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Feb 21, 2001

Judith Remondi Explains How B-to-B Email Marketing Is Different from Direct Mail Marketing

SUMMARY: Judith Remondi is that rare bird, a traditional B-to-B direct marketing expert who also thoroughly understands the challenges of email relationship marketing.

As the President of RMS Direct and a former leader at Harte-Hanks and Epsilon Data Management, she's advised many Fortune 500 clients. MarketingSherpa contacted her to get some advice on the differences between direct mail and email for our readers:
Q: Once businesses have permission from clients and prospects to email them, how often should they email their list?

Remondi: I'm a very, very big proponent of testing. Not enough marketers do testing. You should test how often it's appropriate to be sending folks emails. They will tell you very quickly if you are sending too many!

Ask them, 'How often would you like to receive emails from us? Quarterly? Monthly? Once every two weeks?' It's the best way to understand -- and also to make customers feel like you really care what they feel.

If you're not flat out asking them this, you really do have to be careful that you're not inundating them. I have companies that over-email me. I start just to delete them automatically. Then their email becomes just like direct mail where you are just throwing it in the trash every time you get it. Email still has a much higher open and read rate -- but there is a fear among marketers that email will eventually become like direct mail.

Q: On average, what's the best frequency for B-to-B customer emails?

Remondi: There's no hard and fast rule about number of emails. Average numbers are not useful.

You want to test if you email three times a year are you getting higher response rates then five-six times a year? Pull out a control group to test against, to find out at what frequency does response rate fall. I have clients who can mail 10 times a year and I have other clients who can only get away with three times a year. It depends on your company and your product.

I always tell my clients, I'd rather see you under-emailed versus over-emailed. As soon as you reach the point where you've over-emailed them, you've lost them and they'll never come back.

Q: What's the best format for a customer email campaign? HTML or text?

Remondi: I get that question a lot. Obviously HTML looks a lot nicer and more companies are using it. However, we are still at the point where some people don't have the capability to read it, and some big companies stop it. I always send out email with a choice. You can either open it up in text or HTML. The more choices you give your prospects and customers the better.

Some will go for the text option and others for HTML. Every marketer out there would like to see customers go for HTML because you can use graphics. But most people are still reading text. They want it to download fast, they want to look at it onscreen and be done with it, and move on to their next email. People are just overloaded. As machines become faster and faster, you'll see more HTML.

Q: How long should a customer email newsletter be?

Remondi: You have to be short and sweet. What we tend to do is weigh things down with too much content. You spend all this money and energy putting together a very heavy newsletter and a tenth of it gets read!

You need to focus on some short, very powerful messages that are really going to grab somebody. Think of the image of pulling somebody through his or her monitor. You really want to get them hooked. You want to have some great sound bites in that newsletter.

I've worked with companies like IBM, Lotus, Motorola and 3Com. Big companies tend to think, 'As long as it's from us, they're going to read all this stuff!' That's not the case. People have very little time. The challenge is to make quick, powerful statement messages and do it consistently.

Once again I keep bringing people back to the fact that once you lose somebody, they're not likely to come back. Direct mail is different. For example I get certain catalogs all year. Sometimes I throw them in the trash, but that doesn't mean next time it comes I'm not going to read it. Direct mail is like that. They may not respond now, but in 3-4 months you may mail them again and they'll open it up.

It's NOT so with email newsletters! Once you have gotten the person either disinterested or angry or irritated about something you've done, it's 99.9% certain that they'll never open another one of your emails again, regardless of whether they need it or not. You have to consistently draw their attention in newsletters or it's over. It's just like
changing the radio station.

So, in many cases email is much more challenging than DM.

Plus, everything's getting faster. People will leave you more rapidly if they are not interested in what you are saying. You think you have three minutes for them to read your message -- you actually have three seconds! That's putting tremendous pressure on marketers.

Q: Integration is the hot thing in B-to-B marketing right now. How should B-to-B marketers be integrating their email messages to customers and prospects with their direct mail messages to customers and prospects?

Remondi: Many companies are having a hard time integrating Internet marketing into their other media. One of the reasons is when they first started email marketing, they set up an email marketing or electronic marketing department. So, you have a group that does DM, a group that does email, and perhaps another group for telemarketing.

Especially in large companies it's very difficult for one hand to talk to the other hand. Instead, all of these groups are working on stuff simultaneously. A customer may get a phone call on Monday, a direct mailer on Tuesday and an email on Wednesday. That's overkill.

A lot of companies need to set up systems that allow them to see 'Oh we just sent out an email piece, we'd better wait a week before we send the DM out.' I'm seeing change gradually, but the systems to do it are still pretty new, even in Internet time. It's also very time consuming and takes a lot of work to set the systems up.

I have one Fortune 500 client who have set up such a system across media. They made parameters for the number of communications that can be sent to any given customer in a number of different sales segments during any given quarter. Depending on which segment they fall into, they'll get anywhere from 2-8 communications per quarter including phone, fax, email and mail -- the point being all of those media are connected. It's not just the email marketing group saying, 'Yeah we can send six emails a quarter' and not look at what the other groups are doing.

All of this sounds very intuitive. But I think very few companies are actually doing it right now.

NOTE: To contact Remondi, email
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