act emailPeople very rarely call me when everything is going well. As much as I’d like to hear from one of my clients that all systems are go, I’m more likely to hear from the frazzled person who took a wrong turn in the maze of technology – and is looking for my help to bail him or her out!

A rather large cruise ship company recently needed just such a lifesaver. The CEO decided to embark on a journey into Cyberspace by emailing any and everyone he could think of about his wonderful tours and great pricing. Unfortunately, like the Titanic, his ship soon struck an obstacle – and left very few survivors.

Mr. CEO started the ill-fated trip by assigning the job to his assistant. She was fairly young and seemed to pick up on technology rather quickly; after all, she had been able to show him how to set up his new phone. She created a great looking marketing piece, and pasted it into an Outlook message. She then found an Excel spreadsheet containing hundreds of e-mail addresses and pasted them into the BCC field. Fortunately, she knew enough not to paste the e-mail addresses into the To field; she reserved that honor for the CEO’s e-mail address. She hit the Send button and the message hurtled through Cyberspace.

The assistant received a number of bounced messages. Undeterred, she was soon sending out e-mailings on a weekly basis. Her list grew and she found more and more e-mail address to send to from old spreadsheets and various employee address books. She received more and more bounces which she attributed to the fact that many of the e-mail addresses were old. Soon her Inbox was flooded with bounces – as was the Boss’s. Mr. CEO determined that many of his own messages to users of AOL and Yahoo were bouncing; when messages to his own family members began to bounce he became a bit worried. Eventually, everyone in the organization was having trouble with their e-mail. He called in an expert who advised him that his company had been blacklisted and that his ISP had removed his emailing privileges.

This horror story could have been easily avoided. For the novice business, e-mail marketing seems simple: fire up Outlook, create some wording, paste in a graphic and hit Send. In this case a little knowledge is a dangerous – and scary – thing. However, by following a few basic rules you’ll be able to escape the emailing blues.

  • Don’t use Outlook. Ever. Outlook was not designed for bulk e-mailing. Most modern spam filters can detect that your message is going out to hundreds of names – even if you place those names in the “BCC” field. Add that to the fact that the name in the message’s “TO” field is not the name of the intended recipient and your message will be quickly gobbled by spam filters.
  • Respect your ISP and know your limitations. If you host your own e-mail server, sending thousands of e-mails at the same time can cripple it. If you use an ISP you are typically limited to sending a certain number of messages at one time. Break that limit and you’ll be looking for a new ISP.
  • Pick a reputable E-mail Service Provider (ESP). Sending out an E-Blast is not as easy as it looks. If you aren’t conversant in HTML your graphics may come across as attachments or your message might have large blank gaps where the graphics should be. There are Can Spam laws in place; break those laws and you might be looking at a fine. ESP’s help you by keeping you compliant with Spam laws and providing you with easily editable templates. In addition, they include tracking mechanisms to help you monitor the success of your mailings.  If you’re using ACT sign up for an ACT E-Marketing account.
  • Don’t buy a list. Good e-mail lists are hard to come by. The success rate of purchased lists is abysmal. If you do feel inclined to purchase a list, make sure that you’ll only be charged for the people who actually respond to your message. Developing your own e-mail is time consuming but effective. Remember, quality, not quantity, is the key.
  • Consolidate your databases. Many potential e-marketeers have an abundance of lists which they keep in multiple formats. These databases generally come in the form of multiple Excel or Outlook files. This can lead to a lot of confusion not to mention needless duplication. Consider consolidating all this information into one CRM or contact management solution such as ACT!.
  • Consider Opt-down options. All too often businesses apply an “all or nothing” approach to e-marketing. Consider using an “opt-down” methodology so that you can still reach your contacts when necessary. For example, just because a prospect doesn’t want to receive your sales pitches doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to take part in your webinars or receive your e-newsletter. Give people options.
  • Target a specific audience. Unless you’re William Tell, you probably wouldn’t shoot an arrow without having a clear target in mind. The same holds true with your attempts at mass e-mail. Your marketing should focus on specific segments of your entire database. Marketing to someone who just purchased your product is annoying at best. You’ll achieve better results by targeting your message to a specific audience.
  • Deliver a good message. If your Inbox is like mine your faced with the endless challenge of clearing away the clutter. And, once one message gets marked as spam chances are good that all your messages will be marked as spam. Messages that contain relevant information have a much higher chance of being read than standard sales pitches.
  • Develop a great subject line. Your subject line is every bit as important as the body of your actual message. After all, if your message doesn’t catch your recipient’s attention your mail has little chance of being read.
  • Plant a Seed. Consider sending out separate but equal mailings to small portions of your targeted audience to measure your mailing’s impact. For example, you might find that more people respond to plain text e-mail rather than graphical HTML messages. Or perhaps a subject line containing the words “last chance” produce a better result than “final.”
  • Timing is everything. Sending out an important product announcement right before a holiday weekend isn’t a great idea nor is sending a thank you note months after a product was purchased.
  • Track your progress. Your ESP can provide you with statistics show you open rates; however the real measurement of an e-marketing campaign comes from being able to see an increase in your revenue. If your phone starts to ring and/or you receive an increased influx of e-mail then you’re doing something right!