E-mail Marketing Part 1: Contact Systems

We all know the Internet is a great marketing channel, but what if you are not cyber-savvy? Is there a way to send marketing materials online to your established clients and potential buyers even if you don’t have precious dollars to spend on a sleek newsletter design, or lack the time to manage an ever-changing mailing list?

Absolutely. E-mail marketing service companies offer affordable, easy-to-use bulk e-mail services that enable their clients to communicate with existing and potential customers — and do it in a professional, law-abiding manner.

Do-it-yourself digital marketing doesn’t pay.

“Can’t I do it myself?” Sure, you can send mass messages from your own e-mail server but you will likely run into a handful of problems with respect to design and deliverability. Firstly, most of us are not skilled in HTML, the authoring language used to create Web documents. Secondly, even if you succeed in creating a beautiful e-newsletter all by yourself, it might not reach recipients when you hit the “send” button because: 1) you max out on the number of e-mail addresses that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) allows you to send; 2) a high volume mailing triggers your ISP to blacklist and block all of your outbound e-mail from delivery for a given period of time; 3) your e-mail gets blocked or flagged as spam because you try to hide a mass mailing by using the bcc option. Even if your message makes it into an inbox, if your message does not include an auto opt-out feature, you can annoy recipients who no longer want to receive your mail. Worst of all, you have no way of measuring the deliverability rate of your e-mail campaign.

E-mail marketing the easy way

An e-service provider can help you to create a beautiful newsletter or announcement and even make sure that it reaches your recipients’ inboxes, but it’s up to you to get them to open it. Focus on the headline. A compelling subject headline should:

  • Be short. Use less than 40 characters, preferably six word or less.
  • Use keywords and make the subject line reader-focused. Think: How does your mailing benefit the reader?
  • Use correct spelling and grammar. Proofread everything — even the subject line — before you hit “send.”
  • Avoid words like “free” that trigger a spam block.

In contrast to the DIY-method, when you use the services of an e-mail marketing company, you need little technical expertise, and there is no software to install or manage. Essentially, all you need is an Internet connection and a Web browser. In addition, e-mail marketing service providers can help you to generate better deliverability results because you are playing by ISP rules.

Here’s how it works: Customers who sign up for monthly service with companies such as Constant Contact, Stream Send, Icontact, MarketVolt and Campaigner are given access to hundreds of customized e-mail templates for creating professional-looking digital marketing materials, such as newsletters, invitations and announcement. Links (to your Web site or blog, for instance), coupons and even PayPal click-to-buy options can all be inserted.

What about all-important images? After all, we are talking about the business of art. “With image management and hosting, visual artists can easily incorporate their own work into their newsletter. They can use Constant Contact’s tools to reduce or enlarge images to fit into headers or articles, organize, sort and label their images, as well as store them,” says company spokesperson Lisa Dilg.

Glass bead artist Mary V. Smith uses Constant Contact to keep in touch with those on her mailing list. “I use their templates. I will customize them and change the color palette to suit what color palette of jewelry I am putting in there. When you are trying to do e-mail marketing yourself, you need stuff that is quick. I can go and change base templates easily and it still looks very professional.” Smith’s quarterly newsletters are among the best that I receive from professional visual artists. Sign up for her latest newsletter here.

E-marketing service companies offer a higher return on your investment.

Want to try it out? Here is a list of companies that offer a free trial period:

Campaigner

Basic plan: $25/unlimited mailings. Current sales promo: $10/mo. with first month free but limited to 500 e-mailings. Features: Allows free upload of up to three images; Images sourced from a Web site are free and unlimited. Offers free trial period for up to 12 contacts. Live customer service hours: e-mail, live chat, phone 24/7. Web address: www.campaigner.com

Constant Contact

Basic monthly plan: $15/up to 500 contacts, unlimited e-mailings. (Pricing based on total list size) Features: Free to upload up to five images onto the account. Image hosting: $5/mo. allows unlimited image upload plus access to stock images. Offers pre-pay and nonprofit discounts. Offers 60-day free trial period for up to 100 contacts and unlimited e-mailings; free seminars in some areas of the U.S. Customer support service: e-mail, live chat – 24/7; phone – Mon to Fri 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST. Web address: www.constantcontact.com

Icontact.com

Basic monthly plan: $9.95/up to 500 contacts, limited to six e-mailings a month per contact (for a total of 3,000 e-mails) Features: Free image storage up to 500 Kb, images must be 70 Kb or less. Image hosting: add 10 percent to cost of plan for each additional meg. Offers 15-day free trial period for up to 250 contacts, limited to six e-mailings (for a total of 1,500 e-mails) Live customer service hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. Web address: www.icontact.com

MarketVolt

Basic monthly plan: $40 (Pricing is based on the amount of e-mail sent in a given year, based on annual contact that allows up to 40,000 e-mails per year.) “We can be flexible on pricing with nonprofits, arts agencies and individual artists.” Features: Automatic follow-up list generation and delivery. Offers free 1 to 2-month trial period; contact for details. Provides free Web seminars and live training to all clients. Live customer service hours: E-mail, phone – regular business hours; gives customers after-hours phone numbers for emergency support. Web address: www.marketvolt.com

