September 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Making the most of the email marketing tool

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Thats a tall order, but one that has gotten the attention of retailers in the past year, he says. Weve been in a lot of discussions about how to put in place programs to use all that information, Harrison says. The baseline is how you communicate with and deliver value to the customer. This looks at what else you can layer in to make those communications more relevant.

The analytics component

But its not just enough to have the information; marketing managers must have efficient access to that information. Translation: E-mail does not exist in a vacuum. Marketers are saying, My e-mail information cant reside with just my e-mail vendor. Its got to get into my marketing database, Seeley says.

The second development is the marrying of web analytics with e-mail marketing. Analytics tell a retailer what a customer is doing at the web site. And analytics are more and more becoming integrated into e-mail databases so retailers can understand what customers do after they click on an e-mail, whether they buy then or later. Analytics can tell the retailer that this person who received an e-mail last week after he bought a shirt is the same person who came to the site this week, browsed for a while but didnt buy anything, Seeley says. That kind of information can help make future e-mail messages relevant to the kind of product a certain customer is looking for.

Those developments are taking e-mail marketing companies in new directions. CheetahMail, for instance, bought analytics company Harvest Solutions and renamed the product Site Clarity in March and continues to work with independent analytics companies to provide such information to retailer clients. Owning an analytics company allows CheetahMail to create stronger integration of web site data with e-mail data, Seeley says. By being part of a single company, our clients can track the end user into the web site. For instance, we can make sure that the links are coded properly so when the consumer gets to the site, the retailer can identify who it is and what they do, Seeley says.

While spam issues may have faded and deliverability concerns have eased, many e-mail practitioners believe a delicate balance still exists among e-mail, consumers and retailers. Theres a lot of focus today on improving e-mail practices, says McDonald. In the industrys infancy, many marketers believed they could simply shift direct mail techniques to e-mail marketing. The old direct-mail ways of doing business just dont cut it any more, McDonald says. Everything in e-mail today revolves around privacy, frequency and transparency and marketers are taking all those concerns up a notch.

Responding to the industry

Among the approaches that retailers can take in those areas are to adopt authentication and accreditation technologies, McDonald says. To that end, EmailLabs has worked out an agreement with Habeas to allow EmailLabs to provide delivery monitoring and inbox monitoring services to its clients in an integrated offering.

EmailLabs, too, has worked out agreements with web analytics company WebSideStory to incorporate its HitBox product into version 4 of EmailLabs product offering. And it has other analytics deals in the works, McDonald reports. We are responding to the industry and to clients; this is a major initiative for us, McDonald says.

In addition, EmailLabs has improved users ability to include dynamic content in their e-mail messages. Weve enhanced the ability to assemble components and users can now create complex e-mail messages by clicking on a template, pulling up a box and selecting data fields and copying images, McDonald says.

Coming up is a workflow and task management system that will be designed to assure senders that everything is in order before they send an e-mail message to a list, McDonald says. That system will allow users to set up an e-mail production flow that can include required approvals before the e-mail can go out. Its very scary to press that Send button, McDonald says. There are so many things that have to be done, such as filters to be activated or personalization tags to be included. This will make sure that all steps are completed.

Conversant with technology

Underscoring all e-mail marketers new offerings is the movement to the marketing department and away from IT for campaign execution, not just creation. One of the major trends weve seen is the adoption of e-mail marketing software and services by less technologically minded users in an organization, Adams says. It used to be the web developer or the database technologists who were primarily responsible for this, but today its more and more the marketing or p.r. person.

Thus the interfaces have become simpler, he notes. The database interface for Arial Softwares e-mail marketing product, for instance, mimics a spreadsheet. People know how to open a spreadsheet, click on a cell and input data; we did the same thing, Adams says. The most difficult part is managing the data. We put a database into our product and made it intuitive.

The interface, released earlier this year, was built from the ground up based on how users were likely to interact with the data, Adams says. We looked at entry level users to see what they tried to do, then made changes, he says.

But that doesnt excuse the marketing and business part of the operation from knowing about the technology, McDonald says. Because of its very nature, e-mail marketing is about technology; its the technology that makes it so successful, he says. You dont need to know exactly how the technology operates, but you need to be conversationally competent. If, for instance, you dont know that you can sync data from an e-commerce engine to an e-mail marketing engine, then you wont know that you can do a lot of real-time e-mail triggered by something that a customer does on a web site.

Seeing the bigger picture

All e-mail marketing eventually boils down to the bottom line and thats where theres still room for improvement, e-mail experts say. Analytics provide insight into how customers use and respond to e-mail, but there are still plenty of e-mail users who dont get tracked. There are many privacy issues, Adams says. People dont want to be tracked. With all the phishing thats going on, its a legitimate concern

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