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E-Mail Marketer Insight

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Question: With more e-mail programs blocking images these days, is it still a good idea to include them in my e-mail newsletter?

Answer: As more Web-based e-mail services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, AOL and Yahoo, block images by default—and let recipients decide to view them or not—it's probably fair to question whether adding images to your e-mail newsletter is still worth the effort.

The short answer is yes. Images, much like fresh vegetables and regular trips to the dentist, are a good thing, and here are three quick reasons why:

  1. E-mails with images get better results than those without. It's true. People like pictures, and recent studies have shown that when an e-mail includes at least one image, recipients tend to read more of the text that goes with it. Graphics are an easy way to grab your readers' attention, and in a cluttered inbox on a busy day, well-done graphics can often mean the difference between someone stopping and reading or deleting and moving on.
  2. Including images allows you to track opens. Sure, images make e-mails more attractive, but there's another reason to include them: tracking. Most services track e-mail opens based on the viewing of images within those e-mails, and though it's not an entirely rock-solid number—after all, someone can open your plain text e-mail, but unless he or she clicks a link, there's no way to track it—open tracking remains an important part of the response picture.
  3. Images are still just a click away. If you're sending to people who know and like you, odds are many of them will want to see your full e-mail, images included. Sure, it now requires one more click, but aren't you worth it? Hopefully most of your audience will think so.

So, say yes to images, and make sure your e-mail campaigns give recipients a reason to say yes to them, too.

***

Question: How do I get more people to respond "right now" to the e-mail campaigns I send?

Answer: There's nothing like the cha-ching of clicks, orders and activity on your latest campaign. But how do you inspire your readers to act now instead of relegating your e-mail to the dreaded When-I-Get-Around-to-It bin? Here are four quick tips:

  1. Send when they're ready. It's 9 p.m. and your big campaign is finally ready. But are your readers in a position to respond if you send now? Think carefully about your timing and aim for a window when recipients are likely to be ready, willing and, well, awake.
  2. Give them a sense of urgency. Subject lines are king these days, so craft one that gives your readers a deadline. Do I need to respond today? Is this my last chance? Will someone turn into a pumpkin at midnight? Let e-mail procrastinators know the buck (or at least the offer) stops here.
  3. Tell them what you want them to do. Senders sometimes lament the fact that no one clicked but, looking at the e-mail, it's not clear they ever wanted anyone to click. Whatever your goal is—pushing people to the site, encouraging event signups or selling your latest tropical-themed sweater collection—make sure your e-mail makes its intentions clear to everyone who reads it.
  4. Let them do it near the top. In newspaper circles, they call it burying the lead. In e-mail circles, let's call it burying the link. If there's something you want your readers to do, have them do it near the top of your e-mail. Wait until the end of the story to invite them over and you may end up being the only one at the party. Please don't drink all the punch.

Clint Smith is cofounder of Emma (www.myemma.com), a Web-based e-mail marketing and communications service.

***

Question: How can I determine my optimal e-mail frequency?

Answer: This is one of the most common questions asked by e-mail marketers, probably because what works for one organization may not work for another.

Your audience, content and e-mail marketing goals impact optimal e-mail frequency. Here are some tips to guide you:

E-mail relevant messages. Relevancy is key to success in everything in the e-mail world. Effective frequency and relevant content go hand-in-hand. E-mail only when you have meaningful content that your subscribers want to read.

E-mail frequently enough to stay top-of-mind. While marketers are concerned about mailing to their list too often, most organizations may not be e-mailing frequently enough. As a rule, you should "touch" your list at least once a month or you risk being forgotten.

Honor your resources. By producing a frequent e-mail, are you giving up quality because you don't have the time to devote to it? It's better to tackle a high-quality monthly newsletter and have audiences respond well to it than to have many poorly executed messages.

Learn from your metrics. You usually can spot opportunities for increasing or decreasing frequency based on how your audience is responding. Declining open rates and/or click-through rates or increasing unsubscribe rates can be indicators of over-mailing or list fatigue.

