September 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Increasing the potency of e-mail marketing

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Video tips
Video is another way to appeal to online consumers, who are watching video in ever-growing numbers. Consumers like video because it brings products to life in a way that still images and text descriptions cannot. The growing popularity of the medium on retail sites has many retailers looking to incorporate video into their e-mail messages. However, retailers are discovering that embedding an actual video in an e-mail message can pose unexpected problems that can prevent the e-mail message from being delivered.

A better option is to include a link within the e-mail that transports the recipient to a landing page where the video automatically launches. The e-mail message can include a video icon above the link or an actual image from the video with a start button that the consumer can click to proceed to the landing page.

"Video is a good marketing tool that can enhance e-mail campaigns, but there are some technical and cost issues retailers need to be aware of first," says Chong. "Transporting consumers to a landing page that launches the video is more reliable than embedding it in the e-mail. From a cost standpoint, retailers may only to want use video in e-mail when it can illustrate the content in a much better way, because video production costs can be quite expensive."

List management
One area of e-mail marketing where retailers tend to fall down is list management. Too often retailers either fail to purge their mailing lists of consumers that have not opened an e-mail in several months or they purge the list in haste.

Before removing consumers from a mailing list, retailers should make one last effort to contact customers and provide them the opportunity to opt out or establish new preferences for the type of e-mails they want to receive and how frequently.

"Retailers should always send an e-mail that attempts to re-engage a customer that is not opening e-mail before removing them from the mailing list," Voigt advises.

The best approach with a re-engagement e-mail is to be straightforward about the intent of the message in the subject line. Such phrases as "We haven`t heard from you in awhile" clearly state the intent of the message. "The body of the message should include a sentence that tells the recipient this is the last e-mail they will receive unless they indicate they want to continue to receive them," says Voigt. "Retailers can direct the recipient to a preference center that gives them a say in setting frequency and the type of content they want to receive."

Even if consumers on the mailing list open a retailer`s e-mail it is a good idea for the retailer to occasionally direct customers to a preference center to stay current with their e-mail preferences. "Consumers like having a say in what they receive and how often. Letting them know they have a way to state their preferences can prevent them from unsubscribing, going dark, or tagging a retailer`s e-mail as spam," Voigt adds.

Timing is everything
Measuring the value of the customer across all sales channels and taking into account the types of products they purchase can help determine whether it is too soon to purge a customer.

A customer that last purchased a big-ticket item, such as a computer, is going to have a longer gap between purchases than someone who purchased an inexpensive item like a book. Other customers may respond to, but not open, mailings with a subject line promoting a store-wide sale.

"Merging all the e-mail click activity and offline response rates to direct marketing campaigns can provide a truer picture about the value of the customer," says Chong.

One tactic for staying in touch with consumers that go long periods between purchases is to occasionally send follow-up e-mails after a purchase. The message can simply thank shoppers for their loyalty, offer them a coupon for a related product or a coupon for referring a friend. Other messages can ask about their ongoing satisfaction with the product.

"Keeping up communications after the purchase is important, but the message needs to be varied based on the point in the buying cycle," says Hilts. "The further away the customer is from the next purchase, the more loyalty-oriented retailers ought to make the message. As it gets closer to the next purchase, the message should become more marketing-oriented. It all goes back to putting the right message in front the consumer at the right time. Finding the right time is the most variable part of the equation."

A good rule of thumb for managing a mailing list is to identify and purge inactive addresses at least once a year, according to Bronto Software`s Waite. "E-mail may be a lower-cost form of marketing, but retailers still need to get the most from their e-mail budget, especially in this economy," says Waite. "It is best to avoid dead weight in the mailing list."

Retailers that track customer response patterns, take advantage of social networking and video, and that offer consumers a chance to modify their e-mail preferences before scrubbing a mailing list will be well positioned to increase sales from their e-mail campaigns.

"There are a lot opportunities to engage consumers through e-mail," Waite says, "and retailers need to be savvier when it comes to leveraging them."

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