Moving from snail mail to email marketing, plus a few top tips

Published in PM Forum's journal - Spring 2010

Key Points
eMail marketing isn't about saving the cost of a stamp.  It's about increased personalisation and a gain in knowledge about the people you deal with
If you are not planning to track who clicks on content, and then base future marketing decisions on that information, question the move to email at all
The best way to ensure 'delivery' is to write in 'text only' mode.  A well targeted list, a good subject line, and response orientated copy is all you need

There are some fantastic benefits in moving your marketing communications from posted letters to email.  You'll be able to track who is clicking on what content in your emails, so you know who is interested in what, you'll be able to segment your database and send more personalised communications – more easily, more quickly, and far more cheaply.  But if you are not currently 'eMarketing', the following steps should help you get there.

Step 1 – Work out what you want to achieve, your capabilities and budget
If all you want to do is save on postage, your email solution will be very different to one where you want to track who is interested in what, and base future marketing decisions on that new information.
Let's presume you actually want to improve your marketing abilities, rather than using less stamps and envelopes.   Let's also presume you have a budget to incur the start-up costs of emailing.  And lets also presume that whoever in your central marketing function sends the hard copy letters, will be able to send the emails.  Of course, we also have to presume you have top level sign-in to this modernisation of your marketing.

Step 2 – Find out what your clients and contacts want, and are able to receive
Firstly, if all your clients don't have access to a PC (or smart phone these days), you'll be wasting your time trying to move to eMarketing – as your target audience won't be able to see the messages you send out.

The internet, which your emails will need to pass through to get from yourself to the reader, have SPAM filters – usually designed to stop porn getting through – but your email will also get caught by these automated filters.  So you have to bear this in mind when sending your email.  If you put pretty pictures in it, or the words 'free', 'buy now', or 'sex' – your email is likely to be stopped by the SPAM filters.

To give you an example, I sent an email out a few years ago for our Employment team, about the 'sex discrimination act' – I've never had so many bounced emails!

The best way to ensure 'delivery' is to write in 'text only' mode.  A well targeted email, a good subject line, and copy that is aimed at getting responses should be all you need.  A pretty picture may well look good, and possibly help with the 'look and feel' of the email, but it will also help to get your email stopped – and not even read in the first place.  A pretty picture (or your logo) at the top of your email also pushes the copy down the page – and it’s the copy you want read.  And many readers simply don't scroll down the page.  Yes really!

Step 3 – Sort out your data
By far, the least sexy part of marketing.  And the biggest hassle.  But it gives you the biggest gains.  You'll need to collate all your contacts from your various sources into one database – and ensure you only have one version of each contact.  Then get the data verified and enhanced – so you now know the correct email address, job responsibilities and business interests of your contacts, and the size and activity of their companies.  The best route is to check the details on your contacts with them directly – so send them a letter, asking them to check the information you have (plus their interests).  And while you are at it, save yourself any Data Protection Act worries and get them to tick a box that says 'send me your email communications', or something along those lines.  Once you get buy-in to the email route – you'll also get better response rates from those people.

Step 4 – Find an eMarketing solution
I'd suggest a phased approach to starting your email activities.  And start simple - whilst your firm are getting used to it.  If you already have Outlook or a similar email package that you send your day-to-day emails from, use that (use the blind copy field for the emails).

If you want to go further, and track who is opening or clicking on links in your emails, you'll need a proper email sending solution.  And when you are able to show your firm how many people clicked on 'xyz' link last week – you'll have some very grateful colleagues indeed.

There are plenty of email solutions in the marketplace.  Some will charge you about two pence per email sent, others will charge you a fixed rate per month based on your estimated usage, and others will sell you the software to use as you wish (you then have to have the server capability).  You can even bolt some onto the side of your CRM Database.  Most CRM database suppliers will also have an email tool that you can simply make 'live'.  The best ones I've seen are the stand alone types (some might bolt onto your CRM system).
If you are not planning to track who clicks on content, and then base future marketing decisions on that information, there is no point in investing in a flashy eMarketing solution – simply send your emails from your normal email software.  You won't get much benefit from emailing though – other than licking less stamps.