Segment audiences and treat them differently. One set of frequency guidelines usually doesn't fit for all of your audiences. Segment your list and consider how frequency may affect each segment differently. Ask your subscribers when they opt-in how frequently they prefer to be contacted.

Jordan Ayan is CEO and founder of SubscriberMail (www.subscribermail.com), a provider of e-mail marketing services and technology.

***

Question: We've invested a lot in our newsletter content. How can we maximize our investment?

Answer: Prospective buyers seek content through all stages of the buying cycle to gain more information on solutions that fit their business needs. Once you have published content in your e-mail newsletter, you have quite a few options to capitalize on it.

Make your content available online. Buyers use the Internet to research and compare purchasing options, and many consider Internet research essential to their ability to do their jobs. First, make your content easy to find on your Web site. Regularly update your search engine keywords and make the keywords as tightly differentiated as possible.

Work with content distribution, or content syndication, networks. These services provide a structured, organized way for buyers to easily find information on solutions and topics as they search online, matching their business requirements to a short list of vendors. Content distribution networks aggregate and classify content from thousands of vendors and distribute it through their network of partners, including search engines, industry-specific Web sites, online magazine sites and professional and industry organization sites.

In addition to providing broader exposure across the Internet for your content, these sites offer lead generation and performance reporting services that help marketers more tightly target and distribute their content.

Distribute your newsletter content at industry events as a handout for attendees, or send a link to your content as a follow-up to a webcast or teleseminar. Links to your content from online advertisements, such as banner or text ads, are another effective way to promote your content and generate clicks to your site.

Place your content in industry newsletters. Pitch your content to both print and e-mail newsletters, or to industry editors to secure an interview for an upcoming feature article.

Heather Foster is director of marketing for KnowledgeStorm (www.knowledgestorm.com), an online search resource for technology solutions and information.

***

Question: Do b-to-b mailers need to worry about bounce management if they mainly send to corporate domains?

Answer: Absolutely. Bounce management is an important factor in maximizing deliverability and campaign effectiveness regardless of your audience. In fact, a good bounce management system is arguably more important to b-to-b mailers given the fragmented nature of their lists and the inconsistent bounce messages and less sophisticated filtering associated with corporate domains. Corporate domains are also motivated to filter more strictly to ensure security and protect resources and productivity.

Unlike a b-to-c list—where 70% of the addresses may be concentrated in a handful of domains—the typical b-to-b list is spread across hundreds or thousands of corporate domains. This presents unique challenges to the b-to-b mailer, since each of those domains may have different access rules, spam filtering techniques and bounce messages. A good bounce management system can help make sense of this mishmash of inconsistent data, to identify the reasons for failure and isolate trends. Only then can you diagnose the underlying causes and take the corrective actions that improve your bottom-line results.

As a b-to-b marketer, you should examine your existing bounce management solution in five key areas:

  1. Capture data. Make sure your system can capture all data streams—both synchronous and asynchronous bounces. An asynchronous bounce occurs after the SMTP transaction and takes the form of a "bounce e-mail" that's received along with other inbound e-mails you get as a result of your mailing. This data stream is particularly relevant to b-to-b mailers since it's how you'll get a large percentage of bounces from smaller domains. Unfortunately, this is a data stream that's often overlooked or incompletely captured by most bounce management systems.
  2. Interpret data. The right solution will be able to process incoming bounce data across the data streams and correctly interpret the myriad of inconsistent messages. This ability doesn't come out of a recipe book. It takes continual testing and tuning to correctly interpret and map the data.
  3. Organize data. No one can cope with hundreds of different bounces messages, so the next step is to normalize the data and organize them into logical categories, such as hard bounce, soft bounce, block and technical failure. A good system will then map failures into reasons below the category level, such as "unknown user" under hard bounce.
  4. Make data actionable. Once organized, the system should generate reports that make the data actionable in addressing the causes of failures. These reports should directly track to the actions you take to hygiene your list, adjust your targeting, modify your creative, etc. It should feature intuitive drill-downs that allow you to use them as a diagnostic tool with the ability to pull up sample records to validate your conclusions.
  5. Maintain data integrity. Even the best-conceived bounce management system will degrade rapidly in our ever-changing environment. Therefore, this last criteria is an important one—it must contain a "future proofing" provision to stay abreast of changing bounce codes and messages.

