Last month, I discussed some of my gripes involving e-mail. This month, I thought I'd focus on the positive and share some tips on how e-mail lists - if used effectively and ethically - can be a cost-effective means of improving sales, driving traffic to your website, and developing your relationships with existing customers.
Keep it Short... and Snappy!
Since only about 15% of mailing list recipients read through an entire e-mail, don't risk losing your readers by assaulting them with page after page of commentary. Instead, grab their attention with creative headlines and tease them with brief synopses accompanied by links to your website.
Opt-in, Opt-in, Opt-in
If you read my column last month, you know that nothing irks me more than unsolicited e-mail (SPAM). Not only could SPAM annoy a potential customer, it could also get you into a great deal of trouble! Instead of sending out bulk e-mails to everyone and their brother, give your readers the ability to opt-in (sign-up) to receive e-mail from your company. If you want to be really conscientious, utilize a double-opt-in list, which requires the user to submit his or her e-mail address and then confirm via e-mail that they do in fact wish to sign-up. Building up a substantial mailing list may be slow going at first, but it will pick up over time, and you'll have the consolation of knowing that your audience is well targeted. Any type of mailing list should allow users to opt-out of receiving it. Explain to your readers why and how they are receiving your e-mail, and provide clear and concise instructions for opting-out, should they choose to do so.
Nobody wants to read a message packed with nothing but news on promotions and upcoming deals. Balance your sales pitches with useful, informative content that your visitors will enjoy reading. It's an excellent way to build a deeper relationship with your customers (and potential customers), and if your visitors come to regard you as an expert in your industry, there's an excellent chance that they'll come to you the next time they have a question.
Style... and Substance
According to CNET.com, more than 80% of e-mail clients can support HTML-formatted messages. And since we are a visual society, it should come as no surprise that HTML-formatted e-mail often have higher click-through rates than plain-text e-mail. However, be wary of loading your e-mail with complex graphics and multimedia files, and be sure to test it in several different e-mail clients. Just because it looks and runs great in Microsoft Outlook doesn't mean that it looks good in another e-mail client. And don't underestimate the power of your content: some of the most effective e-mail I've ever received has been in plain-text format.
Producing an effective e-mail marketing campaign involves little more than creativity and common sense. By respecting the rights and privacy of your audience and providing the reader with relevant and useful content, your mailing list can lead to new sales and bolster your relationship with existing customers.