Residential Lighting: What’s the quickest way to get started with e-mail marketing?
Loren McDonald: Put some e-mail opt-in cards on the sales counter and encourage customers to opt in. After a year, you may have several thousand subscribers. That may not be a huge number, but if you reach them every month, it will have a decent impact on your business.
RL: Is there entry-level software?
LM: I would recommend CoolerEmail , Constant Contact  and Vertical Response . You usually can get a free account for 30 or 60 days. Thereafter, for about $25 you can e-mail up to 500 customers a month. These tools have Web-based tutorials. In many cases, they have pre-designed HTML templates. You pick a template, change the colors, drop in your logo and your product photos and have a professional-looking e-mail.
RL: When does it get complicated?
LM: With fairly large lists, you have to manage e-mail “reputation.” The various ISPs—AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, Hotmail, etc.—focus on delivering permission-based, non-spam e-mail. They track individual senders’ spam complaints, percentage of hard bounce-backs and whether they're on a “black list.” You don’t want people hitting “spam complaint” buttons, which may get all of your e-mails blocked.
Another factor is personalization. Retailers may start with what I call a “load and blast” campaign, but after a while they may see their e-mail open rates decline and click-through rates drop. The next step is to make the e-mails more relevant [and personalized].
RL: How effective would e-mail marketing be in our industry?
LM: In the last five years, my wife and I have spent a lot of money at a local lighting showroom. Room by room we’ve been upgrading our lighting. But if that retailer had communicated with us via e-mail, it might have moved us along the purchasing lifecycle quicker. The show-room could have e-mailed promotions or sent tips. The content almost doesn't matter—e-mails always drive traffic to the store.
RL: Are you saying that content is unimportant?
LM: No. But consultants who work with our company have done an incredible amount of testing on e-mail content for some large retailers. They found that variations do not tend to dramatically affect the number of people who visit a store. Rather, getting the e-mail in front of the customer drives traffic.
RL: Why is that?
LM: Consumers like having control over their inboxes. They can sort messages, file them, print them, delete them, click on the links and forward them to a friend. E-mail has become many consumers’ preferred vehicle for communication with retailers.
For the retailer, e-mail marketing is cost-effective. You don’t need a printer; you don’t deal with the post office. While you must deal with spam filters, e-mail is immediate and allows you
to make last-minute changes and send follow-ups. There is so much you can do with the technology—if you just get people excited about opting in.
Loren McDonald is Vice President, Marketing, at EmailLabs , an e-mail marketing technology provider, and Editor of the award-winning Intevation Report e-newsletter.
Studies compiled and posted on EmailLabs’ Web site reveal some interesting insights:
• Timing: Tuesday is the most popular day to send e-mail, followed by Wednesday and Thursday.