Dave Lewis is VP-market development at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com).

***

Question: Why should I care what black lists such as Spamhaus think of me?

Answer: Contrary to popular belief, black lists are not the enemy. They are developed to stop spam and make e-mail work better—something most marketers want. Spamhaus runs one of the biggest and most widely used black lists available., ISPs and corporate administrators use it to identify and block spam.

Spamhaus runs various lists: A largely human-researched list that indicates you have shown patterns of bad behavior that are indicative of spamming; a largely automated list that indicates that you are hitting spam trap addresses and have some characteristics of being an insecure server; and a list of "residential" IP addresses that mail should not be coming from, according to the ISPs that control that IP space.

Each of these lists tells you something useful about your e-mail performance and should be used as a diagnostic guide.

While it is never fun to find your IP addresses on black lists, remember: black lists are not the problem. The onus is on e-mail senders to make sure they are doing all they can to stay off black lists in the first place. The easiest way to do that is to always send permissioned, relevant communications, at an expected frequency. One sure way to land on a black list is to generate high complaint rates or hit spam trap addresses, so make sure you don't entice subscribers to complain about you.

In addition, be careful when sourcing new data. It is also important to set up the proper e-mail infrastructure so receivers can identify you. (Using the appropriate authentication protocols makes it harder for your e-mail program to become a fraud victim, as well.)

If you do find yourself on a black list, you can sometimes rectify the situation by improving the problems that got you listed in the first place, or by proving why the listing was erroneous. Working with your ESP or deliverability firm can also help the negotiation process.

George Bilbrey is VP-general manager of delivery assurance at Return Path (www.returnpath.net).

***

Question: We have a general marketing opt-in and several customers who've selected it although the per-mission statement does not specify communications channel(s). Can we consider these opted-in to receive e-mail?

Answer: Yes, however your situation is an excellent illustration of an all too common predicament in e-mail marketing—the general rather than specific sign-up center. Whether for multichannel or e-mail-only communication, a general opt-in statement works against you in a variety of ways.

Here's a common scenario: A company begins an e-mail marketing program and plans to send a single type of e-mail communication, such as a newsletter. Over time, its e-mail marketing program evolves to accommodate multiple legitimate reasons for communicating by e-mail, different content for distinct products and services, or new lines of business. Whereas there was once a single e-mail program for customers to join, there could now be several. Yet without specific opt-in and opt-out choices, an e-mail unsubscribe request must be treated as an unsubscribe to all e-mail messages, programs and formats. What's a company to do?

Ensure your sign-up and unsubscribe pages not only keep pace with one another but with your growing or changing marketing programs and business. As soon as you diversify into different types of e-mail marketing communications (newsletter versus announcements versus offers and promotions versus transaction confirmations), modify your opt-in and opt-out pages to provide both subscribe and unsubscribe choices for each.

Yes, you'll have to "grandfather" some early subscribers into general opt-in and opt-out brackets but, provided you consciously evolve your sign-up pages over time, the less your overall list will be subject to global unsubscribes.

Some companies (Starwood and Amazon, for example) go so far as to provide communication channel preference choices for all marketing, whether online or off. Should you choose this route, remember you not only have to abide by these preferences but strike a balance between the general and the specific—and in general, specificity rules.

Karen Talavera is the owner of Synchronicity Marketing (www.synchronicitymarketing.com), an integrated marketing consultancy.

***

Question: Should my e-mails follow a specific template?

