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The first part of this series explored one-on-one marketing Web sites: what they are made up of, what they do, how they do it. Now, using a detailed B2B example, we are going to delve into the realm of proper, opt-in, permission-based, one-to-one email marketing, covering the four implementation steps.

Everyone gets spam, and it's unbelievably annoying. It's gotten so bad that a federal law was passed in an attempt to rein it in. The CAN-SPAM law became effective January of 2004 (the name stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act). Some specifics are as follows:

  • It prohibits using misleading "from" or "subject" headers in email messages.

  • It requires marketers to identify their physical location by including their postal address in the text of the email message.

  • It requires an opt-out link in each message, which must also give recipients the option of telling senders to stop all segments of their marketing campaigns.

Developing an in-house sales leads database is a major goal of any smart business. A house list of potential buyers' email addresses is a coveted possession. So, many companies have turned to email marketing:

However, companies that use spam techniques generally fail. They risk being put on ISP blacklists, and they certainly jeopardize their reputation. Therefore, it's imperative that the first thing any organization consider when developing an email campaign is how to avoid sending spam.

The campaign needs to be CAN-SPAM compliant and use double-opt-in, rented email lists from subscription-based magazines or Web sites that are obtained from reputable email brokers. And for the email campaigns to be truly successful, one-on-one principles need to be utilized as well.

To avoid renting (or buying) an email list from an unscrupulous email broker, look for these red flags:

  • Bulk email lists that claim to be opt-in or double opt-in but cannot explain where the email addresses actually came from.

  • If you see an opportunity to buy 15,000 email addresses for $29.99, you should probably pass (a typical price for 15,000 email addresses from a reputable broker would be closer to $3,000).

  • If the broker actually offers to give you the list, then something's wrong. This shows that the broker doesn't care what happens to his email addresses, because for all he knows you will repeatedly send emails to this list, even if many on it unsubscribe.

MetaResponse Group (www.metaresponse.com) and NetCreations (www.netcreations.com) are two reputable email brokers that I've used.

Before we look at the one-to-one principles, let's first explore what makes an effective text or HTML email message. Here's a list of best practices:

  • You must offer to the recipient an incentive that is of perceived value. Examples are whitepapers, free trial software, coupons, special offers, free articles, free merchandise or contests.

  • The subject line must be compelling, succinct and relevant. It needs to be viewed as the equivalent of a newspaper headline. If the headline doesn't grab the reader, the rest won't be even looked at.

  • The copy needs to be short and succinct and written in a conversational tone. It shouldn't be more than a few small paragraphs and should require no scrolling.

  • The copy should talk about what you can do for the recipient (don't talk about yourself or your company—no one cares).

  • It should be personalized, as in "Dear Jack." You wouldn't send your resume along with a cover letter that started "To Whom It May Concern," would you?

  • It should not set off spam filters. You can test this by sending the email message to yourself at your company while your spam filters are turned on. You have to send it from outside the company to ensure that it's looked at by the filters, however.

  • There ought to be only one call to action. In other words, there should be only one hyperlink in the email message that brings the recipient to a page on your Web site that offers the incentive, first requiring that recipients fill out a short HTML form before they can get the incentive.

Some 90% of US Web sites collect names and email addresses, according to the Progress & Freedom Foundation. Also, Fulcrum Analytics, formerly Cyber Dialogue, reports that 51% of users are willing to give out personal information to receive a personalized online experience. So don't worry about asking site visitors to fill out a form, especially if you're giving something free in return for their efforts.

There are four implementation steps to one-to-one email marketing. First you must identify the people, then differentiate them, then interact with them in some way (in this case with emails) and finally customize subsequent email messages based on what you've learned from previous communications:

1. Identify

Build a house list.

Develop a qualification system—A leads, B leads, C leads, and D leads—and be sure to qualify each lead you get.

2. Differentiate

Determine the significant differences among the list of people. For example, by prospective customers and existing customers, by title, by geographical area, or by product interest, just to name a few.

3. Interact

Establish a dialog with your prospective and existing customers. Engage them using anticipated, relevant and personal emails.

4. Customize

Tailor your marketing messages, your subsequent emails in this case, based on what has been learned during the previous interactions. Each message or "conversation" will be different, based on the specific preferences.

Let's take a look at take a look at a B2B example. Let's say Acme Corporation, a software company that sells business solutions, wants to build its in-house email list, generate new leads and ultimately make more sales.

The first thing it does is determine who its potential customers are and conclude that medium-sized businesses in the health industry are ideal potential customers and would greatly benefit by using Acme's software.

The Acme folks know that they are not trying to sell to companies... they are selling to people. So they narrow down their audience to IT managers. These people would be the most likely to make software purchasing decisions for their organizations.

