First an apology: the Diva's e-mail address was misprinted in last week's column. If you have a question, please try again (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dear E-mail Diva,
I recently acquired a new account that has a need for an e-mail campaign for the next year. I have no idea how to get started on proposing this element of their marketing. Could you offer me some direction?
Sincerely, Reno Agency
Here is your e-mail 101 crash course.
1) Understand Audience Preferences. Companies all are clear about what they want to sell, but the key to a successful program is understanding what customers want to know, then blending customer desires with the marketing message. To find the answers, use surveys, focus groups and feedback from those closest to the customer, typically sales and customer service reps. Don't believe top-level executives who say they know what the customer wants; they don't.
2) Develop Content. Brainstorm ideas to meet customer needs and deliver content in easily digestible nuggets. Don't forget little extras for e-mail subscribers only: entertainment, information, education, special offers, the inside story. Take your ideas and put them into an editorial calendar with dates for key steps in the process: delivery of graphic assets (logos, photography, etc.), development of a creative brief, first round of copy, copy approval, first round creative, creative revisions, second round creative, final approval, HTML development, testing and deployment. A typical professional e-mail takes about three weeks to develop from start to finish.
3) Publish. Select an ESP that is right for your needs. There are providers at all price points with novice-friendly interfaces. Trust me on this: you do not want to manage your e-mail in-house. Besides being a distraction from your core competency, you don't have the necessary relationships to deal with delivery problems that are a crucial aspect of ISP service. Consider an admin tool to your Web site that allows you to add newsletter content without technical assistance. This has the added benefit of refreshing your Web site content regularly and is likely to improve your organic search engine rankings.
4) Promote. The best way to build your list is to pull your audience to you to get the content they want (which you cleverly identified in Step 1). Advertise on complementary Web sites and e-mail newsletters and through search engine marketing (another service best hired rather than grown). Use offline media, print collateral and events to promote your program as well. Consider the role word-of-mouth plays in your market and get ideas from WOMMA.org on how to support and nurture it.
5) Monitor Results. Another benefit of using an ISP is the reporting that comes with the service. Create a report and summary for each e-mail. Look at your best and worst results and develop theories about what makes people open and click--or not. Then test your theories by splitting your list in half and keeping all other factors constant. Over time, you will establish your own benchmarks against which to measure your success and learn from your failures. Remember also that even unopened e-mail--as long as it's welcome in the reader's in-box--can make a positive brand impression.
Finally, Reno, the great thing about e-mail marketing is the plethora of information available online. MediaPost and Marketing Sherpa have huge content libraries, and most ESPs have white papers and newsletters on their sites. If you've got the time, an e-mail education is at your fingertips. Good luck and good marketing.
The E-mail Diva