Answer: Think of your e-mail as a user interface. Users, over time, will become familiar with the way your interface functions. By staying consistent, users will be able to quickly navigate to the things that are of interest to them. That doesn't mean that you can't change up your color palette or evolve your graphics, but the main structure should stay the same.

As such, you can start to think of how to improve the navigability of you interface. Users can learn how to use most interfaces, but the question becomes, will they take the time to learn yours? Pay close attention to industry norms—if there is a standard that most of your competitors are following, then users are probably familiar with this structure. With that said, there is often value in differentiating yourself from the competition—just be sure that you are delivering a better user-experience and better content.

Closely reviewing the metrics subsequent to a campaign can also help you better understand how users are navigating your e-mail. While this falls short of being a comprehensive usability study, it will assist you in better understanding what gets click-through and what doesn't. As your campaign matures, overlaying the data from each issue will help you in determining the correlation between the relevancy of the content and ease of navigation. The results can be surprising.

Following a template can also have other benefits—knowing what elements need to be produced for the e-mail can help the writers think ahead and vastly improve deployment time by the technical team. A sophisticated program should specify the length of the content and have a best practices document that is available to the team.

All of this will help you create a better user-experience and will result in increased readership and retention.

Justin Curtis is interactive creative director at advertising agency Maiden Lane (www.maidenlane.com).

***

Question: How has the deliverability challenge changed?

Answer: The following are 2006 developments that affected deliverability:

Default image suppression became ubiquitous and is the most important e-mail marketing development of 2006. Microsoft implemented it in its new Web mail service, WindowsLive Mail, and the influential ISP trade groups MAAWG and APWG ratified the tactic as an industry best practice in July. According to research conducted by Epsilon and GfK NOP, 65% of e-mail users already have encountered in-box image suppression, and this number is growing.

As a result, marketers must now educate and motivate their subscribers to activate images, and campaign success now relies largely on the fine art of specialized e-mail creative design to optimize rendering.

Marketers also got greater access to consumer complaint data, the development that contributed most to making e-mail marketers' jobs easier in 2006. With the key advent of technical standardization for feedback loops at the end of 2005, a flurry of additional ISPs joined pioneers AOL and Juno/NetZero in adopting them in 2006, including Earthlink, MSN/Hotmail, Outblaze and RoadRunner.

As feedback loops continue to proliferate, marketers that take full advantage of them and have access to real-time, integrated spam complaint reporting are better equipped to identify the root causes of delivery failures. As a result, they can make improvements to their practices, list hygiene, campaign relevancy and, ultimatel, their reputation scores going forward.

Finally, The emergence of ISPs utilizing the services of third-party accreditation bureaus may affect deliverability in 2007. AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft began working with third parties—including Goodmail, ReturnPath, Habeas and ISIPP SuretyMail—to help them better distinguish legitimate e-mail from spam.

As a marketer, whether you participate (or agree with their schemata), the fact that ISPs have begun partnering with third-party accreditation bureaus means that you have more arrows in the deliverability quiver, and are better educated about ISP policies and expectations. Also, it's positive that ISPs continue to explore innovative approaches to protecting legitimate e-mail and improving the end-user experience.

Jordan Cohen is director of industry and government relations for Epsilon (www.epsilon.com), a provider of multichannel, data-driven marketing technologies and services.

***

Question: Should I buy a targeted e-mail list to promote my site?

Answer: You see it all the time: promoters offering you a quantity of "targeted, opted-in" lists of e-mail addresses. Here's why you should never send an e-mail campaign to a purchased list.

Clever spammers continue to sneak through personal, corporate and ISP spam filters, so people are still faced with the unending task of sifting through their inboxes to separate the spam from valid e-mails. Confusing matters are those e-mails that claim to have been requested, when, in fact, the recipient has no idea how the subscription was initiated. What is clear: Clicking on an "unsubscribe" link can tell the spammer that the e-mail was received, opened and read, thereby flagging the e-mail address as a candidate for resale to other spammers. Because "unsubscribing" can open the door for more spam, many just continue to receive, delete and hate these unsolicited e-mails.

