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Question: Why have my e-mail response rates been slipping, and how can I reverse that trend?

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Answer:  Across the online world, e-mail response rates are slowly slipping for two important reasons, one of which you might never suspect. The first, and more obvious, reason is because the medium of e-mail continues to be polluted by spam and over-mailing by permission e-mail marketers. A lack of marketing imagination, some marketers believe, can be overcome by brute force—sending twice as much e-mail. This belief, of course, is incorrect.

The second, and more important, reason is that most e-mail marketers have failed to take their campaigns to the level I call "relationship e-mail marketing." They don't ask questions of their subscribers, and they make no effort to learn anything meaningful about what those subscribers really want or expect.

As a result, much of the e-mail received by e-mail users is grossly irrelevant to their genuine interests. So they skip most of the e-mails they receive, even the ones they signed up for. I call this "subscriber fatigue," and as many experienced e-mail marketers already know, subscriber fatigue can greatly distort your results. Many fatigued subscribers, for example, won't even bother to unsubscribe, preferring to just keep deleting or ignoring your e-mail.

If your e-mail response rates are slipping, it's a likely sign that you're increasingly out of touch with the real interests, needs and desires of your subscribers. It's time to ask questions of your readers and rethink the true aims of your campaigns. Once you reconnect with what your subscribers really want or expect, your e-mail response rates will not merely climb, they will usually soar. You'll sell more products, services or information, and your subscribers will be happier, too.

Mike Adams is president-CEO of Arial Software (www.arialsoftware.com), a provider of e-mail marketing software solutions. He's also the author of a new book for e-mail marketers called "Permission Wave" (Truth Publishing, 2005).

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