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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

I Become an e-Vangelist
by Alan Rosenspan

Dear readers, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors,
I have had an epiphany.

Or rather, an e-piphany.

It came later to me than most. But like it does to any convert, it came with a profound conviction and a burning desire to share it with just about anyone I talk to.

I have seen the power of e-mail.

I haven't given up on direct mail, of course. And neither should you. It is still the primary medium for direct marketers, and it's use has grown dramatically, despite or even because of the new media.

But today's sermon is about e-mail and e-marketing. And absolutely everyone is doing it.

According to Forrester Research, e-mail volume will jump 52.3% to 61.1 billion by the end of this year, and reach 240 billion messages by 2003. (And that's opt-in e-mail. We'll talk about Spam in a few moments)

Even the World Wide Wrestling Federation is using customized e-mails, to sell merchandise from specific wrestlers to their fans.

After all, if I'm a Goldberg fan -- and I am -- I don't want e-mail from Steve "Stone Cold" Austin, do I?

My Moment of Truth

Like many evangelists, I can describe the exact moment when the truth was finally revealed to me.

On a cold Monday morning, one of my favorite clients called me about doing a lead generation campaign. "This one's hot." she said, "We need you to come in for a briefing right away."

Unfortunately, the earliest I could come in was on Thursday -- three days later. What difference could three days make? It's only 72 hours. Alas, I was thinking in direct mail terms...

But when you convert three days to e-mail time -- 72 hours can be enough time for an entire campaign.

And that's exactly what happened.

I showed up at the client on Thursday afternoon, ready to promise to work the weekend to meet her deadline. She greeted me with an excited smile.

"We couldn't wait, so we decided to do an e-mail instead," she informed me. "We got a 2% response in two hours, and an 11% response within one day."

And then she delivered the crowning blow: "Why do we need you?"

She was kidding, of course (I hope). They still needed me for a lot of different things -- including their next e-mail campaign.

But at that moment, I realized that if you're not involved in e-mail and e-marketing, you are missing out on an enormously powerful direct marketing tool.

You have three e-Wishes

If I came late to the e-mail party, please forgive me.

Maybe you already make e-mail a part of all your marketing programs, and as you're reading this, you're also asking me,

"Why do we need you?"

But, if not, step back for a moment and answer this question. If the Direct Marketing Genie suddenly appeared and granted you three wishes -- what would you ask for?

Chances are, you might wish for (1) a way to dramatically reduce the cost of your programs, (2) a way to do them faster, and (3) a way to significantly improve your response.

Your three wishes have been granted.

1. E-marketing is tremendously cost-efficient.

You don't have to waste money on printing, production and postage. You don't have to send out expensive, glossy brochures.

You don't have to actually send anything -- because you're working with bits and not atoms. All you need is the creative and a way to get it out there.

2. E-marketing is lightning fast.

You can plan, develop, create and even get results from an e-mail campaign in a fraction of the time it would take to create a direct mail piece or TV commercial.

You can personalize each message; test different alternatives; do follow-up e-mails and fulfillment; all at what has been described as "Internet speed."

And e-mail responses come back lightning fast too. In fact, most e-marketing campaigns peak within 48 hours, which means you have to pay careful attention to fulfillment issues.

3. E-marketing can be your most responsive media.

The average click-through-rate for opt-in email in 1999 was 11.5% (Um...what was the response to your last direct mail program?)

Many companies achieve much higher response rates. In a report prepared by the Peppers & Rogers Group, they cite an e-mail campaign H&R Block which averaged a 36% response rate.

You could offer to pay someone's taxes, and not get that kind of response from direct mail.

But there is a catch...

Before you drop the magazine and rush out to do your e-mail campaign, there are three things you need to be aware of.

1. E-mail lists can be elusive.

There still aren't a lot of them available for sale, and they aren't as easy to find as direct marketing lists. In fact, sometime it's impossible.

They also may be endangered species -- but we'll talk about that further on.

We're doing a print campaign right now for an e-marketing company. So we're advertising in all the magazines that reach software developers. These are high level magazines that go to an Internet-savvy audience -- many of whom are involved in building Internet applications.

Would you believe that only one out of seven of them have e-mail addresses from their subscribers?

Of course, these are "opt-in" lists -- where people have volunteered their e-mail address, and have agreed to receive commercial e-mails.

You could always send out e-mails to people who haven't agreed, if you can get their address from other sources. But this is Spam – e-mail without permission – and most people aren't very happy to receive it.

And tests have shown that people are five times as likely to respond to an e-mail they have agreed to receive than Spam.

This concept has been described as "Permission Marketing" by Seth Godin, who I greatly admire. And that leads me to my second "catch."

2. Permission is not enough

Great news! Your customers have provided you with their e-mail address, and they've "opted-in" to receive your stuff.

You know what that means, don't you?

Now it costs you almost nothing to bombard them with product news, special offers, items of interest, press releases, sales pitches, messages from your president -- heck, just about anything, right?

Wrong! When people "opt-in" it's almost like they've invited you into their homes. They haven't invited you to barge in anytime you like, bring in all your friends and pets, and your sales materials, and camp out in their living room.

If you do, you're sending Spam -- and what's worse, you're sending it to people who have trusted you with their e-mail address.

You must be extremely careful to protect your "opt-in" customers, and make sure you only send them information that is relevant and meaningful to them.

And keep asking them if they want to "opt-out" or if they want to change the kind, or amount, or the timing, of the information you're sending them.