This means sending e-mails to a purchased list can associate your brand with pain, frustration and mistrust—hardly what you want. Even worse, you may be reported as a spammer. The ISP will immediately blacklist you, blocking every e-mail you send to any recipient on its system—really bad news if that ISP is AOL, MSN or Comcast. The only way to get unblocked is to provide proof to that ISP of a double opt-in specifically for this list. Because you bought the list, you won't have that. So the block will remain for all future e-mails you send, even to your own opted-in lists.

When managed properly, e-mail is an incredibly powerful tool to reinforce existing relationships. A purchased list may appear to be an economical way to reach new people, but the real price you'll pay is damage to your company and your brand.

Tom Snyder is president and founder of Trivera Interactive (www.trivera.com), a Web site development and online marketing company.

***

Question: What's the best application of e-mail marketing for b-to-b when the e-commerce channel doesn't apply to my business?

Answer: Many organizations can't or don't sell products and services online. For them, the concept of driving sales conversions via e-mail to an e-commerce-enabled Web site makes about as much sense as leading a horse to a well instead of a river. These companies instead rely on their Web sites to educate interested prospects, cultivate inquiries and accelerate leads—and their best application of e-mail marketing is to do the same. Here's how:

Answer inquiries. A non-e-commerce Web site is ideal for gathering and fielding inquiries. E-mail is used to respond to those inquiries with customized information, answer specific questions or, better yet, the all-important invitation to begin the sales process in the company's channels of choice. For b-to-b marketers, that may mean setting phone appointments or initial meetings, or referring to a distributor or reseller.

Educate. What are the steps prospects must take in order to buy from you? Do they know what those steps are? What are the typical objections to a purchase decision? In the often complex and lengthy b-to-b buying cycles that involve group consensus-building or decision-making, it pays to address and overcome known objections early through proactive e-mail campaigns.

Accelerate. Once a prospect (or even a returning customer) is well into the sales funnel, there's a special role for e-mail marketing and the premise is simple: Multiple communications channels increase response. E-mail regularly scheduled in conjunction with individual account exec or sales team contact will accelerate qualified prospects into customers. E-mail is also a route for conveying exclusive offers, incentives or limited-time deadlines that prompt open opportunities to close rather than linger indefinitely.

Build and sustain customer communication. Do you proactively reach out to customers to share news, announcements and information of interest to them rather than you? E-mail is ideal for distributing information, yet too often that information is irrelevant to the audience; either it isn't customized enough or is manufactured simply to fill yet another e-newsletter. Don't push content solely for the sake of maintaining a particular contact frequency once a prospect converts to a customer if it isn't useful, relevant and engaging.

Karen Talavera is the owner of Synchronicity Marketing (www.synchronicitymarketing.com), an integrated marketing consulting agency.

***

Question: What do I need to know to take advantage of transactional e-mail for marketing purposes?

Answer: Transactional e-mails are generated each time someone buys something online, downloads a white paper or initiates another interaction. But these important messages are often sent in plain text without any relevant content reinforcing customer loyalty or generating incremental revenue.

Leveraging transactional e-mails as a supplemental marketing channel and brand-building vehicle requires a deliberate approach. The following tips will help you develop a marketing plan to take advantage of transactional e-mail:

Compliance. While marketing messages are allowed in transactional e-mails, you do need to follow the provisions set out in CAN-SPAM. It comes down to keeping the focus on the transaction in your subject line and placement of content. Of course, you'll want to consult with your legal adviser for the exact parameters before implementing your program.

Relevancy. Any messages or offers inserted into a transactional e-mail need to be relevant. Relevancy is even more important with transactional e-mail, as you risk losing an active customer with indiscriminate marketing offers that don't reflect previously established interests and preferences. Helpful information related to the transaction can go a long way in establishing brand loyalty and inducing follow-up sales.

