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Targeted response Featured

12:43pm EDT April 25, 2003
How do you market hundreds of niche-specific products to finicky customers spread across the globe?

Push a button.

While that may be a simplified answer, technology has allowed Solon-based Keithley Instruments to reach out to tiny industry niches in ways it never could before.

Keithley sells highly specialized equipment to engineers and universities around the world. E-mail marketing allows the company to target these individuals with great success.

"For us, e-mail is a way to get a tailored message to our audience," says Alan Gaffney, director of communication and marketing support for Keithley. "We don't spam, and we give customers an opportunity to opt out. We also have to be conscious not to overcommunicate. There is the temptation to send a message every day or every week, but people get bombarded with messages and get fed up and don't read them.

"We have had a lot of success with our program, and we get a good response rate. E-mail marketing responses are a lot better for us than mail."

Keithley can send out 200,000 to 300,000 e-mails a month. Response rates have been as high as 15 percent to 16 percent for some programs, while others have been as low as 2 percent to 3 percent.

That's impressive, considering the marketing industry average is 3 percent to 6 percent for marketing from an in-house list and 1 percent to 3 percent for a rented list.

"The response rates vary based on the program, the timing and the number of individuals we mail to," says Gaffney. "One of the reasons we attribute our high response rates to is that we don't abuse the tool. If we did one every week, our numbers would drop dramatically. People would stop accepting e-mails from us."

Another reason Keithley has had such success with e-mail marketing is that each program is targeted to a specific niche of its customer base, with an incentive that appeals primarily only to those within the niche.

For example, the company might develop an e-mail marketing program promoting instrumentation used to measure low levels of electricity and will offer as an incentive the chance to win a handbook on low-level measurements or one of the products. Only those who work with these tools have a reason to respond to the e-mail.

"We tend to make offers related to the product or offering in the e-mail," says Gaffney. "We will do a free product promotion before we'd do a free PalmPilot, because not everyone needs our product."

In this way, the promotion is kept clear of those who aren't potential buyers of the Keithley product but are just looking for a free handout.

"This does a number of things for us," says Gaffney. "It really pinpoints the level of interest in whatever type of equipment we are promoting. It also focuses our sales efforts, because if people want to win a free one, it means they can actually use one."

Tracking results

Keithley is able to continually fine-tune its message because results are measured as much as possible.

"We do a combination of things," says Gaffney. "The e-mail might link to a specific jump page or certain area of our Web site. The person might have to register so we know who they are. We also track how many have been opened and replied to versus clicking through to the Web site.

"We have a phone number to call. A lot of companies don't put that in, but I think that's a mistake. Sometimes people just like to pick up the phone and talk to someone.

"All of this helps focus our message. It helps us understand what our customers' needs are. Response rates are critical to track so you know how effective you are being."

Keithley doesn't measure the success of a program based on responses, but on how many of those responses are turned into sales.

"We view responses as inquiries," says Gaffney. "We look at how many inquiries are turned into opportunities, how many opportunities are turned into quotes and how many quotes are turned into sales. That's how we view success. If you are just looking at inquiries, that's not a good quality measurement.

"We qualify the leads and track them to sales. It's not just as simple as a response rate, which can get pretty high."

Keithley builds its e-mail list of potential customers from in-house databases that have been built during its 50 years in business. In-house information is supplemented with lists purchased from specialty publications read by the target audience and, in some cases, from professional societies or trade show registrations.

Continual maintenance is vital to keeping the lists accurate.

"The rule of thumb for databases is that you are going to lose 20 percent of your database per year," says Gaffney. "Customers move, the business may change hands or names may move within the same job.

"There is a ramp down in costs once your list is established, but it never goes away." How to reach: Keithley Instruments, (800) 552-1115 or www.keithley.com

Keep it focused

When doing an e-mail marketing program, the temptation is to create an elaborate message.

But Alan Gaffney, director of communications and marketing support for Keithley Instruments, warns, "Keep the message simple. Some long-winded e-mail that's 10 pages long will not be read. Keep your message clear and crisp.

"Don't go beyond a page or two, and use links to your Web site rather than putting everything in your e-mail."

Other recommendations:

* Avoid dynamic HTML in the e-mail. "If you have 500 names you are mailing to in one company and send them at the same time, the company's network will probably block them as spam," says Gaffney.

* Remember that e-mail is just one tool. "E-mail should be part of an integrated marketing program," says Gaffney. "No tool by itself is a silver bullet. A lot of companies want to move people to their Web site from the e-mail. If you want to use it effectively, then make sure your Web site is consistent.

"Remember, you are trying to get people to do something: Respond to you."

* Establish clear objectives. Understand what you want to achieve.

"Spend more time creating your objectives rather than creating a creative tagline," says Gaffney. "People get wrapped up in coming up with a clever message and forget about what they are trying to do."