They then create an incentive that they believe health industry IT managers would perceive as valuable. Acme develops (or buys) a whitepaper that teaches IT managers how to optimize their computer systems to run more efficiently, last longer and be more secure.

Acme then approaches a reputable email broker and shares all this information, asking the broker to suggest an email list Acme could rent that would target IT managers in the health industry who might be interested in optimizing their corporate computer systems.

The email broker will do some research, and reply that it has just such a list, which comes from Health-IT World Magazine, for example.

Acme rents 5,000 Health-IT World Magazine email addresses from the broker, creates an HTML message following the list of best practices noted earlier. In the email message, there is one call to action that says, "Click here to download your free whitepaper on optimizing corporate computer systems."

Acme builds an HTML form on its Web site that will capture people's information when they click on the call to action in the email message. Each person will be required to fill out the form before downloading the whitepaper. Essentially, Acme is trading the whitepaper for some personal information.

The HTML form asks each person for contact information, including email address (after all, since Acme is renting the list from the email broker, it doesn't actually get to see the email addresses, so it needs to ask for them). The form also asks a few questions to help Acme get to know each person better. This will allow Acme to differentiate among them later.

Let's say they ask two questions in the form:

  1. "What is your purchasing role at your organization?"

  2. "What type of computer system/server do you run, UNIX or Microsoft?"

A certain percentage of the 5,000 recipients will click on the call to action in Acme's email message, because they will realize that a free whitepaper is something they could use and would like to read. But each of these people will first have to fill out the form before being able to download the paper. Therefore, Acme will begin to develop an email house list, just by running this campaign.

More importantly, Acme will have specific answers to two relevant questions that it can use for future email campaigns. Let's say 300 people out of the 5,000 responded and filled out the form to download the whitepaper, and here are the answers and breakdowns:

"What is your purchasing role at your organization?" "What type of computer system/server do you run, UNIX or Microsoft?"
150 people answered that they are the head of their IT departments and have total control over departmental purchases 150 answered UNIX
150 said they are simply engineers who can recommend software but don't have the authority to make final decisions 150 answered Microsoft

Acme marketers begins to develop another email campaign. First they Identify to whom they are going to market. In this case, they will be emailing the 300 people who filled out the form in the previous email campaign. They then Differentiate this group by breaking them down into subgroups.

Since there are four answers to the questions, they are going to create four different subgroups or clusters:

  1. IT department heads who use UNIX

  2. IT department heads who use Microsoft

  3. Engineers who use UNIX

  4. Engineers who use Microsoft

Acme constructs four messages, tailored specifically to the four clusters. Here's what the message to cluster 3 might look like:

You recently downloaded a whitepaper from us and we wanted o thank you.

You may be interested in our Linux (flavor of UNIX) compatible software that is made specifically for engineers in your industry. Here are the features ...

To download a free trial version, go here.

And here's what the message might look like for cluster 2:

You recently downloaded a whitepaper from us and we wanted to thank you.

You may be interested to know that our software optimizes health companies' Microsoft computer systems and servers, often saving companies like yours 20% in annual IT budgets. Our software is very intuitive and easy to learn.

To download a free trial version, go here.

Acme emails the 300 people, making sure that each recipient receives the appropriate message. In this way, Acme is Interacting with these potential customers. This time, the call to action in the email message is to click to download a free trial version, which acts as another incentive. Before the respondents can download the trial version, however, they'll be asked to answer a few more questions, to help Acme get to know them even better. Based on the answers to these most recent questions, Acme can Customize yet another email campaign to the latest respondents.

What Acme has successfully accomplished is to initiate and continue a dialog, or relationship, with these people. The people opted in to receive emails regarding health industry IT information, and by filling out the form on the Acme Web site and again opting in, they anticipate future communications from Acme. For its part, Acme crafts relevant email messages that speak specifically to the people's needs and preferences, and always starts each message with the person's first name, making it personal.

Eventually, Acme will build an impressive profile of each person in its house list. This will allow tailoring future email messages even better, to truly help the people Acme is communicating with. There is no doubt that this will increase Acme's sales.

People are more likely to buy from organizations they know, trust and feel comfortable with. If they have been receiving anticipated, relevant and personal communications from Acme over a period of time, they will be much more comfortable with Acme.

One of the wonderful things about one-to-one email marketing is that very few companies are doing it today. Most multinational organizations, medium-sized and small businesses miss the boat completely.

If you employ these strategies, both in your Web site and in your email marketing campaigns, you will most certainly have the edge over your competition.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason OConnor is president of Oak Web Works (www.oakwebworks.com). Reach him at jason@oakWebworks.com.