E-mail marketing Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Throughout the last few years, the use of e-mail to deliver information, market products or services, and foster relationships with customers has exploded. This flexible and useful medium can take many forms, from simple text to HTML-based to interactive formats that might include video, flash and other Web-based elements.

“The advantages are readily apparent,” says Mark E. Johnson, director of communications and marketing at Fontbonne University. “For starters, it’s cost-effective, usually costing less than a penny per e-mail. The other big factor is timeliness. E-mail enables you to respond quickly to a developing marketing opportunity versus print where you have to factor in the production and mailing time.”

But, Johnson adds, you have to differentiate your message from spam. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure your target audience is an opt-in group. In other words, you’ve already had some interaction with these prospects, and they’ve either given you approval to send them messages or have at least provided their e-mail address to you in some form. In either of those cases, the recipient should not be surprised to receive something from you by e-mail down the road.

Smart Business spoke to Johnson about e-mail marketing practices and what makes an effective e-marketing campaign.

Of what elements does an e-marketing campaign consist?

The short answer is that the elements can vary widely, and that’s the beauty of e-marketing. You have a lot of flexibility. For example, a university could use very simple, but highly visual, e-cards to promote college open houses, scholarship deadlines, etc. These are designed with a relevant graphic image and minimal copy, which, in my opinion, is best. Keep your message short and punchy because, ultimately, you’re trying to get them to click on the e-card, which then takes them to a particular page on your Web site for more information, registration to an event, etc. The other common e-marketing medium is the newsletter. This differs from the e-card in that it includes more copy and visuals, depending on what you’re trying to promote. It’s not that different from a printed newsletter in that you’ll have a name for it, along with stories or topics, probably some pictures and maybe even ads — items you want to draw special attention to. The content is usually just ‘teaser’ copy, and then the reader can click through to your Web site to finish the story. This can work for a variety of businesses if you have one important factor in place — the prospect needs to have some level of affinity for your product or service. In order for someone to take the added time to peruse the newsletter, he or she would generally have to be interested in some aspect of what you’re offering.

How do you decide which type of e-marketing works best?

It depends on not only the product or service being offered but also the specific offer within that product or service. For example, if a university is targeting prospects who have applied to the school but have not yet visited the campus, they should send a very specific ‘campus visit’ e-card. It’s a one-message piece with a specific call to action. However, if you’re targeting a broader audience — let’s say students who haven’t applied to a school but have asked for a brochure — you might send an e-newsletter containing many topics they might be interested in.

How can you increase your chances of success with an e-marketing campaign?

E-marketing is most effective when used as part of an integrated campaign or marketing approach that uses other media, as well. For instance, you can send e-cards in addition to printed postcards when you’re promoting an open house. Not everyone’s going to open the e-cards and not everyone’s going to look at the postcard. In essence, you’re just trying to cover all bases. You might also have ads on your Web site or print ads that share the visual of the e-card. In this way, you’re trying to create recognition of your message across many platforms. And, e-cards can be personalized if that’s something you think is important to your target market.

How can you measure the effectiveness of e-marketing?

The ability to measure effectiveness is an area where e-marketing is head-and-shoulders above traditional direct mail marketing. With e-mails, if you’re using a particular system or vendor, you can track how many prospects opened the e-mail, when they opened it and if they clicked through to your Web site. Additionally, you can see, by name and e-mail, who clicked on what. In some cases, you may want to follow up with prospects that clicked through but took no action. You already know they’ve shown enough interest to open your e-mail and even click through. E-mail can be a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal — if used responsibly, skillfully and sparingly.

MARK E. JOHNSON is director of communications and marketing at Fontbonne University. Reach him at mjohnson@fontbonne.edu or (314) 889-1467.