Friday, October 31, 2008

What Is Your E-mail's Value?

Merkle notes two key findings based on its annual consumer survey "View from the Inbox":

  • 50 percent of respondents had bought something based on a permission e-mail message, up 3 percentage points from the previous year.

  • 50 percent also said a company that "does a good job with e-mail" influenced their purchase decision.

Conversely, a negative experience can drive customers away. In Merkle's report, 32 percent of respondents said they stopped doing business with at least one company because of its poor e-mail practices.

We talk a lot about how to improve e-mail deliverability by using opt-in subscription practices, managing your reputation, segmenting lists, optimizing content, and testing. But it all boils down to this:

    Provide demonstrated value in each e-mail.

It would be nice to think your e-mail program's value would be so obvious that readers would see it in each message. Alas, we live in the real world, so we know we have to sell the value at all points in the e-mail relationship, even before it begins officially.

Promote your e-mail value at the following crucial places.

Home Page

This is your first chance to sell potential subscribers on your e-mail value. "Sign up for e-mail updates" and a link don't begin to hint at what they will receive if they hand over their e-mail addresses. "Join now and receive e-mail-only discounts and advance sale notices" makes the value clear and begins to set subscriber expectations.

Registration Page

This is your showcase, the best location to explain the benefits of signing up for e-mail, including the kinds of e-mail you send, how often, and what the content entails.

All too often, though, companies who have an otherwise excellent e-mail program give this short shrift. They rarely dedicate a page solely to the value of their e-mail program.

Instead, they slap up a checkbox and a one-sentence value statement more focused on the subscription function itself.

Elements to convey your e-mail value proposition more effectively:

  • Explanation of benefits: What's in it for them?

  • Privacy policy: Assure them you'll treat their e-mail addresses responsibly.

  • Preference page: This increases message relevance.

  • Sample messages: Let subscribers see what they'll get.

  • Links, images, and transactions (subscribing, confirming, even unsubscribing): Make sure they work reliably each time.

Welcome Message

This is another opportunity that too many companies waste with a simple "you are subscribed" message. It's accurate enough, but it does nothing to remind subscribers about what they signed up for and what value your message brings.

Thus the welcome message, sent immediately after opt-in confirmation, has become a generally accepted best practice for conveying value before you mail your first program e-mail.

The optimum welcome program encompasses more than just a single message. It includes a separate cycle of message designed to get your readers engaged as quickly as possible.

Your e-mail program's value should shine through in each message, reminding subscribers of what they signed up for and that they need to open each message or miss out.

Regular Program E-mail

These are the regular e-mail messages you send as part of an established programming cycle. However, if all you do is sell, sell, sell, you'll wear out or bore your readers. And bored readers are likely to click the "spam" button to make you go away, especially if they don't trust your unsubscribe to work.

Elements to help remind subscribers about your e-mail program's value:

  • E-mail-only discounts (one-time or permanent, only for subscribers)

  • Invitations to fill out surveys or complete profiles

  • Directions on how to use products or to contact company reps

  • Account statements, membership numbers, links to key functions on your Web site

  • Company or product news

  • Changes that affect the e-mail subscriptions

Transactional E-mail

Naturally, a transactional e-mail's first job is to confirm an action, deliver an account statement, ask for a payment, or conduct other business. However, you can remind subscribers of your e-mail value here, too, provided you keep the focus on the transaction.

To do this, put the business in the top half to two-thirds of the message content, then put your e-mail value proposition in the bottom third to half. This is also called putting it "below the fold," a reference to a standard broadsheet newspaper page, where the most important stories go on the top half, above the fold.

Midcycle Messages

Don't wear out your list by sending more e-mail than you promised. However, a carefully chosen and timed message sent between campaigns or in the middle of a publishing schedule can restate and refine.

Use these messages to remind subscribers, especially less active ones, about e-mail benefits or account details to bring them back into the fold. Invite them to update their profiles. Send a short survey. Offer incentives for referrals. Explain any program changes that could affect their subscriptions.

Final Word: Emphasizing Value Is Easy

It might sound as if you have to overhaul your messages to make the value clear, but you might just need a simple retooling. Put yourself in your subscribers' shoes again, and see where you can add information or functionality, improve design, or boost convenience. Never waste another chance to remind your subscribers of all the benefits they have coming.

Until next time, keep on deliverin'.

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