The Pitfalls of E-mail Marketing

Sep 10, 2007 9:40 PM  By

E-mail marketing gets a bad rap. The controversy about e-mail marketing is a quagmire that leaves many business owners in confusion in its wake.

According to a recent study by the Direct Marketing Association, e-mail marketing delivers the highest return on investment of all media available to marketers. The study also projects that e-mail driven sales in the U.S. will show a compound annual growth rate of 14.9% between 2006 and 2011.

But, statistics like that only bring about real understanding when the outcome of e-mail marketing impacting long term customer-relationship-based revenue streams is fully known.

Sales & marketing expert Patrick Valtin, president of M2-Tec USA and founder of one of the largest consulting company in Europe called U-Man Belgium, claims e-mail marketing is highly profitable if done correctly. The main mistake is trying to convert a prospect when embarking on e-mail marketing, he says. The direction one should take is instead is trying to attract a qualified prospect.

Attract first, don’t try to convert. It’s actually common sense if you think about it. What if some one came up to you and said “buy this” with no enticement as to what it was and what it could do for you? Would you buy (convert)? Probably not. But say a Girl Scout comes to your door with a tray of cookies for you to pick one to sample. Did she entice you, attract your attention first? Yep, mostly likely. And how many boxes did you buy? And moreover, how many will you buy year after year after year on a regular basis?

Those e-mails that do attract your attention and entice you by putting that cookie in front of you to nibble on – those are the successful approaches.

That begs the question if they already are opt-in prospects, do you still have to attract – aren’t they already qualified prospects if they are in your database?

Not always, according to Valtin. He points out the best ROI approach to e-mail marketing is to promote to inactive prospects and sleeping customers in your data base with the purpose to get them active – to turn them into (entice them to be) regular, loyal customers. Sleeping customers should also be treated as prospects.

Old, inactive prospects were curious enough to inquire into your company to begin with. That is the crucial point as Valtin explains: “The biggest false data out there is the saying ‘they were just curious’ as to the reason a prospect didn’t close. Look up curious in the dictionary – it is interest.”

So curiosity Is interest. It is up to you to entice them even further so they become “sold.” Sold equates to being a repeat customer.

Valtin says that the ways to first attract prospects involve classical marketing techniques before e-mail marketing comes into the picture: pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization with your Website, direct mail marketing – the “more traditional” forms are the channels used to attract. Then once you get a prospect or even a first-time customer you can start e-mail marketing to them.

Once your prospects are on your opt-in list, you have to entice. Just on a different level. You have their interest – now hook them.

Three common mistakes in e-mail marketing are:

  • Trying to sell through the marketing e-mail. You have to cut the gradient to attract and then convert. The question is: what will motivate them to join your list?
  • Making the subject line too ambiguous; using trite phrases that are actually considered spam. What you have to watch, Valtin also warns, is “too hot or too juicy is looked upon as spam by search engine spiders.”
  • Not being consistent with “from” address line. From very beginning, the from line should be consistent. Even here there is a need to have instant recognition.

With customers receiving an average 400 e-mails per week and checking their e-mail an average of four times per day, it is no wonder that e-mail marketing has taken off. But don’t fall in the trap of using it incorrectly. According to Valtin, when you screw up on e-mail marketing lines with prospects or customers, you get cut off and most likely don’t get another chance. It’s too easy to junk your e-mail address and be shut off from further communication.

Three Valtin tips for being successful in e-mail marketing are:

  • Make the subject line personalized. “How would you like a free weekend in Acapulco” compared with “Dear Jane, how would you..” increases by 200-300% your chances it will be opened.
  • Make one-time customers into repeat customers. Offer an exclusive newsletter only for customers with highly valuable content.
  • Have an option for people who subscribe to your newsletter to systematically send it to a friend which acts as a referral and consequently per Valtin, makes it viral. SPAM legislation still requires those friends to opt-in before you can start e-mailing to them, but the referral raises your credibility and will give you more bang for your buck.

Karla Jo Helms is vice president of public relations at Clearwater, FL-based PostcardMania.