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Oct 17, 2000
How To

Email Marketing Expert Kim MacPherson Discusses Lists, Creative, Cost, Responses & Biggest Mistakes!

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Kim MacPherson is president and founder of Inbox Interactive, a full-service email marketing and advertising agency in the US. She writes a weekly column on Email Marketing for The ClickZ Network, and is also the author of the forthcoming book “Email Marketing 101: Acquiring and Retaining Customers with Winning Email Promotions”. Next week, Kim is coming to London to lead’s Email Marketing Workshops at County Mark House on Regent Street (see for full details). We thought we’d take this opportunity to introduce her to you, and give you a bit of a sneak preview...

Q: Firstly, what about the great HTML vs. text debate - which should people use? Are there cases in which one is preferable to the other?

MacPherson: Well, this is certainly the question of the day. And to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't recommend anything other than testing HTML vs. text for your unique business. For a time there (several months ago), the rule of thumb seemed to be that HTML beat text for B2C companies, while text was the winner for B-to-B . That is not necessarily the case any longer. We always recommend to clients who are prospecting that they test a segment of their target audience with a text-only message against another segment of that same audience with an HTML message. What the results tell us is that there is no longer any rhyme or reason to this query -- it seems to depend on the unique components of your mailing, including the lists, your message, your offer, what you are promoting, and more. The same goes for retention email. Bottom line: test, test, test.

Q: In classic direct mail, longer copy usually works better. What copy length rules tend to work best for email marketing?

MacPherson: Again, this boils down to the unique components that make up your business model. I've seen "short and sweet" work great; but then again, I've also seen two-page promotional emails beat the old tried-and-true half-page "teasers" two to one. Generally speaking, though, if you only have time or resources to create one message (in acquisitions mode, for instance), and if your offer is a lead generation offer, less is most likely "more". On the other hand, a paid offer should spill more of the details. (Note: I recommend lead generation, or two-step offers for acquisitions... once you've collected those email addresses, etc., they’re yours for future marketing for your paid offers).

Q: Do you recommend that people use a special landing page? What works best?

MacPherson: You should definitely drive people from your email promotion to a specific landing page (or splash page) on your site, rather than driving them to your generic home page. This has been shown to increase conversion (whether that means sales, or sign-ups, etc.) by double-digit percentage points! And if you think about it, you'll see that the home page can be distracting - there are so many extraneous links and other bells and whistles that can make your email recipients lose focus. Any and all links within your email should direct people to a page that further "pitches" the message in the email. And, if you can, insert the sign-up form right there on that same page. Your prospects and customers should go through a seamless transition from email to landing page to sign up.

Q: Kim, you've been involved in international email campaigns, and you've spoken at international email marketing conferences [in Australia, and Holland, for example] - how do the email marketing best practices you learned in the US translate overseas?

MacPherson: This is a tough question, because many countries are just now starting to get into this space. They are now developing their own best practices - many of which they are learning from us here in the States. I think the rules are (and should be) the same – in a nutshell: promote with permission, offer something of value, make it easy, and provide excellent follow-up and service.

Q: When you are buying opt-in lists, how can you be sure they are opt-in? And how important is it? Can I test a non-opt-in list (for example a compiled list) just to see if it will work for me?

MacPherson: The best way to ensure that a list is truly opt-in is to go directly to the originating site as if you were a consumer and see what kind of language is posted on the site (i.e. does the site disclose that members' information will be rented out to outside parties?) Most sites now have a privacy policy. Check it out. And I wouldn't recommend testing a non-opt-in list – you’re likely to get a lower response from such a list anyway. Not to mention the fact that if it's not an opt-in list - and recipients do not know who you are, nor are they expecting outside solicitations - your ISP may receive complaints. Not a good thing!

Q: Do double opt-in lists perform better than single opt-ins?

MacPherson: I’ve seen no hard facts on this and, in our experience with clients, I’ve seen no results that truly substantiate it either. In fact, whenever one of our clients pits a Postmaster Direct list (double opt-in) against a YesMail list (single, or unconfirmed opt-in), the results vary. Same category, etc., may apply but sometimes YesMail beats PMD, and vice-versa. The results don't seem to depend on the method of opting members in.

Q: Are there any differences in best creative practices between B2C and B-to-B ?

MacPherson: You have to test this because, in my opinion, you're still marketing - and "speaking" to - people. For the most part, the same best practices apply to both disciplines.

Q: What's the most common mistake you see marketers making with email marketing?

MacPherson: Number one - no landing page. Two - HTML promotions that are way too graphics-heavy. Big is bad in email, because so many people are still on dial-up, and when they can't open something quickly, they'll tune out - meaning they'll click off and even delete the message if they can't open it right away). Number three - messages that don't tell enough. I think that some marketers are stuck in the "keep it short" mode, and the fact is, some businesses need more time - and hence, more space - to promote their message effectively. The lesson? Get a good handle on your business model and its intricacies, and if it's something that can be spelled out quickly, fine. If not, though, you need to give as many compelling details as possible. Leave no stone unturned, no question unanswered.

Q: What kinds of response rates can people expect?

MacPherson: Response rates are going down, but they're still strong. clickthrough rates for B2C are typically higher (still 5-10% here in the States), and for B-to-B range closer to the 3-7% area. Conversions (sign-ups) for lead generation offers are typically 40-60% or so, while paid offers run the gamut from one or two to 10%, depending on the price, on the offer, and whether it's an acquisitions or a retention type of offer.

Q: How much does an email campaign cost?

MacPherson: For acquisitions/prospecting, opt-in lists run between $200 and close to $500 per thousand (US) for acquisitions. If you outsource creative, count on having to add another $500 to $1500 per unique promotion. Many lists do tracking. For retention, the costs go way down, of course, because you don't have those hefty opt-in lists to purchase/rent. If you're using an outside solutions provider for deployment, expect to pay 3 to 10 cents per email address sent (most have monthly minimums, however) depending on the level of service you need.

Q: We know it's important to have, where possible, test cells when doing email campaigns so we can learn what works and what doesn't. What sorts of things are the most important to test?

MacPherson: All of the above - HTML vs. text, message length, offer, appeal, subject line... and then, when you can, delve deeper into demographics, geographics, and even psychographics.

Q: What's the biggest mistake you ever made?

MacPherson: The biggest mistake I ever made has NOTHING to do with email marketing! Seriously, though... as far as promotions go, I think the biggest mistake was not knowing a business model well enough to know that it just wasn't going to do well with PROSPECTING by email. That's the thing that you have to keep in mind - not EVERY business will do well in this capacity. Sure, email is great for retention - for a variety of businesses. Prospecting is another matter altogether and, typically, you may have a difficult time in creating a value-orientated lead generation offer for high dollar products (e.g. furniture). In such cases, you should think twice about prospecting with email.
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