10 Tips for Boosting Your E-mail Marketing Sign-ups

In the less than 1% chance you hadn’t noticed, consumers and business clients alike have lost all tolerance for spam. Firewalls are going up everywhere. Software applications and ISP providers, such as Microsoft’s Outlook and MSN, now police junk mail. Families and businesses are installing filtering devices. Legal controls have also kicked in, such as the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act. But even when following the letter of the CAN-SPAM law, which restrains but doesn’t outlaw spam, e-mail marketers may still antagonize thousands of their potential customers by using unscrubbed, bulk e-mail lists.

“You have one chance to make a first impression,” says Mitch Meyerson, a Scottsdale, Ariz., consultant, author, business coach, and CEO of Guerrilla Marketing Coach. “Once you lose your reputation on the Internet, it’s very hard to undo.”

To effectively harness e-mail marketing these days, you need to first secure the recipient’s prior consent, a nod of interest. You should be using only permission-based, “opt-in” lists. (See this article to learn the basics about permission-based e-mail marketing.)

There are many smart ways to motivate customers to sign up for your e-mail marketing newsletter or messages. These strategies can build the kind of lists that fuel results.

1. Identify the customer need — and then fill it. People will give up personal information only in exchange for something they value, whether that’s your must-read, in-the-know newsletter, unique entertainment, or dibs on buying the latest hot release. You need to research what your target customers consider valuable and compelling. And then deliver it. Be sure to make it clear that you indeed have what they want.

2. Target your messages. If you sell motorcycles, you wouldn’t advertise in a quilting magazine, would you? So how come so many marketers send out bulk messages to bulk lists? It’s mostly because e-mail marketing is so cheap that mailings to thousands become tempting. “Let’s just get it out there and see what happens,” goes the thinking. But in the end, that mentality will cost you — big time! — in the coin of credibility and in diminishing results. Spend some time finding out which customers on your list are motorcycle mavens and which are quilters. Then segment your lists and messages accordingly.

3. Make it easy to sign up. An invitation to join your e-mail list — along with the benefits it offers — should appear everywhere your marketing does. Put an opt-in form on every page of your Web site, not just the home page. Every time a salesperson talks to a customer, ask for an e-mail address. Include the invite on direct mailers, at live events, and in all media advertising. For example, communications service provider IMN (iMakeNews), based in Newton, Mass., provided auto dealers with a special e-mail VIP program for their customers. “By opting in to receive e-mail information as part of a special club, customers show interest in new and pre-owned vehicles, service specials, accessories, etc.,” says IMN spokesperson Dawn Ringel. “To encourage sign-ups, auto dealers use e-mail address collection pads on the showroom floor, eVIP program promotional counter cards, showroom posters and hang tags — hanging on interior mirrors of every car serviced.”

4. Be consistent in look and tone. If messages are intermittent or look different every time one lands, customers will forget who you are and that they signed up to receive your offers. Do test several messages and designs, but then settle on one that customers like and stick with it. (See this article for more ideas about personalizing and testing.)

5. Keep your e-mails coming out on a regular schedule. Stay in front of your customer. E-mail may be working harder than it seems. Many consumers research online but purchase offline. In 2004, according to the American Interactive Survey, conducted by The Dieringer Research Group in Milwaukee, consumer online product research drove more than $180 billion in offline spending. So your e-mail messages may be building trust and cementing the relationships you need that lead to sales offline.

6. Automate messages and responses. E-mail marketing eats up a lot of time and resources, what with personalizing responses, updating lists, and creating content. You can cost-effectively manage the process by using professional list-managing software, such as Microsoft List Builder, which allows you to:

7. Time your messages. “For the past two years, we’ve done an increasingly large amount of business sending targeted e-mail campaigns on behalf of our customers, most of which are schools and employers,” says Steven Rothenberg, founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, a recruitment site for students and recent graduates. He’s found that e-mails that land on Monday are not opened and acted upon at nearly the rate as those that arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday. The reason, he says, is that on Monday, everyone’s inbox is overloaded with a weekend’s worth of spam. People delete messages fast. On Tuesday through Thursday, you have a better chance of capturing interest.

8. Build a strong brand. Remember to project a clear company identity by using a strong, simple logo and consistent colors and design on every message. That will help your subscribers to remember you and strengthen their confidence in your company’s value and stability.

9. Consider your audience, then make the HTML versus text decision. For every expert who insists you must send plain-jane text messages so your e-mail loads fast, doesn’t tax subscriber systems and clears the spam screens, you’ll find an equal and opposing expert who swears by the interactive and entertaining attractions of using HTML. Both camps have merit. It’s your business and your customers. You choose — but then stick to your decision (see No. 4 above).One compromise is to send text messages with embedded links. “I always have any HTML invitations available via a link rather than included in the e-mail, to avoid having my e-mails automatically sent to recipients’ spam folders,” says Los Angeles-based fashion publicist Samantha Slaven, who sends out about 4,000 e-mails a month to a targeted audience, mostly press releases and invites.

10. The final tip: Just get what you need. If you demand a great deal of personal data when customers sign up, you’ll spook them into clicking off. All you really need is a name and e-mail address. Once you have that, you can build on the relationship over time.


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