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Email Marketing

In just ten years e-mail has gone from a relatively unused means of basic communication to one of the most promising means of promotion and marketing in the world. With mass e-mail mailings, companies can now get messages to potential and current clients at a fraction of the cost of the previous alternative, bulk mailing.

According to a 2004 study by www.emarketer.com, e-mail marketing pieces draw the second-highest return on investment (ROI) when compared the myriad means of information dissemination, second only to telephone marketing.

Considering all of the recent attention to digital mailing - there are dozens of new e-mail marketing providers opening every day - it should be clear that e-mail marketing could provide a vital link to the world at large. However, what with the technical aspects of a message's development, creation and distribution, it is easy to become intimidated, but fear not; there's no time like the present to learn.

Go it alone or go with backup; there are numerous e-mail marketing utilities on the market today. [Company Name] offers services and tutorials from start-to -finish if you're looking for guidance. If you're more adventurous, embark on your own. Here's what you'll need to know.

Building an Audience

In order to utilize e-mail marketing to its fullest potential, you must have an audience. This audience can be current customers or it can be a target customer base. Either way, you'll need an e-mail address list.

The majority of e-mail marketing campaigns - and the only legal ones - are called "Permission-Based E-Mail Campaigns." This means that everyone receiving the message you send has specifically "opted-in" by providing his or her e-mail address for the purpose of receiving messages from your company.

It's important to note, however, that sending e-mails to addresses that have not "opted-in" is illegal, so you must be careful when building your mailing list. In 2003, the United States Congress enacted the CAN-SPAM Act, which not only prohibits unsolicited digital messaging, but which also requires every mass e-mail sent to have a button which allows the recipient to "opt-out" of the mailing list.

The first and most simple means of e-mail address acquisition is to include a page on your website which invites visitors to leave an e-mail address for more information about the company, news about products or services, and other promotional materials. There are more complex and in-depth means of website e-mail address acquisition, but these are generally not used by e-mail marketing beginners.

If you're a regular networker and attend conferences and networking events, take the many business cards you're sure to have received and add the e-mail addresses to your list.

You can also choose to use group listings which are compiled by third-party list companies. Third-party e-mail lists are generally created in a manner similar to in-house organic e-mail lists, though with more complex means. Third-party lists include recipients that have chosen to receive information about specific areas of interest.

Keeping Tabs on Spam

According to many polls today, spam is becoming less of a problem since e-mail hosts are increasingly including spam filters in their service, which means a certain type of e-mail will not make it through. This makes it unlikely that potential clients and customers will "opt-out" from your message. That's great, right? Maybe; if you don't take the proper steps, your message may be one of the messages blocked in the filter.

There are entire industries built around establishing "safe" content, so there can be a lot of material to learn, but there are a few basics to understand about spam blockers.

- Don't include more than a single exclamation point. Spam blockers do not like them. Especially in the subject line!!!
- Don't repeat the same phrase over and over. This is a tactic among international e-mailings written by non-English-speaking writers looking to fill a word count or by marketers using key-word loaded messages intended for Web articles.
- Don't include too many symbols - i.e., !@#$%^&*(). They are frequently used in computer-generated content and are often blocked by spam filters.
- Make sure that you remove old e-mail addresses from your mailing list; sending messages to non-existent addresses often triggers a block.

What Do You Want to Say?

Before you embark on the long road to e-mail marketing, be sure to understand the vital components. The first step in any strategic marketing campaign is the development of the message. What is it you want to say? Without this, there is nothing, so be sure that you've put together the message as clearly as you can before you proceed.

Are you a small company? A large company? Do people know who you are or are you trying to establish your brand and develop awareness in your potential customers? Your message will depend largely on your answers to these questions.

For example, Best Buy could get away with blatant promotion in its messages because the company is a household name and customers expect to be "sold to." A small company, however, must turn an eye toward providing useful information to message recipients. If you sell photographic services, perhaps your first e-mail message could include a tutorial on taking better personal photos. This is called a "lead-in" and draws attention from readers because the message is more than advertising; it's useful and informative.

Regardless of your content, be sure to include a call-to-action statement - or several of them. Provide links to a variety of content from your website or from friendly websites that provide useful content. Be sure also to tell the reader what you want them to do. If you want to sell a product, tell readers that anyone that calls by the end of the day will receive a 15% discount. Whatever you do, make sure that you've asked something of them.

How Will You Say It?

Now that you have your message you can figure out how you'll put it before your audience. If you're just starting out and don't have a budget to work with and have no Web design skills, then a plain text e-mail message may be the way to go. Text is especially useful if you have a purely informative message. Beware, though; at some point, you'll need to upgrade to HTML.

If you have no Web design experience but you're sure you want images and a more graphic layout, try out some of the online services that provide templates. [Company Name] offers templates and can even provide analysis of your messages.

When looking for or designing your own templates, make sure that you have the right tone for your product or service.

If you're selling a professional service to other businesses - like accounting - then be sure to choose something sophisticated and simple. Create an air of upscale attitude with subtle colors, grays, black and white. Linear design and use of clear columns also contribute to this tone.

On the other hand, if you're selling a product to consumers - say, a fun pet product - then use a less formal design. Create comfort and familiarity with circular lines and a variety of colors.

Just as important in your layout and design is the actual copy and content for the e-mail message. The most important rule? Short is sweet.

E-mail readers do not want to read a novel in their e-mail client. Put too much copy in a single message and you're sure to be passed over next time - or worse - blacklisted entirely.

No matter your product or service, the Web and e-mailings specifically lend themselves to short, tight copy that gets right to the point. Start writing your message on a blank page. Write out everything you can think of that is related to your product or service.

Done? Great - now get out your red pen and remove everything that isn't providing useful information and anything that is repetitive. Look at what's left and rate each item in order of importance from most important to least important.

You've Said It. Now What?

So you've sent out your first e-mail marketing piece. Now the fun begins; in the administration area of virtually all e-mail marketing hosting services you will find a way to track the number of people that opened your message, clicked on your message, how many messages were successfully delivered and many other insightful statistics.

Check out the numbers. How many of your messages were bounced back? How many were delivered to "nonexistent addresses"? Make sure that you clean up your mailing list to remove any inoperable addresses and you will protect your messages from the spam filters.

The work you did in the creation process can now be reviewed in the analysis period. How many people opened the message? How many people clicked on the links you included? Are you getting replies? Make note of your stats and keep them in mind next time you embark on a message. Include material similar to that which drew people's attention and remove material similar to the unpopular stuff.

When you've established what you believe to be the most popular items you can test your theory. On your next message, collect a target group of 15-20 e-mail addresses and send one version with a certain layout, call-to-action, color-scheme and link selection. Create a second e-mail with different material and send to another group of 15-20 e-mails. Send both versions to different members and then watch the results to see which is more popular. You can keep testing things in this manner to continue to build up a rapport with your audience.

Now Do It All Again

You've completed all of the above steps and now there is only one thing left to do: start all over again. Keep trying and keep growing your message and your brand and e-mail marketing will surely pay off for you. Good luck and good e-mailing.

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