Step 5 – Communicate regularly with your contacts
Once you've got an interest profile built up on your contacts and companies, start using it (see Tip 1).  With email, you can easily send a communication to people expressing an interest in particular topics.

I've managed to get an email 'out the door' to a particular interest profile of contacts in our database (from no warning) in fourteen minutes.  Compare that to the days and days with hard copy letters and needing to go through and double check your old mailing lists.

Email is most suited for regular communication with existing contacts, so once you've got the email address, send your contacts a regular update of articles, briefings, seminars and your firm's news that is relevant to their interests.

WARNING: You will quickly find that your favourite contacts suddenly get bombarded with emails from all the teams in your firm, whilst others may not get anything between Christmas cards, or your yearly data verification request.  To counter this problem, you might want to move to a regular eNewsletter (weekly or monthly versions) – where everyone on your database gets an email (if content is relevant to them that is).  Make sure the email content is relevant – otherwise it's still just SPAM (junk mail in the online world).
That's how to move your marketing to email – here are some gems I wish I'd known when I was starting out...

Tip 1 – Personalise the content in your emails to what readers will find useful.  It's not 'Dear John' type stuff, that's old hat, it's about sending the right information to the right people at the right time.  For instance, if you have a contact's opted in email and their business interests, when you hear of some key developments in that area, and where you can help them, you can create and send an email in about 15 minutes of the storey breaking

Tip 2 – Check that your contacts are keen to receive your emails (get them to opt-in).  You'll get better response rates from those people anyway.  It might be a slow process as first, but if you include a 'this briefing is soon to be email only' type words on your hard copy versions, you'll soon convert your clients and contacts to email (give them an easy route to say 'I want to carry on getting this briefing by email')

Tip 3 – Regular communication with existing contacts is what email is good for – not cold lead converting.  Don't bother buying email lists (and if you do, you get what you pay for – and magazine subscription lists are probably the best sources)

Tip 4 – To help the move to email, charge the marketing budget of the department sending the letters (make emailing free).  You'll be amazed at how quickly the email addresses for their clients can be found, entered into your database, and their alerts sent by email instead of the post

Tip 5 – Monitor who clicks on what content – that way you can tell what topics are popular as well as what a particular person is interested in

Tip 6 – Base future marketing actions on the knowledge you've gained from who clicks on what content in your emails

Tip 7 – Focus on email deliverability, click rates and lead conversions – not pretty pictures

Tip 8 – Monitor bounces and remove the offending emails from your list (also look to correct the emails).  Otherwise, SPAM filters will pick up on the fact you are not maintaining your list and blacklist your email domain

Tip 9 – Record click activity in your central CRM database and then create follow-up procedures on those actions (i.e. what will you do when you notice a good client is clicking on particular links each week)

Tip 10 – Continually re-verify the profiling information you have (your email targeting is only as good as the data it uses to target with)




Which scenario fits your situation?

Posted letters

Outlook (use bcc field)

Outlook (use the mail merge feature – like in Word)

eMarketing software solution

Our contacts either: 1) don't use PCs much, 2) don't have email accounts, or 3) are not receptive to emails






We don't have any emails in our central marketing database (they'll be somewhere – probably in everyone's Outlook contacts folder)






Everyone in my firm is very sceptical about emailing





I simply want to save the cost of a stamp when telling people about my services and products (the wrong attitude by the way)






I only send one or two communications to contacts each year (you'll soon increase this when you see the benefits of regular communications)






We don't have anyone able to / willing to learn how to use email for marketing purposes






I want to send personalised 'breaking news' style alerts to keep my contacts up-to-date within minutes of the news breaking






I want to ensure my contacts receive information from us that is tailored to their situation and interests






I want to track who clicks on what link in my emails and tailor my future Marketing and Business Development activity on that knowledge






I want to be sure my contacts receive my communications