Build a Responsive E-mail Housefile
Bring some creativity to the task, but keep your direct marketing roots in mind.
By Kim MacPherson
By now, you know that marketing with e-mail—particularly to your own list of leads and customers—can be quite profitable.
After all, cross-selling and upselling to an existing base of warm eyeballs is easier and less expensive than trying to acquire new leads and customers cold.
The challenge is to build a list of people who will be receptive to your offers. And "challenge" is the key word, because just about every traditional direct marketer with an online presence is collecting e-mail addresses in some way. You must be creative to stand out from the crowd.
The not-so-creative marketer develops a Web site, slaps up an e-mail address collection box and waits for new customers. That strategy may have worked a few years ago, but not anymore.
Today, you must look at all channels for these efforts, and keep your direct marketing roots in mind. That means every collection area and list-building event should include a clear-cut offer, an effectively communicated set of benefits and a strong call to action. Aside from the Web and e-mail itself, marketers also should look to their off-line channels to collect those precious e-mail addresses.
One way to collect e-mail addresses online (aside from the traditional static collection box or link to a registration page) is through the use of pop-up ads. As annoying as pop-ups can be, the truth is that they work well for many online marketers.
For example, let's examine what National Wildlife Federation (NWF; www.nwf.org) does to build its housefile of potential donors. Aside from its free online e-newsletter offer on its home page, the Federation serves its site visitors a pop-up: a 4˝ x 5˝ micro page overlaid on its home page.
The pop-ups seem to change at regular intervals on the NWF site. It is quite brilliant at showcasing content and subtly embedding the collection request, not to mention grabbing attention. And NWF is successful in maintaining its initiatives and brand within each one of them.
A previous NWF pop-up showed small images of three animals with a radio button below each that asked visitors to select the fastest-running mammal in North America. For visitors to participate in the game, they had to provide their e-mail addresses. At that point, they also opted in to get e-mail communications from NWF.
A consumer marketer can take advantage of this same type of creative list building. An online bookseller, for instance (Amazon notwithstanding) could serve a pop-up that showcases a game or quizzes visitors on authors (e.g., "Who wrote all three of the following novels?"). An e-mail address would be required to answer, and visitors must acknowledge that they want to receive future e-mails by checking a box that gives the marketer permission to do so.
A business-to-business (b-to-b) marketer also can build a list in this way. Instead of a quiz, the marketer can present other kinds of offers within the pop-up to get its target audience to respond. For example, in addition to the proverbial white paper, a b-to-b marketer could offer unique case studies or online seminars. There are plenty of Webcast and online conference providers—Raindance (www.raindance.com), Mindblazer (www.mind
blazer.com) and WebEx (www.webex.com), to name a few—that are looking for companies to use their services.
Bottom line: Think about what has true value to your prospects when trying to entice them online. Spin that into an offer you can fulfill easily and inexpensively, and you should be able to grow your list quickly.
The term "off-line" encompasses different channels, including print, broadcast, direct mail and, for those with a brick-and-mortar presence, in-store. And since you're a direct marketer first and foremost, your efforts should focus on direct-response events within those areas.
For example, Pulte Home Corp., a national home builder, offers an e-mailed "Buyer's New Home Companion" in its print ads (in selected markets). Interested parties get a Web site link within the ad that will direct them to a sign-up page. Within each HTML-based e-mailed guide is information about the builder, as well as a means to find out about local communities. So it's both informative and subtly promotional. Again, it ties into the strengths and core brand values of the company, and Pulte has those e-mail addresses for future opt-in promotional attempts.
If you use broadcast as a marketing medium, the message you use in a radio or TV spot, for instance, can have the same impact and present the same benefits to the potential lead or customer. A Washington, D.C.-based seminar leader, ProfitableProperty.com, used local business radio stations to promote its free workshop and dinner (which it used as a lead-generation tool to sell attendees on paid events). Those who were interested were given the sign-up page's Web address on the air. This is a good example of an off-line medium driving an online registration that ultimately drives back to an off-line event. These cross-channel marketing efforts can be effective in both building an e-mail housefile and enhancing the conversion process.
Lest we not forget, there's also direct mail. Whether you communicate with prospects and customers with newsletters, magalogs, #10 component packages or 9˝ x 12˝ envelopes, be sure you have the data-entry capabilities to ask for and accurately record e-mail addresses garnered from those packages. If you have a subscription model, for example, offer your existing subscribers an additional x number of weeks or months for providing their e-mail addresses on the renewal forms. The key is to devise unique ways to package your brand into a compelling offer and means of collection. Tie the offer to your target audience's particular categories of interest, and make it easy for them to provide you with that data.
Don't ask for too much at the onset and, though this may sound obvious, if you plan on promoting by e-mail, provide the proper opt-in disclaimer. A simple check box with a "Yes! I'm interested in receiving more special offers/updates/ information from your company" will suffice.
Kim MacPherson is president and founder of Inbox Interactive (www.inboxinteractive.com), a full-service e-mail marketing agency in Bethesda, MD. She also is the author of "Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing That Works!" For more information, contact: (301) 654-7977, ext. 203, or Kim@inboxinteractive.com.