Email marketing can be a great tool for communicating with, and marketing to, your customers. I am loathe to say this, but I’m so old, I can still remember a time when all we had for one to many communication was mailing letters and direct mail.
I can still remember the early days of email, and the excitement of one of the first ‘free’ marketing tools available to dry cleaners. Of course, one of the biggest attractions was, it didn’t cost anything except investing some time into creating messages and the small fee for renting servers, or renting access to an email marketing system.
Email was fantastic. Collect email addresses from your customers, add them to a data base, and then send them message after message, invitation after invitation, and offer after offer. Life was good, too good, and of course, as with all good times, had to end.
Yes, one can get too much of a good thing. Email was so easy to send that folks began to cross the line from use, to abuse. Since there was no major cost to send email, you could literally bombard anyone and everyone on your list. The days of spam had begun.
Spam by definition is Unauthorized Commercial Email messages (UCE). But today the definition of spam has changed dramatically. Let’s take a good look at customers, their permissions and how a customer perceives your messages you send.
A customer may give you their email address when you ask, and Customers tend to want and appreciate an email message from you informing them that their clothes are ready or have been delivered back to their home or office. But upon receipt the first email message from you promoting a sweater cleaning sale when they are not expecting a message from you, or worse, don’t want to receive an email message from you; a customer can suddenly consider your message as spam. Yes, I know, it sounds unfair, the customer GAVE you their email address…but, as I said, the definition of spam and what is an unwanted email message has changed, and the control of deciding what is an unwanted message or not is entirely in the hands of your customer.
A few years ago, Seth Godin wrote a book called Permission Marketing, the entire book dealt with the concept of how people view advertising and marketing messages directed to them. You may be shocked to learn that customers define ANY message they don’t want to receive as spam, and in general people DO NOT want to be marketed to. As soon as you step over the customer’s invisible line of what they want to receive and what they don’t, customers turn off and become resistant to any further communications.
To complicate issues, almost every email box is equipped with a spam filter. It’s simply extremely easy to for anyone with an email address to mark an incoming message as spam, and all subsequent messages are automatically filtered out, and sent directly into the spam folder, unseen. You may not ever know it, but every message you are sending to a customer is being sent directly into the spam, and then trash folder, and deleted.
How do you know if your email messages are being read? I trust that whatever email system you are using has a tracking system built into it along with some simple statistics program that at least records how many email messages have been sent per campaign, and can also tell you how many email messages have been opened (and possibly read). Some systems can even record the identity of who has read each message, and even record reasons why people unsubscribed from your list(s) (if given).
What is your open rate? I’ve seen some clients email marketing efforts showing a message open rate of 30 percent. What?! Only 30 percent?! That means 70 percent of your messages are not being seen, or read. Well, I’ve seen a lot more open rates at only 7 percent and a lot at 3 percent or less. This is why I suspect a lot of people on your email list have marked your incoming messages as spam at some point and now all your email marketing efforts are direct to spam.
One of the worst things that can happen is your email marketing system ends up on a spam black listing service. And oh, by the way, the same can happen to your web server, your web hosting company (if you are hosting your own email marketing system along with your web site), and I’ve even seen self hosted point-of-sale systems get their IP address (an IP ad-dress is the numerical address of your computer or server) listed on a spam black list which can be a real problem because once you are on a blacklist, it’s a pain to get off the list.
If you need to check to see if your IP address or domain name is on a blacklist.
How do you get off the spam list and back into your customer’s good books? Well, that takes a lot of work. You need to open a dialogue with your customers and ask them, what KIND of messages do you want to receive? Do you want alerts via email when your order is ready? Do you want to be contacted via email when we have a problem with your order? And, make it possible to enable customers to opt out of email marketing entirely from the get go. Yes, saying NO to mar-keting messages should be an option you offer your customers.
You need to set up a process within your operation to record permissions from your customers so you can tap your data base and send the appropriate message. Unfortunately, not all point-of-sale systems are able to keep track of such permissions (but it would be really, really great if they could – hint, hint point-of-sale companies). Be prepared to have more than one system for administering information. And take a tip from our Canadian Privacy rules (which are some of the strictest rules in the world regarding personal information and marketing practices), you should have an information officer on staff. An Information Officer is someone who is tasked with the responsibility of recording customer contact information, their permissions and administers all information systems so if a customer wants to change or remove their information from your database(s), they have to deal with only one individual within your operation and their requests are honored.
In the end, sending marketing messages only to the people who want to receive them will save you a lot of time and money. Your response rates will improve dramatically and your customers will appreciate your consideration of the use of their personal information.