August 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT:E-mail marketing: Sweating the details to create success

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“If the response rate is good, that means the message is relevant to the target audience, but some customers may not have had time to open it or they intended to open it later but forgot, so it is worth resending to them within a day or two,” says Bronto Software’s Colopy.

Just as retailers can overwhelm customers by sending e-mails too often, they can also err by sending with too little frequency. “Retailers don’t want their customers to forget who they are by letting too much time pass between the welcome message after they opt in and the next message,” says StrongMail’s Deutsch.

One best practice is to let consumers know what type of frequency they can expect when they opt into the mailing list and offering them a chance to adjust it. “The key is not to vary from the stated frequency,” Deutsch says. “Sending too few mailings allows customers the chance to forget they opted into the list. Too many mailings can prompt them to opt out or worse, designate future messages as spam.”

But retailers should not set customers’ expectations about when the offers will arrive.

“Retailers don’t want to go so far as to say they send a promotion the first of every month because consumers come to expect it and then start ignoring offers sent later in the month,” says Arial Software’s Adams. “Retailers want to create a sense of anticipation about the next offer and when it will arrive.”

Create consistency

After the retailer sets parameters on mailing frequency, the retailer must stick to them. “Consumers expect retailers to stick to the mailing frequency,” Adams says. “If the promise is to send one mailing a month, that is what’s sent, no more, no less. Failing to meet expectations in this area can sour the customer.”

Maintaining consistency with timing, frequency and relevancy with content can prevent customers from opting out of mailing lists.

“Best practices around these areas create consistency in the quality of the retailer’s brand and keep the customer interested in the retailer’s communications,” Colopy says.

The rules pertaining to brand consistency also apply to when retailers do mailings with marketing partners. If the marketing partner is originating the mailing, the retailer needs to have some oversight of the campaign to ensure it meets the retailer’s customers’ expectations. “If the marketing partner does not adhere to the same best practices as the retailer, it can lead to customers opting out of the mailing list,” Colopy says.

When a customer does decide to opt out of a mailing list, retailers still have an opportunity to change the customer’s mind by asking what they can do to improve the quality of their mailings. In many cases, customers prefer to reduce the frequency or will say they are not receiving offers that are of interest.

“By engaging customers to find out why they are opting out, retailers have the opportunity to correct the problem and keep them on the mailing list,” Responsys’s Olrich says.

Retailers can also proactively determine whether a customer wants to opt out by sending e-mails to customers that have not opened an e-mail for months and asking them to re-subscribe to the mailing list. It is not uncommon for customers to not make the effort to opt out when they no longer have interest in the communications.

“If the customer is not opening a retailer’s messages, it’s a good practice to ask whether they want to opt out, rather than keep going along as is,” Olrich says. “This approach can also regenerate interest in mailings for those that say they don’t want to opt out.”

Cautious purging

Although marketers should purge non-responsive customers from the mailing list on a regular basis, retailers are advised to exercise caution when doing so. Measuring the value of the customer from previous e-mail campaigns and taking into account the types of products they purchase can help determine whether the decision to purge is being made in haste.

“Someone that buys electronics or a computer has a longer cycle between purchases than a customer that buys apparel so it is not necessarily a good idea to make the decision based solely on how often they open or click an e-mail,” says Yesmail’s Harrison.

Testing of messages is an area where many retailers fall down with e-mail campaigns. The tendency of many retailers is to test two versions of the same incentive head-to-head without using a control group that receives the mailing minus an incentive.

“Less than 20% of marketers use control groups when testing a campaign, so they have no idea of whether the incentive is generating the sale or the marketing copy is,” says Olrich.

It is also recommended that retailers include some type of promotional code in test mailings that customers enter when making a purchase to ensure accurate measurement of each offer’s effectiveness. “That’s really the simplest way to track what works and what doesn’t,” says Arial Software’s Adams.

Nor should retailers shy away from testing offers of differing values against each other. “Free shipping may not be as advantageous an incentive for the customer compared to a 15% discount, but it may resonate more strongly with consumers,” Adams says. “Retailers won’t know that if they don’t test these types of premises.”

With e-mail marketing reaching new delivery channels, such as handheld wireless devices, one of the new challenges facing retailers is to properly format messages so they are readable on the handheld device and to tailor content to fit the smaller screen. The trend to wireless access also means messages must be formatted in a way that if they are later opened on a computer, content and graphics will not reflect formatting for the smaller screens of the handheld devices.

Know the nuances

“The secret to e-mail marketing is strong marketing practices, but retailers will need to be conscious of the nuances of e-mail in the mobile environment,” says Bronto Software’s Colopy. “Traditional direct marketing techniques are not going to translate well in this new environment.”

Another issue retailers will be facing is integration of customer databases and analytics to allow for management of promotional and transactional e-mails by the marketing department.

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