Using EMail

E-mail is an important and growing online marketing tool. A recent study of ad, brand, and marketing managers found that nearly half of all the companies surveyed use e-mail marketing to reach customers.60

To compete effectively in this ever-more-cluttered e-mail environment, marketers are designing "enriched" e-mail messages—animated, interactive, and personalized messages full of streaming audio and video. Then, they are targeting these attention-grabbers more carefully to those who want them and will act upon them.

But there's a dark side to the growing use of e-mail marketing. The explosion of spam—unsolicited, unwanted commercial e-mail messages that clog up our e-mailboxes— has produced consumer irritation and frustration. Last year, for the first time, the total number of spam e-mails sent worldwide surpassed the number of person-to-person e-mails. According to one research company, spam now accounts for between 80 to 95 percent of all e-mail sent.61 E-mail marketers walk a fine line between adding value for consumers and being intrusive.

To address these concerns, most legitimate marketers now practice permission-based e-mail marketing, sending e-mail pitches only to customers who "opt in." Financial services firms such as Charles Schwab use configurable e-mail systems that let customers choose what they want to get. Others, such as Yahoo! or, include long lists of opt-in boxes for different categories of marketing material. targets opt-in customers with a limited number of helpful "we thought you'd like to know" messages based on their expressed preferences and previous purchases. Few customers object and many actually welcome such promotional messages.

When used properly, e-mail can be the ultimate direct marketing medium. Blue-chip marketers such as, Dell, L.L.Bean, Office Depot, Charles Schwab, and others use it regularly, and with great success. E-mail lets these marketers send highly targeted, tightly personalized, relationship-building messages to consumers who actually want to receive them. Consider Scotts:

Scotts, the plant, lawn, and garden products company, designs its e-mail marketing around the customer preferences, season of the year, and the region of the recipient. When individuals sign up for the e-mail program, Scotts asks them a series of questions about where they live and their particular plant and garden interests. It then uses this information to create content and offers that resonate with each recipient. For example, a city dweller, who may not even have a lawn, gets advice and tips on the care and feeding of houseplants and terrace shrubs, whereas a homeowner in the southwest receives information on maintaining a lawn or garden in a hot and arid climate. To deliver this level of customization, Scotts has developed an e-mail template that allows it to incorporate appropriate, personal content into an otherwise mass e-mailing. Far from thinking of the Scotts' online missives as irritating spam, recipients grow to rely on them as a valuable problem-solving tool.62

Given its targeting effectiveness and low costs, e-mail can be an outstanding marketing investment. According to the Direct Marketing Association, e-mail marketing produces a return on investment 40 to 50 percent higher than other forms of direct-marketing media.63

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