You cannot turn on the radio or TV, or open a newspaper or magazine without seeing social media buzz: “Facebook now has 500 million users.” “New Twitter customers reach 300,000 per day.” In addition, the smartphone industry is booming—an increase of 49 percent this year alone. Will this massive wave of social media optimism cause less email use? Will it decline or even be laid to rest?

In a 2009 survey conducted by the research firm MarketingSherpa, respondents were asked to choose their favorite method of communication, and email remains the method of choice 3.5 to one.

Permission-based marketing, a term coined by internet marketing guru Seth Godin, is not broadcast advertising. With permission-based marketing, “I raise my hand and say it’s OK to email me stuff because I like you, trust you and know you will send me information of value, not email-blast me,” says Godin. Email is a form of direct marketing—the goal is to turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers.

Costs can be kept very low, while the percentage of effectiveness is very high. The Direct Marketing Association has consistently reported that email garners the highest ROI among all direct response methods. Their recent study shows email marketing’s average ROI to be $45.06 for every dollar spent—more than double the $19.94 ROI of non-email internet marketing.

Email Blasting—No!
When trying to explain permission-based marketing, someone will invariably say, “Oh, you mean email blasting.” No, no, no! I do not mean email blasting. Email blasting, by its very nature, is evil—many would call this spamming of the masses. The goal is to retrieve as many email addresses as possible and blast an advertisement of how great your company is and what wonderful products and services you have to offer.
The problem is that the people you are blasting to:

  1. Have not given you permission to email them
  2. Do not know who you are
  3. May complain about you and your company to their internet service provider, or elsewhere online.

If this happens, your company’s IP address will be blacklisted. Your blasting days will be over, as all major email providers will filter out email sent from your company. The blacklisting may last just a year or two, or it may be forever.

Confessions of a Former Spammer
Back in the earlier days of the Internet, I decided to check out email blasting. This was in 2000, when my only means of connecting to the Internet was through a dial-up modem. I proposed a viable software product, which I had written, coded and designed, and I needed to find a way to make people aware of my product. I found a sophisticated email harvesting tool that crawled web pages and captured email addresses, and within a few days, I had about 15,000 of them.

I then purchased a sophisticated bulk emailing tool and gave it a try. I started the program at 8:45 and let it run for approximately three hours. From my one little junky computer with a dial-up connection, I was sending 5,000 emails an hour.

Wow, I thought, this was really easy…until I started receiving emails back from the people I had spammed. The replies were vicious. I kid you not, if these people had known where I lived, I believe they would have paid a visit, dragged me outside and hung me from the flagpole by my underwear! To top it off, I received a call from my internet provider who told me they had received more than one complaint about my spamming activity. I was told politely to “knock it off.”

That is the story of my three hours of spamming fame. It was not worth it! I also learned a valuable lesson from this experience: respect the relationship you have with your customers. Do not abuse them.

Email as a Social Platform
Email, although not classified as “social media,” is a social platform. When communicating through email marketing, messages should be written in an educational or informational manner. Email should not include sales-oriented advertising! When composed properly, customers will be educated about a specific problem, and a solution can be suggested by using product XYZ. Links that give easy access to white-paper reports, videos and PowerPoint presentations can also be provided.

In order to achieve the effective use of email, you must tunnel through the noise of all the other advertising and marketing that bombards us on a daily basis. You can slowly introduce new e-articles month by month to capture clients’ attention. Relationships are built by “touching” customers on a regular basis. By building these relationships, your emails will be welcomed and anticipated. Allow your clients to know you better by sharing just a little about who you are with each email sent. Remember that email is a social medium. If you abuse these social privileges, you will do more harm than good.

Strengthening Client Relationships
If you pick up a phone and call your customer, there is a very good chance they will take your call. You have proven your value and gained their trust. If you leave a message, they will probably return the call.

If you send an email that has a compelling subject line and provides an attention-getting image that defines the relevance of your heartfelt message, it is very likely it will be opened, read and appreciated. Why, you might even include a special offer, discount or call to action, as long as this is not the main focus of your email.

If you send advertising instead, you will have cheapened your relationship; you would have been much better off not sending the email. “Trying to sell advertising on social media is like trying to sell insurance at a dinner party,” says Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads. “You may sell an occasional policy, but everyone will think you’re a donkey.”

Experts tell us it takes at least seven “touches” with a customer prior to making a sale. Permission-based email marketing can be one of these “touches,” along with the phone, text messages, cards and letters. Consider permission-based marketing as an alternative means of strengthening existing client relationships. Your return on investment will be higher than many other marketing means and can prove to be a welcome change in today’s economic environment. iBi