By David H. Martin

Earlier this year at a conference (NOTE: what kind of conference was it, if you don’t mind me asking? marketing, e-commerce, some other topic?) in Chicago, I had the opportunity to listened to Seth Godin of on the subject of discuss e-mail “permission” marketing. Godin, recognized as one of the gods of web business success, had some pointed things to say. about e-mail marketing.

“You need to find people who have ‘raised their hand’ (‘Yes, I want information!’). Then get their permission to talk with them,” said Godin. “Permission cuts through advertising clutter. While print ads are like cruising singles bars, Internet ads via e-mail are like dating.”

e-marketing and ‘frequency’
The secret of all marketing is frequency, according to Yahoo’s Godin: “But who can afford it? You get frequency free with e-mail.” That’s its advantage. Godin and other experts seem to agree that the ideal frequency of e-mailings to the same customer base is twice a month.

However, Godin cautioned, “Knowing someone’s e-mail address doesn’t mean they want to talk with you. You need to earn each customer’s permission to e-mail them, one permission at a time.”

E-mail is a wonderful way to drive people to go to your website, opines Godin. But you should constantly reward people you e-mail and then who then visit your website. Ask each visitor if you can continue to e-mail him or her with special offers. Make it worth their while to fill in a form that provides you with valuable information about them. After all, they’re a captive audience—and voluntarily so.

Permission marketing rules
Godin claims marketers must always ask for permission, each time they communicate to customers via e-mail. The rules to remember are:

  1. Permission marketing is all about respecting the “lifetime value of customers,”
  2. Build your own e-mail list, one permission at a time,
  3. Do not purchase lists or offer your list to other companies,
  4. Permission is revocable and non-transferrable, i.e, “permission sold is permission lost,”
  5. Permission doesn’t happen by accident,
  6. Permission must be nurtured (with special offers, toll-free phone numbers, rewards for providing referrals), and
  7. Begin building your e-mail permission list immediately and maintain it, updating as well as adding addresses.

How to begin your list
Dan Dale, manager of e-lists at Cahners Business Lists, Des Plaines, Ill., offers these key points for building a solid permission-based list for e-mail marketing, which we’ve adapted for water improvement dealers:

Prepare the recipient. Allow all recipients to “opt out” of third-party e-mails before sending the first offer. (Your initial mailing need only reveal your intentions: Thye They will get special discounts available only on-line.) The e-newsletter is an ideal vehicle for the initial mailing.

Include it in your forms. As Since e-mail addresses are collected on home show sweepstakes forms or web qualification forms, include a line giving everyone the opportunity to opt out from of future mailings from third-party companies. This shows respect for their privacy.

Target the offer. Ask for “qualifying” information on home-show forms that will help to target them for specific offers. Have them check boxes for: Own a water softener? Own a drinking water filtration system? Buy bottled water in stores? And so on.

Respect the recipient. Limit the number of contacts to no more than twice a month. Process opt outs immediately.

Know your goal for each e-mailing. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish with this mailing?” Encourage registration? Sell a product? Cross-sell products? Generate referrals? Increase traffic or awareness of your business? Introduce an e-newsletter?

Personalize your message. In your e-messages, immediately highlight your value
proposition—the things that set you apart from competition. Address the recipient by name whenever possible. If possible, express gratitude for past purchases. Have someone “sign”—or put their name and title to—each message.

Tease with the subject line. Make it creative but businesslike—stay away from
“cute” or “sexy” approaches. The idea is to be provocative without being silly or crass. Present a benefit or make a special offer “for Web customers only.”

Some subject line examples
The average subject line in an e-mail message is just seven words. Make every one count. Here are a few examples of provocative lines to help you get started:

  • The key to solving water problems
  • Improve your family’s quality of life
  • Everything you need to know about water
  • Worried about your water?
  • Tired of high bottled water costs?

Make message brief, enticing
Your e-message should be no more than 500 words, according to Cahners’ Dale. Keep important information on the first screen the viewer sees. Messages should be three to four sentences at a time, followed by bullets with key points.

Avoid attachments and HTML coding unless you are you’re sure your recipients can handle them.

‘Soft’ offers work best
As Godin said, you use e-mail to nurture long-term customer relationships. Quick-hit hard sell offers won’t fly on the Internet. Use your messages to initiate a relationship by encouraging registration, offering contests or giveaways. Your offers might include e-updates on new products or special offers, discounts or discount coupons, free trials—or “soft” educational information on water that adds value.

Multiple means of response
Current web industry research indicates that Internet message recipients respond well to having several ways to respond to your offers. These might include:

  • Hyperlink to your website homepage,
  • A second link to a special offer on your website,
  • An automatic email reply box,
  • A toll-free phone number, or
  • Your fax number.

Remember, some of your e-mail recipients may receive messages but not have regular Internet access.

Once again, opt-outs
Include a simple opt-out statement at the end of every e-mailing.

Keep your opt-out message clear and easy to use. Don’t vary it from message to message. For example:

“We respect your on-line time and privacy–and pledge not to abuse this medium. If you wish to not receive future e-mail messages from (Dealer Name), please select ‘forward’ and type the word, ‘remove,’ in the subject line.”

Doubling up
Combine e-mail programs with traditional mailing programs.

Remember, direct mail and telemarketing lists (and telemarketing lists) will initially offer better market coverage than your slow-building e-mail list. Experts including Seth Godin and Dan Dale encourage the use of e-mail with traditional direct mail.

Godin believes that “people don’t open envelopes anymore” and recommends in making a strong argument for using color postcards in support of follow-up e-mail messages. Dale adds that most response rates for e-mail marketing range from 2 percent to 12 percent. Other experts suggest that the present impressive rate of response may eventually erode as e-popularity grows and people’s e-mailboxes become stuffed by with dozens of messages each day. as e-mail marketing continues to grow in popularity among all advertisers.

A desktop away
A new “soft path” to marketing success is as close as your desktop.

E-mail marketing based on permission techniques is sure to will grow as a dynamic new medium to cultivate long-term customer relationships. In approaching this exciting new medium, that offers low-cost advertising frequency and a new door to personalized customer service relationships, be very careful not to offend by overuse (commonly know as spam).

Avoid misleading “bait-and-switch” offers that could lead to “flames”—nasty e-mail responses (from those more adept at computers) that might bring down your server. Don’t risk irritating prospects with a pre-checked “opt in” that requires requiring them to un-check the box to opt out.

As more and more people go on-line (and they will), e-mail marketing will be hard to resist by any company. large companies and small.

Remember, E-mail is a different medium that requires requiring a “softer” approach than traditional media (newspaper, TV or radio). newspaper ads and even radio and TV commercials. Traditional Direct mail, especially postcards, are especially complementary to e-mail messages carrying containing the same offers.

In planning an integrated marketing program that combines e-mail with traditional media, you may want to seek out specialized experts who can create, coordinate, mail and e-mail for you on an outsourcing basis.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: [email protected] or website:

Two e-marketing resources

Permission Marketing, by Seth Godin, Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 256 pages, (1999).

Web Marketing Info Center:


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