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Keep Them Hooked
4 mistakes to avoid in an opt-in email campaign

November 12, 2009

With the audiences for traditional media diminishing and advertising rates for TV, print, and other outlets remaining relatively high, companies are increasingly turning to opt-in email marketing, in which their messages are sent only to consumers who have expressed an interest in receiving them. Permission-based email not only provides a low-cost, efficient channel for reaching new customers and maintaining a relationship with existing ones, but it also guards against being labeled a spammer.

Businesses with an online presence have numerous ways to capture customer information to build a direct email marketing list. It can be as simple as offering free email marketing tips from your specialty field. (Be sure to give people a chance to opt out of emails via a checkbox option, so you aren’t accused of spamming.) But even if all your recipients have opted in, there are still potential pitfalls to an email marketing strategy. To help ensure your email marketing messages get across, avoid these four mistakes:

1. Being too self-promotional. The average adult receives 16 email newsletters a day, according to Don Nicholas, CEO of the Bristol, R.I.–based Mequoda Group, which provides research, training, and educational services for the publishing industry. The upshot is clear: if you don’t deliver something of value, your message will go right to the trash folder.

“Your reader hasn’t opted in for life,” notes Stephanie Diamond, president of Digital Media Works in Armonk, N.Y. “They will continue to read your emails as long as they are useful and actionable. The key to having a robust active list is to zero in on your customers’ needs and only send content that responds to those needs.” Some examples of content that will keep your readers coming back: coupons and discount offers; a “tip of the day” relating to your niche; and relevant items from the news that your clients might have missed.

2. Failure to make a clear connection. Even when someone has opted in to your targeted email marketing program, you need to get their attention when they’re scanning their crowded in-box. “Subject lines should always mention your brand and include a reason for opening,” suggests Diamond. A message titled “20% off this Tuesday at Paul’s Pizza,” for example, is less likely to be sent to the trash folder than one promoting “This week’s specials.”

Keeping your communications brief and direct will also help you get your message across. Frank Miller, principal of the Miller Group, an email service provider in Taunton, Mass., stresses the three-second rule: “The recipient decides in three seconds whether to delete or go on. You have to get your message across professionally and clearly.” He cites an online dating company he worked with that spent a fortune on design but had a mediocre open rate. “I told them, ‘Write three sentences in text that get your message across, with a link to your Web site.’” The client increased its open rate by a factor of 17, Miller says.

3. Overcomplicating things. Businesses that sell to a varied client base might be tempted to segment their mail lists. But Nicholas urges caution: “Say you have a crafts store. You might be tempted to do separate newsletters for quilters, knitters, scrapbookers, etc.” The problem is, time is one of the scarcest resources for many growing businesses. “Can you really afford to only talk to a fraction of your audience?” Nicholas asks. He suggests formatting your newsletter so that every customer can scan to what interests them. You might find there’s a lot of overlap in your customers’ interests — something you’d miss out on if you exclude part of your clientele.

4. Not striking the right balance. You’ve probably experienced it yourself: you read an interesting article that applies to your business and sign up for more info, only to receive multiple messages daily pushing to buy some product or service. “Email newsletters need to fit in a normal contact frequency,” Nicholas points out. “Do you have enough information to make it worth their while?” He recommends a weekly or bi-weekly newsletter. “Once a month won’t work to build a relationship,” he adds.

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