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Whatever your marketing objectives might be, e-mail can play an important role in your integrated marketing mix.

E-mail marketing is a form of direct marketing which uses electronic mail as a means of communicating specific messages to an audience. In a broad sense, every e-mail sent to a potential or current customer could be considered e-mail marketing. However, the term is usually used in reference to sending e-mails with the purpose of enhancing customer/merchant relationships, encouraging customer loyalty and repeat business, acquiring new customers or convincing old customers to buy a product immediately.

Most likely you have received e-mails trying to convince you that you need Viagra®, or from a prince in some South African country that needs your bank account information before he can share $10 million U.S. dollars with you and your loved ones. It’s no wonder that most people are sensitive and protective regarding what they receive in their inboxes. These, and similar e-mails, are the driving forces behind the anti-spam laws that have been put into place in recent years.

While spam and clogged inboxes are annoying and have all of us clicking the delete button frantically trying to keep our computers free of viruses, tracking cookies and the like, most of us enjoy receiving a discount coupon e-mailed from our favorite shoe store, restaurant or online music provider. These permission-based messages are sent based on your choice to receive e-mails relating to your interest in a product, service or subject.

Despite the glut of spam and phishing, e-mail marketing is still a powerful targeting tool. E-mail marketing captures the essence of one-on-one marketing. In addition, e-mail is one of today’s most efficient and cost-effective direct marketing tools. Studies indicate that while marketing budgets are shrinking, spending on e-mail marketing is accelerating.

Still, many companies are not able to effectively leverage e-mail marketing because they lack knowledge regarding how to build an effective e-mail address database and have trouble creating the content and grasping the distribution methods. For those marketers who need to either develop or expand their e-mail database, there are a number of proven strategies and techniques that can be employed.

The uses for e-mail marketing are virtually limitless. Overall, e-mail marketing has proven to generate better responses while being less expensive than many traditional direct mail methods. Marketers also find the high level of personalization and the ability to track an e-mail marketing campaign at every stage to be attractive features. When you consider that recipients also prefer to receive e-mail rather than direct mail when it is permission-based, you can understand why marketers find e-mail marketing such an appealing tool.

E-mail marketing is gaining huge popularity with companies because:

  • Marketers responding to a July 2007 global survey put e-mail second only to paid keywords in terms of online marketing efficiency
  • Compared to other media investments, such as direct mail or printed newsletters, it is less expensive
  • An exact Return On Investment (ROI) can be tracked and has proven to be high when done properly; e-mail marketing is often reported as second only to search marketing as the most effective online marketing tactic
  • E-mail is instant, as opposed to a direct mail advertisement, as it arrives in a few seconds or minutes
  • E-mail allows the advertiser to “push” the message to its audience, as opposed to a Web site that waits for customers to enter
  • E-mail is easy to track; an advertiser can track users via Web bugs, bounce messages, un-subscribes, read-receipts, click-throughs, etc. which can be used to measure open rates, positive or negative responses and correlate sales with marketing
  • Advertisers can generate repeat business affordably and automatically
  • Advertisers can reach substantial numbers of e-mail subscribers who have opted to receive e-mail communications regarding subjects of interest
  • More than half of Internet users check or send e-mail on a typical day
  • Specific types of interaction with messages can trigger other messages to be automatically delivered
  • Specific types of interaction with messages can trigger other events such as updating the profile of the recipient to indicate a specific interest category
  • E-mail marketing is green as it does not utilize any paper

Some disadvantages also exist with e-mail marketing:

Many companies use e-mail marketing to communicate with existing customers, but many other companies send unsolicited bulk e-mail, also known as spam.

Illicit e-mail marketing antedates legitimate e-mail marketing since the early Internet did not permit the use of this medium for commercial purposes. As a result, marketers attempting to establish themselves as legitimate businesses in email marketing have had an uphill battle, partially hampered by criminal spam operations billing themselves as legitimate.

It is frequently difficult for observers to distinguish between legitimate and spam e-mail marketing. First off, spammers attempt to represent themselves as legitimate operators, obfuscating the issue. Second, direct-marketing political groups such as the U.S. Direct Marketing Association (DMA) have pressured legislatures to legalize activities which many Internet operators consider to be spamming (such as the sending of “opt-out” unsolicited commercial e-mail). Third, the sheer volume of spam e-mail has led some users to mistake legitimate commercial e-mail (for instance, a mailing list to which the user subscribed) for spam — especially when the two have a similar appearance.

Due to the volume of spam e-mail on the Internet, spam filters are essential to most users. Some marketers report that legitimate commercial e-mails frequently get caught by filters, and are hidden; however, it is somewhat less common for e-mail users to complain that spam filters block legitimate mail.

Companies considering an e-mail marketing program must make sure their program does not violate spam laws, such as the United States CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act), the European Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 or their Internet provider’s acceptable use policy. Even if a company follows the law, if Internet mail administrators find the company is sending spam, it is likely to be listed in blacklists such as SPEWS.

Most integrated e-mail marketing companies have very strict anti-spam policies and will guide you in implementing a program that will meet or surpass most of the critical spam laws and criteria. These firms work diligently to maintain excellent relationships and reputations with ISPs and work to ensure that customer e-mails are delivered to recipient inboxes. Companies like ExactTarget, VerticalResponse, Constant Contact and iContact act as e-mail service providers and will help your organization with its e-mail marketing needs. These companies will also develop e-mail strategies and tactics to assure the highest possible performance, usability and deliverability.

Researchers estimate that U.S. firms alone spent $400 million on e-mail marketing in 2006. According to a recent WebTrends® report, retailers ranked e-mail marketing as the most important demandgeneration activity for holiday success, with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking second and third. The biggest increases in marketing spending for the holidays will be in e-mail marketing (52 percent), SEM (46 percent) and SEO (38 percent). The biggest decreases in spending will be in online banner ads (17 percent), print advertising (16 percent) and broadcast advertising (14 percent). WebTrends® estimates that 80 percent of retailers use regular customer e-mails to build customer relationships.

The following are some important facts to keep in mind with regards to e-mail marketing:

  • E-mail has returned a whopping $57.25 for every dollar spent on it in 2007
  • The ROI of all non e-mail online marketing is $22.52, less than half of the previous amount
  • E-mail drove $7.7 billion in consumer sales in 2005
  • U.S. firms spent $300 million on e-mail in 2005, and well over $400 million in 2006
  • E-mail marketing in the United States will account for approximately 71,000 jobs
  • 20 percent of legitimate messages get filtered due to spam filters
  • 54 percent of U.S. consumers use a spam filter – a number that is rising every year

Whatever your marketing objectives might be, e-mail can play an important role in your integrated marketing mix. If performed properly, and with assistance from seasoned professionals, it can help you learn about prospects and customers, and assist you in getting the right message and offer to the right person at the right time.