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By Gary Slack

Iīm an admitted email junkie. Itīs a dangerous combination—part pack rat, part exterminator. Lately, it seems like Iīm spending more and more time determining what to save and what to delete from the 80 to 100 emails and e-newsletters I receive every day.

Email has become a part of the way we do business, communicate and keep up with current events. With more than a billion messages transmitted daily, email has become a great medium for marketers, as my example shows.

By eliminating the cost of ink, paper and postage, email provides a cheaper, more efficient alternative to traditional direct mail. But, for some, the ease and low cost of email have eclipsed the need to uphold traditional marketing standards. What these marketers forget is that if done incorrectly, email can be just a cheap way to send the wrong message to the wrong target audience.

What are the critical elements of a successful email program? We believe there are three: the quality of the database, the quality of the message and the quality of the implementation and follow-through.


Many marketing campaigns have failed despite being highly creative. Even the best email campaign in the world wonīt accomplish anything if you donīt reach the right people, which is why your database is critical to the success of your program.

Donīt assume just because your audience is computer savvy that they will respond to email marketing. In fact, people who receive hundreds of emails a day (e.g., business owners, IT professionals or journalists) may be more inclined to delete unsolicited messages or to simply forward the messages to their assistants.

If you are starting from scratch, youīll probably start by purchasing an existing database. For B2B marketers, trade magazines are usually a reliable source for purchasing a database. However, not all publications will make these lists directly available. If ultimately your database will only include several hundred or thousand names, you may find building it from scratch is your best bet. If you do decide to purchase your database from an outside source, make sure to understand its pedigree. More importantly, single opt in and double opt in databases are generally more valuable to marketers and will generate more return on your investment.

If you are unsure about the quality of a purchased database, you might want to test the error rate by sending your campaign to a random sample from your database. While testing your error rate, you will also get an early indication of how your audience will respond to your message. Based on that response, you can revise the message before sending it to your entire database.


Email is a tool that moves customers through the sales process, so grab your audienceīs attention, provide them with the most important information and include an incentive or a call-to-action with a link to additional information.

The subject line may be the most critical element of your email message. Remember, the folks on your database may be receiving dozens or hundreds of messages a day. As with traditional direct mailing, the first challenge in email marketing is getting people to "open" your message.

The subject line is equivalent to the teaser line of a flat or dimensional direct mail piece. Like an effective teaser, an effective subject line can prevent your email from joining the majority of messages that end up in the garbage unread.

I recently heard from a reporter who was frustrated with the number of emails she receives daily. She encourages people writing to her to put her name in all capital letters in the subject line, to alert her that itīs a message she needs to read. This brings up an interesting point. As our consumers have become inundated with email, they, too, are no longer quick to open every message they receive.

Whether you choose to personalize the subject line or to simply use something catchy, it should be limited to four to six words and should engage the recipient to open your message. If you go into eight to ten words, some words—maybe the whole gist of your message—will be lost.

Once a recipient opens your email message, you have a very short amount of time to engage them before they delete the message. So keep your email as short as possible. If you havenīt enticed your audience in the first few sentences, they wonīt bother to scroll down.

Limit the copy to your key messages and a link to more information. Think of email as a tool to move interested customers to more information. Your email should motivate potential customers to pursue additional information.

The following is an example of an email message that our firm created to draw traffic to a microsite we created for our client Telution.

How do you make a tradeshow splash? Just ask the folks at Telution, a leading software development firm for the telecommunications industry and one of Chicagoīs fastest-growing companies. Last February, they turned heads at OSS 2001 with bold exhibit graphics and a strategic marketing blitz developed by Slack Barshinger & Partners. The result? Better exhibit traffic and a bucketful of qualified business leads. See the whole story at http://www.slackbarshinger.com/telution.

Finally, always give recipients the opportunity to remove themselves from your mailing list.


Because email has become a casual communication tool among colleagues, friends and family, many marketers approach email marketing casually as well. For that reason, we approach email marketing as we would approach a print ad—we use a professional copywriter. A good copywriter can portray that message in a most compelling way, using as few words as possible. Why some firms donīt have their emails written by professionals is a mystery.

Additionally, how your email looks is equally important as the message. If you choose to use any kind of design, be sure to include a creative team. Most importantly, know your audienceīs capabilities. Donīt craft an HTML email if your audience canīt open it. When in doubt, use a text message.


While thereīs never a guarantee any marketing campaign will be a success, there are ways to test your email campaign for an indication of its effectiveness.

Test panels that parallel the demographics of your database can provide insight into your final results. Focus groups and one-on-one interviews are useful for determining tactics that are effective within your target market. You can provide sample subject lines and body copy to measure what motivates this group. You can also recruit current customers, alert them about the mailing and test your email on them to measure their response.

In fact, email marketing can actually be used as a tool as a cost efficient research tool. For an upcoming project, we used email to determine the key messages for our target audience. By crafting a creative email message and using a clean database we obtained from a reliable source, we were able arrange 72 hour-long interviews. In most cases, the recipients responded within the first 24 hours. The responses we received from these interviews provided us with insight into future marketing to this group.

The most important thing to remember is that email is a sales tool. And like any tool, you have to know how to use it effectively. Identifying your audience and giving them the information and the resources to learn more in a creative and easy-to-use format increases your chances for executing a successful marketing program.

Article courtesey of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Gary Slack can be reached at http://www.slackbarshinger.com/. Gary Slack is managing director of Slack Barshinger, Chicagoīs largest business-to-business marketing communications agency and one of five b-to-b agencies recently named the best in America by Crainīs BtoB magazine.

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