer acquisition. Start small, and grow your list organically over time. Your patience and diligence will pay off in the end.
About the Author
Mike Allan is vice president, strategy, at MethodMail, a full-service strategic email-marketing arm of RareMethod Capital Corp.