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What to avoid in e-mail marketing

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By Karen J. Bannan

In e-mail marketing, making one wrong move can damage a brand—even if everything else is done correctly. Here are a few e-mail marketing no-no’s.

•Don’t go for the hard sell. It’s been said before but it can’t be stressed often enough. Customers think of e-mail as a personal communication. If you try and push a product or service too much or too often, your list may suffer, said Mike Fahrion, marketing director at Ottawa, Ill.-based B&B Electronics Manufacturing Co., which manufactures data communications equipment.

"We discovered quickly, emphatically and measurably that—with our market—giving them an offer doesn’t work. In fact, discounts and selling are a turn-off to our customers."

Case in point: Fahrion said his newsletter’s unsubscribe rate skyrocketed after the company included a glitzy sales offer along with its usual content. "Over and over, we heard, ‘I love your newsletter for its technical content, but don’t ever send me that marketing junk again.’ We listened. We haven’t repeated that mistake."

•Don’t treat e-mail newsletters like print collateral. "E-mail newsletters have more in common with your Web site, so you should treat your newsletter like a microsite," said Douglas Casey, VP-interactive media at Martino & Binzer, an interactive agency based in Avon, Conn. "Think about your e-mail as having multiple paths, like a Web site, so people have plenty of ways into your marketing message."

•Don’t get complacent. Even if you’re happy with your click-through and open rates, there’s always room for improvement. Perform A-B testing with newsletters often, trying out different copy, content and sending times. Fahrion said he often tests his newsletter, which goes out to 45,000 engineers. He replaces and contrasts headlines, body copy, time of day and day of week until he figures out which options work best.

•Don’t cheapen your message with hokey offers. "It’s important to make your offer commensurate with what you’re selling," Casey said. "Don’t minimize your services by sending out a cheesy offer."

Give readers something that relates directly to your service or product—something they may actually need or want.

•Don’t assume your message goes out into an online vacuum. B&B Electronics Manufacturing’s Fahrion said he spends about four hours after his newsletter goes out answering e-mails from customers and leads. "We personally respond to 100% of the people who respond to our message," he said. "We’ve got a high service image, so the one thing we don’t want to do is ignore our customers."

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