E-Mail ... That's Just Spam, Isn't It?

Your Questions Answered: E-Mail

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It's true that e-mail has a bad reputation because, well, it's overrun with spam. But when used properly (and ethically), it is one of the most efficient direct-marketing tools. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), e-mail marketing produces a return-on-investment rate of 40% to 50% better than other direct-marketing media. It's cheap, quick and versatile -- and you can track its effectiveness through various metrics. Additional studies show such campaigns lead to increased brand awareness.

WHAT CAN I DO WITH E-MAIL?

There are lots of e-mail marketing tactics, but here's the lowdown on the main ones: Acquisition marketing means you buy contacts from a lead-generation company in hopes of e-mailing new customers. In-house retention and cross-selling involve targeting your own customers to continue, and even increase, purchasing. Transactional tactics are triggered after a purchase or a promotional sign-up. Promotional e-mails, branding campaigns and newsletters are also commonly used. With today's increased emphasis on brand awareness and brand loyalty, retention and branding e-mails seem to be most popular.

WHAT ARE SOME OF ITS DRAWBACKS?

Well, there's that spam reputation, thanks to a constant bombardment of marketing messages (both legitimate and not) in inboxes. As a result of such abuses of the channel, legitimate e-mail marketing messages sometimes get lost in the shuffle. In addition, Can-Spam and other internet privacy laws limit the reach of these messages.

CAN-WHAT?

In 2003, Congress enacted the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act in an effort to curb spam. Part of the act prohibits sending commercial messages to wireless devices. Additionally, the FCC and the FTC have explicit rules and requirements about the content of e-mailed messages. According to the FTC, each e-mail must have identification, a way to reject future messages, a return address and a subject line. Interestingly, other countries such as England have much stricter and more clearly defined rules and regulations for controlling so-called spam.

WHAT'S THE INDUSTRY DOING TO SHED ITS BAD REPUTATION?

Groups such as the Email Experience Council (EEC) must take proactive measures to distance themselves from illegitimate spam by continuing efforts to standardize how e-mail is delivered. Also, they're working to make the experience more of a digital dialogue rather than an impersonal mass e-mail blast. Customers don't want to be thought of as numbers. They want a more personal experience. Brands need to listen to consumers, said Andy Goldman, senior director for e-mail marketing at Ogilvy One. The power is no longer in the brand's house. Messages will need to be more responsive and tailor-made to the consumers, or they'll feel alienated and the message will get lost.

HAVE E-MAIL HABITS CHANGED?

Fifty million people check e-mail five times a day, said Mr. Goldman. It's become a natural, almost instinctual part of our technology-savvy world. Thus, e-mail marketers actually have to say something to really get their message across, or it will be lost along with the millions of other messages that are deleted daily. And like any other industry, the strategies developed these days are more sophisticated and efficient than their predecessors.
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