One of the most misunderstood tools in the Marketer’s Bag of Tricks is direct email. There’s good reason for it, of course. Everyone hates SPAM! I expect that even the most evil, notorious spammers of the world have SPAM filters on their personal email accounts.
The end result of this universal distaste of SPAM is a belief, held by many, that sending emails to prospects or customers “just isn’t a good thing to do”. Lot’s of potential issues—from alienating your customers and potential users, to having some wacko attack and bring down your website, just because he doesn’t like the message sent to his in-box. So should we just forget about direct email as a legitimate marketing tactic, and spent our time and money focused on other aspects of the marketing mix?
I suggest not.
NOT ALL EMAIL IS CREATED EQUAL
Let’s step back and be rational here. First of all, not all direct email is the same. Let’s start with the “worst of” direct email campaigns:
Bob’s Computer Stuff, Inc., buys “20 million email addresses for $99” from a SPAM email that they randomly received. Bob’s then fires off an email to the entire list with an offer for its extremely niche-y computer accessory, the “Swiss Army Computer Widget”. This is bad. Bob will be punished in quite a few ways, and probably deserves it.
Now let’s look at the “best of” direct email:
Distinct Software Corp. has been methodically building a list of customers and prospects obtained using a variety of online and offline marketing methods, not the least of which is visits to the company’s website. The list has been carefully compiled, and in each case the client is either doing business with Distinct or has expressly given permission to receive email. Distinct has decided it would like to launch its new IT software product, with a special offer to targeted prospects. The company mines it’s database for prospects that meet the targeted customer profile for the new product. It supplements it’s own list by renting an opt-in email list from a broker, that was compiled from subscribers to a magazine that covers issues related to the new product. Distinct then puts together a classic direct response offer (discounted product, money-back guarantee, free gift, time-limited). The company crafts a short email message describing the special offer, careful to adhere to the rules of the CAN-SPAM Act, and other applicable state or international laws. The company sends it out its offer to the target list it has compiled, as one component of the marketing mix for its new product launch.
IS IT SPAM?
Do you really think that these two scenarios have anything in common? In actuality, the only thing they have in common is the delivery mechanism—email. Yet it’s very common for these two very different activities to be lumped together in one basket. It’s all SPAM, many people will say.
I beg to differ. One is terrible marketing, the other is classic marketing. BAD, scatter shot marketing is almost always poorly received, and GOOD, targeted marketing will only offend the zealots out there who are offended by ALL forms of marketing. This is true regardless of the delivery mechanism. There are people who hate traditional direct mail, unsolicited phone calls, advertising on TV, people with flyers at the shopping mall, even print ads that take up 2/3 of their favorite magazine. There’s nothing you can do about them. The only way to please these folks is to go out of business, so we don’t worry about them. Don’t let the crazy few stop your business from being successful.
GREAT FOR “OBJECTIVE” MARKETING DECISIONS
There are many reasons NOT to do direct email. One of the most important is that it’s easy to do, so it is a very crowded medium (thus “SPAM). But there’s a lot of great reasons to try it, as well.
One of the best is its ability to add “objectivity” to the marketing process. Marketing, especially to a high tech audience, is both art and science. It’s best when you can tilt toward more science than art, but with new products and offers, it often tends to be primarily art. How are new product prices usually set, for example? Well, a few objective things are usually done, like a quick look at competitors price, but mostly, somebody with decision making power just picks a price out of the air that looks good to them. It may be a good price, it may not be, but there it is.
The beauty of direct marketing is that you can OBJECTIVELY test until you come up with the “right” price. Divide the list up into modules, keep all other elements of the offer static, and use a different price for each module. If you use statistically significant samples, YOU WILL converge on the price that yields the greatest profit. That’s a rare and valuable thing to a marketer in high tech, where things change so fast, and are often so squishy, that it’s sometimes hard to tell which end is up. And you can do this with any elements of your offer, simply by keeping everything but your test element static, and using the “module” approach to test different “sizes” of that element.
Of course you can do this with any direct form of marketing, but direct email adds the important ability to do your testing faster. You can test and revise, test and revise, almost in real time, quickly converging on your optimal offer for the market. This is very powerful, and the results can then used to optimize other marketing activities in the mix. It really enables you to switch from subjective guessing to objective decision-making, which could well mean the difference between success and failure in a competitive market.
IT’S ONLY SPAM IF YOUR AUDIENCE ISN’T INTERESTED
If your offer is targeted at the appropriate people, it provides benefits for them, and you deliver your message in a legal manner, you will have very few problems. The closer it comes to a “one to one” message, and the farther from a mass message, the fewer problems you will have.
IF DONE RIGHT, VERY FEW COMPLAINTS
I have conducted many direct marketing campaigns over the years, including quite a few direct email campaigns. The most telling is a most personal campaign I have used over the years. Prior to starting my consulting practice, I used this technique in job searches, as well as to reach out to potential customers when I worked as an employee. Since I have started my consulting practice, I have used it with great success as well. I send email messages directly to CEOs of target companies. The messages are extremely “one to one”, tailored to the company and person I am sending it to, and the target is always chosen to be a close fit with whatever I my “offer” has been at the time (A potential senior executive, a product that I knew the potential client could use, my consulting services).
I have been using this technique literally since the beginning of commercial use of the Internet. I have had exactly ONE complaint since I started using this approach. The gentleman who complained—I actually knew. I had previously had a personal meeting with him, and he handed me his business card himself! Needless to say, most people thought this guy was a real jerk! A few people over the years have asked that I “take their name off of my list”. I always do—anyone that requests it, never hears from me again. But not many have made this request. A lot of non-responses, a lot of polite no thanks, and many, many requests for meeting that have led to a successful outcome for both the addressee and myself. But literally no complaints save the one “exception that proves the rule.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
My basic message is don’t let fear stop you from using Direct Email effectively as part of your marketing mix. Maybe it makes sense for your particular situation, maybe it doesn’t. But don’t let fear of persecution and alienation rule it out. If done properly, it is often a profitable, efficient, and very effective method of reaching your target audience. Just remember to live by the rules:
DIRECT EMAIL RULES
- Only email to a targeted audience
- Craft an offer that is very appealing to your target list
- Do extensive testing, for objective analysis of each element of your offer
- Always be honest, never deceitful
- Use an opt-in or in-house list only
- Always make it easy for addresses to opt out
- Never send additional messages to those that opt out
- Include your physical address and phone number in all messages
- Don’t overdue it—send messages sparingly, only when you have something important to offer or communicate
- No more than monthly messages in most cases, less frequently is usually better
So that’s it! Email is a controversial and often emotional issue for many people. I look forward to hear what you all have to say–post a comment with your own experience and thoughts…