Best Practices

Effective E-mail Marketing Tactics

By Stuart Levy, Assistant Professor of Tourism Studies Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management
Published: Fall 2010

E-mail has revolutionized direct-mail marketing. As the modem replaces the mailman, an ongoing, targeted, e-mail communications campaign is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain relationships with today’s busy consumers.

According to Forrester Research, spending on e-mail marketing in the United States is projected to grow at an annual rate of 11 percent, reaching $2 billion by 2014. This growth will be propelled by the low cost of e-mail marketing (lower CPM, or cost per thousand impressions) and higher return-on-investment than traditional directmail marketing. The increasing popularity of social-media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook, also expand the opportunities for e-marketing exponentially.

Within five years, the average computer user will receive 9,000 e-mail marketing messages annually. In fact, cutting through the clutter is an increasingly difficult challenge for e-marketers. An effective strategy built on three components—database, message and analysis—is critical for success.

Build a Database

Just like traditional direct mailing, an e-mail direct-marketing campaign is only as good as its contact list. Building a database is the first and most important part of an effective e-marketing strategy.

To get that database, always get the recipient’s permission to send e-mail, and always provide an “opt out” provision with your direct e-mail campaigns. Unwanted e-mail not only can negatively affect your brand, but it’s also illegal. (The federal CAN-SPAM Act prohibits unsolicited commercial e-mails.) This prohibition actually provides an advantage because it channels you into creating high-quality contact lists consisting of existing customers or people who have voluntarily indicated an interest in receiving information.

There are many ways to build your database. In addition to prompting Website visitors to sign up for e-mails, you can build online relationships through offline channels. For example, a resort in Florida sent direct-mail postcards to local residents, encouraging them to sign up for monthly e-mail newsletters, which promoted discounted rooms and meals during off-peak times. US Airways placed an advertising message on in-flight cocktail napkins, allowing immediate enrollment in its frequent-flier program to those who sent a text message. Not only did this naturally lead to e-mail communication, but it also integrated smart phones into its e-mail database-building effort.

In soliciting contacts, clearly explain the benefits of signing up for e-mails. Offer incentives, such as discounts, printable-in-store coupons or refer-a-friend discounts.

Craft Your Message

In composing an e-mail marketing campaign, define your objective, audience, message and vehicle.

Objective: Do you want to motivate purchases? Enhance brand awareness? Interact with customers? Increase event attendance? Drive traffic to your Website? Solicit donations?

Audience: Do you want to stimulate customers who have not purchased recently with discount offers? Offer special promotions to frequent or high-value customers?

Message: Make sure your message is relevant and clearly illustrates the benefits of your offering.

Vehicle: What type of message are you sending—a newsletter, promotion, product announcement, press release, holiday greeting?

Be clear and concise in e-mail communication. Include valuable information, a sense of urgency and call-to-action links where appropriate. Make effective use of graphics and white space. Include company contact information, and test the phone numbers and links before you send the message. Using “rich media”— audio or video components—can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your message. Always carefully proofread and edit your message.

There are a number of effective tactics for increasing open and click-through rates:
Delivery time is critical. Research shows that 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays works best (but your results may vary—so test, test, test).

The e-mail’s “subject” line should include about 30 to 40 characters (five to eight words), incorporate a benefit and be relevant to customers. Using the addressee’s name in the subject line can increase open rates by up to 10 percent. Avoid misleading language, keep exclamation points to a minimum and don’t use ALL CAPS or the word “free” (it smacks of spam).

The “from” line is also very important. Sixty percent of customers report that the “from” line most often determines whether they open an e-mail or delete it. The “from” line should include the company name or brand.

Your e-mail is an intricate component of your overall branding. Be organized, consistent and thoughtful in your writing style, and respond to e-mails promptly (within one or two days). Remember, consider all e-mail public communication. E-mail is forever—don’t send anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on the front page of the New York Times.

Analyze Feedback

Instant feedback provided by e-mail gives marketers the ability to quickly analyze the effectiveness of a campaign. Metrics—including open rate, click-through rate and bounce rate (returned e-mails)—reveal whether you are reaching the target audience and whether your message is resonating. Analyze your feedback carefully, and use the information to expand and improve your customer database and fine-tune your message.