October 2, 2006, 12:00 AM


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"If the subscriber rate to the mailing list is going up and open rates and sales are down, retailers may need to begin looking at the groups within the list that are responding and adjusting the variables within the campaign for those not responding, one variable at a time," says Got Corp.`s Vezina.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as remembering the type of product being marketed and the core audience for it. "Basics play a role," adds Vezina. "Consumers understand that e-mail marketing is mutually beneficial, so marketers must never forget their audience."

With the volume of mail rising, retail marketers must carefully monitor the frequency of their marketing messages, as even e-mail that consumers consider consensual can be brushed off just by looking at the name of the sender.

Not surprisingly, sending mailings with too great a frequency can numb consumers` emotional attachment to the retailer, even if they are loyal to the brand. "If contact is too frequent, consumers will stop looking at even the subject," says Pollard. "Frequency is tied to the relevancy of the message and customer preferences for mailing."

Timed follow-ups

Send mail too infrequently and retailers risk lowering their profile with the customer to the point where customers can be lured away by a competitor`s mailing that hit at the right time. "Follow-up needs to be timed and fit into the overall strategy around deepening the customer relationship and as it relates to observed customer behavior," says Hilts.

Simple messages such as a "Welcome to the site," a thank you for a purchase, or a birthday greeting are simple ways for retailers to use e-mail to keep their brand in front of the customer without wearing out their welcome. Another variation of these strategies is to send a message inquiring about the satisfaction of the purchase a few weeks afterward.

"It’s totally appropriate and consistent with a holistic view of the customer for retailers to be looking for ways to convey their marketing message in service communications,” says StrongMail’s Lewis. "Retailers just need to be mindful that customer expectations are for transactional e-mail to be first and foremost about the transaction and for marketing content to be relevant and kept in proper balance. If they do so, the customer’s response will likely be positive and so will the impact on their bottom line.”

In other words, marketers are best served when they make the transactional purpose of the mailing front and center, both in terms of subject line and content placement. That also happens to be the legal requirement under CAN-SPAM. Additionally, marketers should avoid mixing in cross-sale messages that are irrelevant, too overt or too plentiful. While providing an opt-out to transactional e-mail isn’t required, it is a good practice to give customers a way to change how you communicate with them.

"Once consumers do business with a retailer, they expect that retailer to know what they want and not deliver inappropriate messages around transactional notices," Lewis says. "The effective marketing use of transactional e-mail should boost your bottom line results. If that doesn’t happen-and especially if customers opt for other, more costly forms of communication-it’s time to take a hard look at whether your marketing messages are satisfying customer expectations.”


Consistency and frequency

Consistency can also help retail marketers overcome consumer concerns about frequency of mail. When consumers know that a receipt will be sent after each purchase or that they will receive notice of sales at the beginning of each month, they are more accepting of the messages, even if they don`t open them. "Consistency in the subject line is how retail marketers get their customers to know and trust them," says Vezina.

If nothing else, retailers ought to keep in mind that non-intrusive mailings sent at regular intervals remind consumers of why they began doing business with them in the first place.

"If mailings are kept simple and genuine and avoid unnecessary hype, then they are usually seen as a positive by the customers," says Arial Software`s Adams. "That`s what makes e-mail such a fantastic bargain for marketers."

By following these basic rules surrounding relevancy, frequency, tactics to avoid spam filters and what analytics to track, retail marketers can create effective e-mail campaigns, even if they don`t have big league marketing budgets.

"The aim of all e-mail marketers is to make their campaigns relevant and actionable by applying online and offline sales data to the campaign," says Seeley. "You don`t have to throw darts to come up with an effective campaign."

For retailers looking to break through the clutter in consumer e-mail boxes, they couldn`t receive a better message.

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