Stream Send

Basic monthly plan: $19.90/up to 2,000 subscribers (Pricing based on total list size of all e-mail campaigns within the month) Features: Offers unlimited image upload. Images must be 10 Mb or less. Free 30-day trial period for up to 200 subscribers. Live customer service hours: phone – Mon to Fri, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST; online ticketing system. Web address: www.streamsend.com

The best feature, says Smith, is the tracking ability, which shows the status of an e-mail sent to each member on her address list. “There are reports you can run: how many opened it, who opened it, when. The report feature tells if it bounced, why it bounced — if the box was full, if it is a nonexistent address, or that you are blocked. You even have the option to sending the person an e-mail notifying them that you are going into the spam box.” The Dutchess County Arts Council in Poughkeepsie, New York, is one of Constant Contact’s more than 228,500 small businesses, associations and nonprofit customers. They use digital marketing tools to send press releases and a weekly e-blast to approximately 1,500 recipients. The e-blast includes “a little Council update, a few calendar listings, lots of grants, opportunities, etc., and an ‘Art on the Web’ feature,” states Council president Benjamin Krevolin. “From the reports, we know that folks continue to access our e-mail and get info from it up to a month or more after it was sent.”

The opt-in/opt-out features are another benefit to using e-marketing services. A credible, respectable, law-abiding company will be CAN-SPAM compliant and insist that all addresses in an e-mail campaign be obtained through a confirmed opt-in subscription method. (The Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM rules prohibit sending unwanted commercial e-mail messages to wireless devices and computers without prior permission. For more information on the FTC’s rules, visit: http://www.ftc.gov/spam/ .) Since recipients can automatically unsubscribe to your mailing list, recipients are not in the awkward position of contacting you directly nor do you have to worry about removing the address yourself.

Another plus: If a subscriber forwards your message to someone else, that person can automatically opt-in and another name is immediately added to your mailing list. Smith notes that her mailing list has increased by 200 names since she opened her account one year ago.

Although Smith uses her quarterly e-newsletter primarily to stay in contact with new and prospective customers, she has also sold some jewelry by including the PayPal feature in her letter. “If someone is reading it, they can go right to PayPal and buy it then and there. This has happened with items under $200. But you don’t get impulse buyers once you get over $200.”

MarketVolt offers convenient follow-up e-mail delivery service. “We can automatically put somebody on a follow-up list if they click a link, open an e-mail, merely get sent an e-mail, or don’t open and answer an e-mail,” states company president Tom Ruwitch. “This significantly reduces the cost of operations … The ability to do target follow ups ultimately increases the return on investments.”

Craft Alliance, a nonprofit visual arts center in St. Louis, is a pleased with these MarketVolt product features. “They have a sophisticated database tool that we could not do ourselves,” states Craft Alliance operations director Lexi Glyniast. “It allows for groups to be flagged in certain ways. It’s a simpler, cleaner and faster process.” Glyniast notes that her organization had 600 to 700 subscribers when they began using MarketVolt. Three years later, their list has grown to 3,800 active, valid addresses with another 2,000 removed because they are invalid or the subscriber opted out. “We can keep track of it a lot easier than in manual fashion.”

Other services that e-mail marketing companies offer to help to improve mailing performance rates include: spam check, online demos, Webinars, whitepapers and articles, as well as e-mail, live chat and phone-based tech support in case you run into troubles. (Constant Contact won the 2008 Stevie Award for “Best customer support.”) Account holders can also sign up to receive regular e-newsletters that contain tips for creating mailings and strategies for managing an effective campaign.

How much does it cost?

E-mail marketing services are extremely affordable. Rates generally depend on the number of e-mail addresses in a mailing. Basic plans average between $15 and $20 a month for a list size of up to 500 with unlimited mailings within a given month. Not counting materials and printing expenses, the cost to snail mail 500 letter-sized, non-barcoded pieces that weigh 3.3 ounces or less is $130.00 based on the current commercial bulk rate of $0.26 per piece. For the same price, you can purchase between 6 to 8 months of e-mail marketing services (and save a tree or two in the process)!

Smith is convinced it’s a deal. “For $15 a month—there is no way you could hire a PR or marketing person for something that cheap.”

Using direct e-mail marketing services is a fast, efficient, cost-effective way to drive traffic to your Web site, increase sales and build loyalty. In the current woeful economic clime, e-mail marketing is something you can afford. AC

 

Contributing writer and communications consultant Ligaya Figueras specializes in business writing, marketing and media relations for visual and performance artists, writers, nonprofit organizations and specialty service providers. Follow Ligaya on Twitter at twitter.com/LigayaFigueras, or friend her on Facebook at facebook.com/ligaya.figueras.

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