E-mail Marketing: No Response? E-mail ‘Em Again

When it comes to e-mail marketing, follow the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Catalogers and consultants agree that because e-mail is such a cost-effective means of marketing, you might as well continue to send e-mail to them indefinitely, even if there is no response. One caveat: This applies only to those who opted in to receive e-mail from your company.

“Considering that the cost of the name is negligible and that the cost of delivering the offer is negligible, you could make an argument that, hey, what does it hurt to keep them on?” says Warren Sukernek, president of Newton, MA-based furniture cataloger Oriac Design. “But I wouldn’t send too many pieces to those who didn’t respond if they’re not opted in.” In other words, if you have e-mail addresses for customers who never specifically requested to receive e-mail, refrain from communicating with them as frequently.

Oriac Design distributes to about 5,000 opt-in recipients a monthly electronic newsletter that Sukernek says is more content-driven than a hard sales pitch. “We’re trying to build a relationship with our audience; we want people to open and read the newsletter,” Sukernek says. “But if they can click on something that we talk about and buy it, that’s great.” Sukernek says that Oriac Design’s e-mail list has been growing about 10% a month.

Rye, NY-based Lillian Vernon Corp. also does not stop e-mailing any name that hasn’t specifically opted out. Spokesperson David Hochberg says that everyone on the company’s list has opted in. In the past, Lillian Vernon e-mailed customers once a month. But in December, the $287 million gifts cataloger began e-mailing them once a week. “It’s a test. We are going to see if weekly mailings prove to be too much. If customers start to opt out, then we’ll know that we’re sending them too many,” Hochberg says.

But Omaha Steaks is considering limiting the number of e-mails it sends nonbuyers. “We refer to them as inquiry names — those who have expressed an interest but have not purchased,” says sales manager Julie Evans. “In 2002, we are planning to identify at what point it becomes financially prudent to speak with someone less frequently or to cease e-mail communications entirely.”

The Omaha, NE-based food cataloger generally sends two or three e-mails each month to an undisclosed number of people who have opted in. “We would never buy a name and just start e-mailing without having received permission first,” Evans says.

Beyond an immediate order

Rather than dropping nonresponsive opt-in names from your list, several marketers suggest working harder to convert them into buyers. Geoff Smith, director of client programs for Palo Alto, CA-based e-mail marketing firm ClickAction, recommends segmenting e-mail names, just as you should your print catalog house file names, and having a different communications strategy for each group.

“For instance, if you’ve identified a segment of the list that has never responded, you might lessen the e-mailing frequency and increase the incentives,” Smith says. “Sometimes a sweepstakes or contest might get names reactivated.”

And just because an e-mail doesn’t result in an online order doesn’t mean it hasn’t resulted in a sale. “A customer may not actually purchase a product through an e-mail message, or an e-mail may not drive the customer to the site, but he or she might walk into a retail store or pick up a phone,” says Mark Elpers, ClickAction’s senior vice president of marketing. “As tools become available to measure the customer across multiple channels, you’ll see that e-mail becomes more of an influencer than perhaps a direct purchase vehicle.”

Johnston & Murphy, a Nashville, TN-based footwear cataloger/retailer, regularly segments its customers and uses e-mail to reach out to those who haven’t ordered recently or at all, says e-commerce manager Jeff Adams. “We can segment names that have been inactive over a set period of time and send an e-mail with an offer that will hopefully stimulate a purchase,” he explains. “We have also found that e-mails drive traffic to our brick-and-mortar locations.”

Adams says that Johnston & Murphy doesn’t stop mailing to names that don’t respond. “The cost-effectiveness of e-mail justifies communication with all members, including both frequent and infrequent consumers.”

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