How To Build An E-mail Program

Begin with the end in mind. This is always good advice, and particularly applicable when you're starting an e-mail program from scratch. What would your ideal program deliver? A growing list of opt-ins who welcome your e-mail in their in-box, recommend you to friends and come to your site to learn/browse/register/download and, ultimately, buy.

I've talked to many marketers whose goal is simply to find as many names as possible and send them a marketing offer. If this is your goal, stop reading now. But if the ideal program sounds good to you, here is an approach to consider.

1. Understand audience needs and preferences. Find out what your customers and potential customers want from your company through surveys, focus groups, discussions and feedback from sales and customer service representatives. This is the most important step and probably the most overlooked. You think you know your customers, but the majority of your waking hours are focused on your company and products--and theirs is not. Talk to customers; you will always learn something new.



2. Develop content to meet audience needs. Knowing what your customers want, brainstorm ways to provide that content and blend in your marketing message in an 80/20, them/us ratio. Consider how you will create a great e-mail user experience.

3. Publish your content. Post your content on your Web site. Invest in an admin tool that allows you to make regular updates without requiring a programmer. These updates deliver added benefits: they keep your Web site fresh and are likely to improve your search engine rankings. Send your content (now your e-mail message) to your existing list, if you have one. If not, send it to your customer list, with an introduction that describes the new program and asks for an opt-in. If an umbrella group does a better job reaching your audience than you could ever hope to, consider sponsoring their content.

4. Promote your program. Use traditional and digital media to promote your e-mail program. Make opt-in part of your primary Web site navigation, link to your archive so readers can see what's in store, and include testimonials from satisfied readers. Help readers build your list by developing or refining your Send-to-a-Friend program.

5. Analyze your results. Take the time to review and report on the mountains of data created by your e-mail program and your Web site analytics. Discover what your customers are telling you, by their actions, that they didn't tell you with their words. Develop theories (people seem to respond well to X) and test them (send ½ of the list the X approach and ½ the Y approach). Use this data to continually improve your program.

If you truly focus on the customer, you will pull in high quality, satisfied opt-ins. It's easier, and economically feasible, to push your message out to large numbers of prospects. But if you want to work toward the ideal e-mail program, a customer-centric approach will deliver better results in the long run.

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