You also need to reassure them that you are not going to sell their name to anyone else.

Here's an example:

Please note: your e-mail address will NOT be provided to any other company. You will only receive updated industry and technology information from (NAME OF COMPANY.)

How many e-mail contacts are appropriate per month? This will vary, but, a leading natural remedy company, finds that they have to limit the number of e-mail contacts to customers from 4-6 a month. Otherwise, the "opt-out" rate tends to rise.

And they're sending news about people's health.

3. E-mail has it's limitations

Yes, e-mail has a number of significant advantages over other media. But there are also restrictions.

E-mail is one-dimensional. Most e-mails are purely text-based, and do not allow for graphics. This is fine for some products, however others will benefit from a more visual treatment.

You can link your e-mail to a website with these graphics, but that adds an extra step.

You can also imbed your e-mail with rich media, which can provide graphics, music and motion, but at this stage, most users will not be able to access it.

E-mail is a fragile medium. I am still a little wary of any medium that can be deleted instantly -- with the touch of a button.

You know why they call it "junk mail," don't you? Not because it may be untargeted or unwanted. But because it leaves a residue of paper -- junk -- that the recipient must throw away when they're finished.

In other words, they have to physically open the envelope, reach in for the elements, read, save or put it into the trash bin if they're not interested.

But, by doing those things, they get involved --- and you have more of chance to get and hold their attention.

E-mail is more ephemeral. And maybe I'm more addle-brained than most, but I have accidentally deleted dozens of e-mails that I was interested in.

E-mail is sequential. Your recipients have to read down -- they can't scan it like they can a direct mail package or an ad. They can't decide which element to read first, or easily go straight to the offer.

This means that your e-mail copy must work even harder than direct mail copy. Because unless the reader is absolutely, positively hooked, they're not going to go any further.

And they're going to stop reading the nanosecond they get bored or distracted.

A few personal e-tips

Since my e-piphany, I have done a number of successful e-mail campaigns, and I'd like to share a few, quick tips.

Use e-mail for news

Don't use e-mail to announce you have a new Vice President. Nobody cares. Send e-mail when there's real news that might be of value to your customers and prospects.

You can also use e-mail for damage control.

Newsweek published a negative article on one of the products sold by They were immediately able to re-assure their customers through a timely e-mail.

Ask people when you should e-mail them

Here's the ultimate answer to Spam. Hacker's Heaven, a gift retailer on the web, asks their customers when they should remind them about their products.

They offer people a way to "register" a special event in their lives, such as a wedding anniversary or important birthday.

Then they ask:

  • What is the event?
  • When is it?
  • For whom?
  • How far in advance should we remind you?
  • Note to include in reminder
  • Your e-mail address

This will help ensure that the customer never misses an important date, and never forgets to order their gift from Hacker's Heaven.

By the way, this is an extremely powerful marketing technique that doesn't have to be limited to electronic media.

A local carpet cleaning company telemarketed us recently using this same idea. Their offer was to clean one carpet in your house, and then clean another one for free.

Simple BOGO, right? (Buy One, Get One) But they were more innovative than that. You have to agree now, if you want the offer. But you don't have to use it now.

They ask, "When, in the next six months, would you like to schedule your cleaning? Before a holiday? Before a party? After a party?"

Remember the rules of direct mail

E-mail communications have to accomplish everything direct mail has to -- without the use of dimension or graphics.

So make your copy as powerful and persuasive as possible. Include important features and benefits, with specific support points. Use testimonials and third-party endorsements.

But don't bury people with information – particularly in lead generation. As Voltaire, the great French philosopher, said,"The secret of being tiresome is to tell everything."

And of course, make sure you have a compelling offer.

Is e-mail an endangered species?

E-mail is still a little bit of a novelty. But what happens when you open your electronic mailbox, and see "You've got 762 messages!"

I'm sure some of you can already relate to that.

What happens when they develop a program that automatically deletes commercial messages, that haven't been pre-approved by the recipient?

Or if it becomes illegal for companies to prospect via e-mail?

The challenge for direct marketers is to use e-mail responsibly, and also carefully. But by all means, use it as much as possible -- I promise you will be amazed at the results.

Thank you, and may the power of e-mail be with you.


Creative E-volution

As e-mail rapidly takes the place of telemarketing, tech support and other functions, it is important to remember that written communications are not usually as effective as spoken ones.

That means you must put a great deal more thought and effort into your e-mails than, for example, your telemarketing scripts. Because there's no opportunity for the give-and-take of a live conversation.

I just gave a presentation on "Creative e-Volution," at eCommerce Direct in London, sponsored by the Institute of Direct Marketing, that addressed this issue, among other things.

Here are some things to remember on writing successful e-mails.

1. Your message line is your OE

  • It must be compelling...

  • It must beg to be opened…

  • It must stand alone - with no graphics, no physical presence, no size, no other variables to make it stand out

2. Your text is your letter

  • It must immediately identify who it's from

  • It must have big, bold benefits right at the beginning

  • It must be personalized

  • It must have a killer opening…

  • It must have an offer

  • It must have specific facts and numbers

  • It must be print-able, and you must test this

  • It must be from one person -- a true one-to-one communication

  • It must have several ways to respond -- a phone number, a hot link, and even a way to "opt out"

  • …your text may also be your reply device

  • Or it can link to your reply device

3. Your reply device...

  • Focus on "Need to Know" versus "Nice to Know"

  • You are looking for actionable data

  • How much you get depends on how much you are willing to give

  • Privacy is becoming an explosive issue

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