Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Are you afraid of email?

I wanted to share an article my husband just wrote for a local paper (he does a monthly internet column.)
Online shop owners are, of course, small business owners, and we are always looking for ways to get our information out without spending an arm and a leg. Email is a great tool.

Are You Afraid of Email?

Since the days of telephone party lines, it has been a fact of life that some communicators have tended to cause others of us frustration. Teenagers tying up the family’s only telephone line for hours on end; then the computer tying up the line for hours on end. Our mailboxes have been so over-stuffed with junk that it is truly a joy to find an honest to goodness letter or card amongst the ads, flyers, and other uninvited materials. Countless family dinners have been interrupted by telephone selling campaigns. One by one, technology and/or legislation address the annoyances, or we flee to the next thing, and today we find ourselves with more personal communications choices than ever. Individual mobile phones for voice, text, and video; we have not only cut the phone cord, but in many cases the computer cord as well. More laptops are sold than desktops as of last year, and for businesses the increasingly popular Personal Digital Assistant/Mobile Phone combination devices are becoming a norm.

Unfortunately with all these conveniences and choices have come new opportunities for abuse, arguably the most widely annoying form of which today, is email abuse. Email abuse takes on many forms with common terms such as spam, phishing, and the spreading of viruses all of which decrease the overall efficiency of, confidence in, and perhaps even use of this valuable communications tool. Yet the attractiveness of e-mail as a marketing tool is unshakeable. Quick, reliable, targeted, multi-media-capable, and virtually free, it is hard to dismiss email as a valuable way to communicate, and market your business. So, is it a practical idea to consider email as an effective marketing tool in today’s environment? Consider the following simple guidelines and I think you will agree the answer is a resounding YES!

Comply with the Federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2004. This legislation simply requires sender to: a) provide recipients with an ability to opt-out of receiving more email, b) identify the email as commercial (no misleading subject lines, or e-mail addresses in the “from” field), and c) include sender’s actual physical address in the email. Although as in any Federal Legislation there is a lot of fine print, this is the crux of the requirements and not difficult to comply with. Visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/online/pubs/buspubs/canspam.htm for additional information.
Once you are comfortable with CAN-SPAM compliance, the next step is to make sure your intended recipients can receive your mail. Some users today apply filters, which block incoming mail unless it has been pre-cleared as desirable. This is normally done via an “accepted email list” or using the recipients contact list, so make sure you are on their acceptable address lists. There are many ways to do this off-line, or you can use an opt-in registration through your website for example. Provide something useful to our recipient for adding you to their list and it is a win-win. The idea is that the recipient wants to receive your mail, not that you are forcing it on them.
Build a good list over time, monitor the results and provide relevant and useful content. Coupons, special offers, and probably most important good, information will keep your recipients loyal to your list. Don’t over-send correspondence. Frequency will depend on your objectives and the value to your targeted audience. Solicit and heed feedback.

Due to a rapidly developing market for providers of Email Marketing and Campaign Management, spending on email marketing is expected to reach $1.1 billion in the next 4 years according to Jupiter Research but the good news is you can do it yourself with a minimum of effort and expense. Oh, and one more piece of good news…spam emails are forecasted to decline about 13% per year from an estimated 3,253 per year in 2005 to 1,640 or around half.

When done well, e-mail marketing provides cost-efficient, targeted results and helps reduce the amount of communication annoyance. Don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage.

John Geiger, owner of Webmasters ICE, has over five years experience helping small and medium-sized companies and organizations capitalize on the power of the internet through consulting, education, and supporting products and services. His focus and passion is the use of the internet in providing more effective overall marketing strategies and highly measurable levels of marketing success. http://www.webmastersice.com/

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