Reprinted from Strategies newsletter, 2nd Quarter © July 2000 by First Marketing, 3300 Gateway Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 33069.

Sending marketing messages via e-mail . . . with permission, of course

Permission marketing ó or opt-in e-mail ó has become one of the most efficient, cost-effective means of communicating with customers who have requested or agreed to receive information about your products or services. According to Seth Godin, Vice President of Direct Marketing for Yahoo! and author of Permission Marketing, "It is like dating your customer. You get them to like you, to trust you, to believe that you can bring something special into their lives. Once youíve achieved that, the customer will be much more likely to give you permission to receive what you have to offer."

Why is permission marketing vital to online success? The Web is considered a "pull" medium. Those who spend time online searching for solutions to problems find themselves pulled in many directions. The result can be information overload and frustration at not finding what they need. Permission marketers use a "push" methodology, where interesting or helpful information is placed in front of customers. E-mail is the only truly effective push technology marketers have to reach their target audience online. However, marketers must be careful not to practice "interruption marketing"ó sending too many promotional e-mails. This is tempting, because mass e-mailing is inexpensive to the sender, costing between 10 cents and 15 cents per recipient. But, theyíll be turned off by unwanted messages, especially if they have slow systems. Unwanted messages can waste their time and money. Called "SPAM," these e-mail blasts can get you in trouble with your service provider and future e-mails might be blocked.

Remember customer benefit

E-mail programs focusing on a soft sell are recommended. For example, a florist delivers flowers to a customerís mother for Motherís Day. The florist sends the customer a message confirming delivery, wishing a Happy Motherís Day and offering a discount on a Fatherís Day plant.

E-mails can remind customers of important dates and special events, tied to promotional program end-dates, seminars and holidays. When the reminder is delivered, you can attach a promotional message. Remember, customers donít share e-mail addresses and other personal information easily. Theyíll do it in exchange for value: free gifts, coupons or a sweepstakes entry. Be creative, and stay tuned in to what customers want.

A proven strategy is to deliver real value in every message by utilizing the program to establish dialogue. Avoid long questionnaires; recipients may ignore them or give false information, particularly if you havenít established a trusting relationship. Structure your program so that you can gather information over time.

The art of getting permission

Remember, people want as much information as they can get before theyíll do business with you. For example, offering a free subscription to an electronic newsletter featured on your Web site can set the tone for a trusting relationship. It also keeps you top of mind, builds credibility and raises the perceived value of your service.

Put yourself in the recipientís shoes to understand what motivates people to say "yes" to receiving information via e-mail. Find out what kind of information theyíd like to receive, and how often, by examining buying patterns and utilizing interactive tools and surveys on your Web site. Encourage them to give the information you need to effectively target them in e-mail promotions and other e-commerce activities. You can do this with direct mail and value-added publications, as well as online. Once youíve established permission and trust, you can nurture the relationship and interact via ongoing e-mail, and educate them on how your products or services can make their lives easier or more pleasant.

Permission marketing isnít as glamorous as producing a TV commercial, and itís not as easy as running a few extra print ads. In fact, itís hard work and requires patience. A campaign should be implemented over time ó not viewed as a quick-sale method. While an "interruption campaign" often gets quick negative results, a permission campaign requires infrastructure and a belief in the durability of the permission concept before blossoming with success.

An effective e-mail strategy evolves over time. And, when used properly, becomes an increasingly valuable asset. The more strategic planning you commit to permission marketing campaigns, the better the cumulative results.

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