Preparing a b-to-b e-mail campaign

Apr 01, 2000 10:30 PM  By

Compared to the consumer e-mail market, which is still hampered by too few subscriber-based e-mail lists and too many privacy issues, the business-to-business market is proving remarkably receptive to e-mail.

This was fueled largely by the technology market in the early days of the ‘Net, when IT managers routinely registered their company’s software and hardware online and elected for e-mail notification of product updates, and technology publishers spearheaded online publication renewals. As a result, b-to-b boasts many subscriber-based e-mail lists and a market that’s more receptive to e-mail than the consumer sector is.

Although e-mail marketing is still evolving as a sales medium, it can be a cost-effective way to promote a business product or service, and to drive traffic to a Website. Savvy business catalogers now include e-mail list and broadcast fees in their marketing budget so that they can develop and test e-mail campaigns.

Getting started

The first step in developing your campaign is identifying your market and the e-mail lists available. The technology market has the most e-mail names, though the manufacturing and marketing sectors are slowly catching up.

Still, the number of quality e-mail lists and the amount of demographics available on them has not reached the level of print mailing lists and databases. For example, the b-to-b market has up to 700 e-mail lists, compared to nearly 12,000 mailing lists. And standard demographic selects available on print lists, such as title, industry, company size, product purchased, and product expenditure budgets, may not be available on many e-mail lists.

Compared to other methods of direct marketing, you can realize a lower cost per thousand (CPM) with e-mail lists, since the fee generally includes the broadcast. But just as in direct mail, you get what you pay for. The more general, non-opt-in lists cost less (about $150/M) than the more specialized, highly vertical, opt-in lists ($250/M-$400/M).

Executing the broadcast

It normally takes about two weeks from the time you place the e-mail list orders to the actual broadcast. This leaves time for e-mail promotion content development, list owner approval and testing the actual broadcast. In creating the message or offer, include the same essential elements that you would use in a direct mail package. For instance, translate the catchy headline drawing a potential customer into your direct mail piece into the subject line in your e-mail. Many e-mail lists have a copy limit, such as 500 words or less, so keep your message short. You’ll want to include a link to your Website in the e-mail, if appropriate.

Overall, promotions should be designed for the lowest common denominator in terms of computer hardware and software, which generally means no artwork, sound, graphics, or attachments. In fact, some corporate e-mail servers may interrupt or possibly not even accept e-mail messages that include unwanted attachments. This is to protect against computer viruses and conserve system memory capacity.

In most cases, you will not need a separate e-mail service bureau for an opt-in e-mail list broadcast. The list owner typically executes the broadcast and builds this service into the cost of the list. Most owners will not release their e-mail list to a mailer for fear that they will lose control of the list and who’s using it. Holding onto the list also allows the owner to maintain the bouncebacks (undeliverables) and unsubscribes or opt-out requests. The unsubscribe option is featured in the header or footer of your message and should automatically be appended by the owner to ensure the list quality.

Since the list owners execute the actual broadcast, you typically can’t merge/purge e-mail addresses. That means a high potential of duplicate e-mails could be sent to any single address, so if you’re sending the same offer to multiple lists, schedule all broadcasts for the same date. A recipient would then attribute the duplicates to a possible transmission error and would be less likely to react negatively. You may also want to include a disclaimer line in your e-mail apologizing for any duplicate messages.

Some studies indicate that Mon-days, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are more effective days for business e-mails than other days of the week. Also, right after lunch is the most effective time of day to deliver e-mails at work – maybe because overnight delivery puts your e-mail in with the early morning clutter of the recipients’ mailboxes. But just as in traditional direct mail, you should test the timing of your drops.

Tracking responses

Tracking responses to an e-mail campaign is not radically different from tracking those from a direct mail campaign. You can include special phone numbers and extensions for responses, or assign promotional source codes that identify the rented e-mail list used. Also, inquire as to whether the service bureau handling the transmission can supply you with a click-through report and then see how it correlates with your own findings.

One benefit of e-mail promotion is a fast response, with some experts estimating that up to 80% of response is received during the first week. But as e-mail has become more of our daily routine – and as people receive more mail to open – recipients may elect to save the message and open your e-mail or visit your site at a later date if they do not perceive an immediate need for the product or service.

There is no guarantee that an e-mail campaign will work better or worse than a direct mail campaign for the same offer. And just as you would with any other direct response effort, test e-mail campaigns prior to rolling them out. Above all, keep in mind that ideally, e-mail should be one part of you plan that coincides and supports direct mail, space advertising, telemarketing, and ‘Net banner ads.