December 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

New Rules

(Page 2 of 2)

In defense of experts, the Internet retailer should figure in a great many ancillary factors when analyzing results. Some of those factors aren’t instantly available, for example, repeat orders, size of orders and validation of the results through subsequent similar tests.

My own analysis of that last test is simple enough: Inclusion of Mother’s Day in the subject line was a trigger. “Last chance to order is this Thursday” appears to be a standard pitch.

The when and the what

When should you send e-mails? And when can you expect response? The answer to those questions is inextricably tied to the fourth principle, because a time-delay in reading the message can damage the “fast action” intent.

I’ve reported in these pages in prior issues: Don’t send business e-mails over the weekend, on Monday or on Friday.

Do send e-mails to seniors and students over the weekend and on Friday. Monday, for anyone? It’s Russian Roulette. The challenge is, really, guessing who else is e-mailing. Rules for Monday, except for business targets, don’t seem to exist. It parallels the old snail-mail rules about testing Christmas mailings: “Who reads a Christmas promotion in June?” Enough people so that as often as not the June test outpulls the October rollout.

Typically, over the first three days of an e-mail offer, expect about one-fourth of the responses on the first day; about a third of the total responses on the second day; and another one-fourth on the third day. The rest trickle in. If you want to beat the system, emphasize your offer’s expiration date and/or add an incentive for early response.

So a major key turns when a message can be quickly absorbed, the fourth concept. Distractions suppress response.

No blathering

We e-mailers shouldn’t kid ourselves. We’re at war, not only with direct competitors but with “those people” out there who sort and filter and discard. If our subject lines parallel fifty others they’ve seen within the past week, response has to drop because their interest has to drop. If our message doesn’t clearly, specifically and with apparent integrity spell out benefits for them, response has to drop because we haven’t maximized the benefit of our chosen medium. We aren’t marketers.

How easy and classic it is to position ourselves as though we were head-to-head with a customer in a store. Would we blather? Would we be clerks instead of salespeople? Would we out of desperation lapse into a carnival-like pitch, irritating our best prospects and attracting only the naive? Would we over-promise, attracting only the bargain and freebie hunters?

The Direct Marketing Association conducted a “Response Rate Study” which indicated the dominance of retail in e-mail marketing. Typical response rates were .04% for computers and electronics; 0.8% for publishing and catalogs; 1.1% for financial; 1.5% for travel; and 1.8% for retail.

That’s as it should be, because it underscores an advantage retail has-well, make that should have-over other areas of marketing: Retail can present a specific, actionable offer, to the most people who should be interested and should be able to buy. Question: Is your e-mail congruent with that logic?

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writing copy for and consulting with clients worldwide, and the author of 27 books, including Selling on the Net and Effective E-Mail Marketing. He can be reached at hgl@herschellgordonlewis.com.

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