What's in Your E-Mail Contact Strategy?
By Stefan Pollard, director of e-mail best practices, Lyris, Inc.

What's the best e-mail contact strategy? No matter who's asking the question, whether they work for a large traditional organization or an enterprising start-up, the answer stays pretty much consistent. A good contact strategy defines why a recipient needs to hear from you and supports your business goals. And if you see evidence that its effectiveness is waning, you take immediate action.

Contact Strategy Tactics that Work
Here are four tactics that seem to consistently yield positive results:

1. Develop a calendar. Chances are you already have a larger calendar of business events and promotions that will be happening for the rest of the year. In fact, many of the savviest marketers have a complete six- to 12-month editorial calendar that outlines the planned outgoing communications. When you're planning special communications or promotions, you’ll want to keep this larger calendar in mind to make sure that you aren't inundating your recipients with too many messages in a particular timeframe. Checking your special promotions against your editorial calendar will also ensure you aren't confusing readers with inconsistent marketing messages.

2. Work with the product lifecycle. Depending on the nature of your product, its lifecycle may create an entire set of natural opportunities for communication. Imagine that your company sells marketing software. You have ample built-in chances to engage in relevant, credible communications with your customers—from the "thank you for choosing XYZ Software" e-mail, to e-mails identifying add-on modules, to tech support opportunities.

3. Win them back. If you have a group of customers who used to purchase but haven’t bought anything recently, it's time to come up with a promotion they simply can’t resist. Whether it's a special discount, an opportunity to receive free shipping or a limited-time "mystery" gift, wooing back these customers has a lower average cost than acquiring a new customer.

4. Ease them into the process. You wouldn't put a new driver in the middle of a bustling interstate, so why would you drop your brand new customer into the middle of your e-mail marketing traffic? Create a series of onboarding e-mails that ease your recipients into the flow of your campaigns. On-boarding e-mails can provide new customers with valuable information about your brand. You can send an e-mail that supports your brand positioning—for example, sharing a tip for getting the most out of their marketing budgets. You can deliver an onboarding e-mail that reiterates one of your company's strong points, like an e-mail that contains excerpts from testimonials about your stellar tech support. Both of these are ways to welcome your new customer to your information super highway without leaving them scrambling for the nearest exit.

How Often is too Often?
You may love chocolate cake, but if you ate a big piece of it everyday, you’d quickly grow tired of it. E-mail marketing is like that; you don’t want to wear out your recipients with too much of a good thing. So how do you know how much is too much? By giving your recipients ample opportunity to tell you themselves:

• Sign-up options. As you're asking for the user's e-mail address, you also have the opportunity to ask them about the frequency that works best for them. Make sure you tell recipients not only about the kind of information they'll be receiving—like whether a particular mailing is a newsletter, sales flyer containing coupons, etc.—but also how often they should expect these mailings. This will help ensure their expectations and the reality of the situation will better match.

• User profile/preference centers. Most professional e-mail programs let users change their preferences by logging into their preference centers. If your e-mail service provider doesn't offer this, it may be time to find a new one—it's important that your recipients have access to tweak their preferences any time the mood strikes them.

• The unsubscribe process. Maybe your recipient doesn't want to unsubscribe from all of your communications: It's just your "deal of the week" e-mail that's causing her to feel a bit overwhelmed. Ensure your unsubscribe process gives recipients ample opportunity to understand the different types of mailings they're receiving and that they can remove themselves from one, many or all.

Special Communications, Special Consideration
Your marketing team has a great idea—a special series of five "to your health" e-mails that give recipients an exercise tip, featuring products that are available for purchase on your site. It's an excellent idea and a great way to reach out to your audience, but make sure they're interested first. You'll want to get permission to add recipients to this special list; don't just assume you can do so because they’re already receiving other communications from you.

Getting recipients to opt-in to special communications isn’t really that different from getting them to sign up for your initial list. Take advantage of existing e-mail campaigns and your Web site to advertise the special campaign. Add a sign-up checkbox on your regular newsletter sign-up page. Also enlist your partners and supporters, who may be willing to mention the availability of your special campaign on their own e-mails and site.

Final Notes
So whether you choose to try onboarding first, or instead want to focus on winning back customers, one thing holds true: Finding the perfect contact strategy will involve a lot of trial and retrial (not trial and error, as data from poorly performing campaigns is still extremely valuable). Try a number of different tactics, let your customers take the lead when it comes to frequency and make sure you’re handling special communications with the right mindset. You'll be well on your way to e-mail marketing success.

---Source: ManageSmarter Nov. 13, 2008 ( Stefan Pollard is director of e-mail best practices for Lyris, Inc. (



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