Branding. Take full advantage of HTML to reinforce your brand. Without taking focus away from the transaction itself, HTML also allows you to insert marketing messages and offers in a much more prominent, visually appealing way. Text-based offers too easily get lost at the bottom of a transactional e-mail.

Technology. Sending relevant, highly branded e-mails requires the right technology to enable HTML and integrate with your customer databases. As a supplemental marketing channel, you'll also want to make sure that you have the e-mail management systems in place to properly track delivery, open and conversion rates. Whether you use an in-house solution or outsource, make sure it provides the required integration and management capabilities.

Dave Lewis is VP-market development at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com).

***

Question: How has the deliverability challenge changed?

Answer: The following are 2006 developments that affected deliverability:

Default image suppression became ubiquitous and is the most important e-mail marketing development of 2006. Microsoft implemented it in its new Web mail service, WindowsLive Mail, and the influential ISP trade groups MAAWG and APWG ratified the tactic as an industry best practice in July. According to research conducted by Epsilon and GfK NOP, 65% of e-mail users already have encountered in-box image suppression, and this number is growing.

As a result, marketers must now educate and motivate their subscribers to activate images, and campaign success now relies largely on the fine art of specialized e-mail creative design to optimize rendering.

Marketers also got greater access to consumer complaint data, the development that contributed most to making e-mail marketers' jobs easier in 2006. With the key advent of technical standardization for feedback loops at the end of 2005, a flurry of additional ISPs joined pioneers AOL and Juno/NetZero in adopting them in 2006, including Earthlink, MSN/Hotmail, Outblaze and RoadRunner.

As feedback loops continue to proliferate, marketers that take full advantage of them and have access to real-time, integrated spam complaint reporting are better equipped to identify the root causes of delivery failures. As a result, they can make improvements to their practices, list hygiene, campaign relevancy and, ultimatel, their reputation scores going forward.

Finally, The emergence of ISPs utilizing the services of third-party accreditation bureaus may affect deliverability in 2007. AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft began working with third parties—including Goodmail, ReturnPath, Habeas and ISIPP SuretyMail—to help them better distinguish legitimate e-mail from spam.

As a marketer, whether you participate (or agree with their schemata), the fact that ISPs have begun partnering with third-party accreditation bureaus means that you have more arrows in the deliverability quiver, and are better educated about ISP policies and expectations. Also, it's positive that ISPs continue to explore innovative approaches to protecting legitimate e-mail and improving the end-user experience.

Jordan Cohen is director of industry and government relations for Epsilon (www.epsilon.com), a provider of multichannel, data-driven marketing technologies and services.

***

Question: Should I buy a targeted e-mail list to promote my site?

Answer: You see it all the time: promoters offering you a quantity of "targeted, opted-in" lists of e-mail addresses. Here's why you should never send an e-mail campaign to a purchased list.

Clever spammers continue to sneak through personal, corporate and ISP spam filters, so people are still faced with the unending task of sifting through their inboxes to separate the spam from valid e-mails. Confusing matters are those e-mails that claim to have been requested, when, in fact, the recipient has no idea how the subscription was initiated. What is clear: Clicking on an "unsubscribe" link can tell the spammer that the e-mail was received, opened and read, thereby flagging the e-mail address as a candidate for resale to other spammers. Because "unsubscribing" can open the door for more spam, many just continue to receive, delete and hate these unsolicited e-mails.

This means sending e-mails to a purchased list can associate your brand with pain, frustration and mistrust—hardly what you want. Even worse, you may be reported as a spammer. The ISP will immediately blacklist you, blocking every e-mail you send to any recipient on its system—really bad news if that ISP is AOL, MSN or Comcast. The only way to get unblocked is to provide proof to that ISP of a double opt-in specifically for this list. Because you bought the list, you won't have that. So the block will remain for all future e-mails you send, even to your own opted-in lists.

When managed properly, e-mail is an incredibly powerful tool to reinforce existing relationships. A purchased list may appear to be an economical way to reach new people, but the real price you'll pay is damage to your company and your brand.

Tom Snyder is president and founder of Trivera Interactive (www.trivera.com), a Web site development and online marketing company.

***

Question: What's the best application of e-mail marketing for b-to-b when the e-commerce channel doesn't apply to my business?

Answer: Many organizations can't or don't sell products and services online. For them, the concept of driving sales conversions via e-mail to an e-commerce-enabled Web site makes about as much sense as leading a horse to a well instead of a river. These companies instead rely on their Web sites to educate interested prospects, cultivate inquiries and accelerate leads—and their best application of e-mail marketing is to do the same. Here's how:

Answer inquiries. A non-e-commerce Web site is ideal for gathering and fielding inquiries. E-mail is used to respond to those inquiries with customized information, answer specific questions or, better yet, the all-important invitation to begin the sales process in the company's channels of choice. For b-to-b marketers, that may mean setting phone appointments or initial meetings, or referring to a distributor or reseller.

Educate. What are the steps prospects must take in order to buy from you? Do they know what those steps are? What are the typical objections to a purchase decision? In the often complex and lengthy b-to-b buying cycles that involve group consensus-building or decision-making, it pays to address and overcome known objections early through proactive e-mail campaigns.

Accelerate. Once a prospect (or even a returning customer) is well into the sales funnel, there's a special role for e-mail marketing and the premise is simple: Multiple communications channels increase response. E-mail regularly scheduled in conjunction with individual account exec or sales team contact will accelerate qualified prospects into customers. E-mail is also a route for conveying exclusive offers, incentives or limited-time deadlines that prompt open opportunities to close rather than linger indefinitely.

Build and sustain customer communication. Do you proactively reach out to customers to share news, announcements and information of interest to them rather than you? E-mail is ideal for distributing information, yet too often that information is irrelevant to the audience; either it isn't customized enough or is manufactured simply to fill yet another e-newsletter. Don't push content solely for the sake of maintaining a particular contact frequency once a prospect converts to a customer if it isn't useful, relevant and engaging.

Karen Talavera is the owner of Synchronicity Marketing (www.synchronicitymarketing.com), an integrated marketing consulting agency.

***

Question: What do I need to know to take advantage of transactional e-mail for marketing purposes?

Answer: Transactional e-mails are generated each time someone buys something online, downloads a white paper or initiates another interaction. But these important messages are often sent in plain text without any relevant content reinforcing customer loyalty or generating incremental revenue.

Leveraging transactional e-mails as a supplemental marketing channel and brand-building vehicle requires a deliberate approach. The following tips will help you develop a marketing plan to take advantage of transactional e-mail:

Compliance. While marketing messages are allowed in transactional e-mails, you do need to follow the provisions set out in CAN-SPAM. It comes down to keeping the focus on the transaction in your subject line and placement of content. Of course, you'll want to consult with your legal adviser for the exact parameters before implementing your program.

Relevancy. Any messages or offers inserted into a transactional e-mail need to be relevant. Relevancy is even more important with transactional e-mail, as you risk losing an active customer with indiscriminate marketing offers that don't reflect previously established interests and preferences. Helpful information related to the transaction can go a long way in establishing brand loyalty and inducing follow-up sales.

Branding. Take full advantage of HTML to reinforce your brand. Without taking focus away from the transaction itself, HTML also allows you to insert marketing messages and offers in a much more prominent, visually appealing way. Text-based offers too easily get lost at the bottom of a transactional e-mail.

Technology. Sending relevant, highly branded e-mails requires the right technology to enable HTML and integrate with your customer databases. As a supplemental marketing channel, you'll also want to make sure that you have the e-mail management systems in place to properly track delivery, open and conversion rates. Whether you use an in-house solution or outsource, make sure it provides the required integration and management capabilities.

Dave Lewis is VP-market development at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com).

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