You’ve landed a prospective customer’s email address. What’s next? One thing is for sure: you can’t just bombard customers with an uncoordinated attack of “buy now” offers or you will alienate them in a hurry.

Roger Parker, in his book I published, Streetwise Relationship Marketing on the Internet, offers some cogent thoughts on the process. Because email is the engine that propels your customers from step to step along the five-stage customer development cycle, it’s important that you develop an attainable, consistent, and effective email strategy.

Your email strategy has to be attainable in that, once you commit to it, you can be reasonably certain that you have the resources to maintain an email mailing list, can develop your messages at appropriate intervals, and have the talent necessary to write compelling copy.

Your email strategy has to be consistent in that success comes from predictability. An on-again/off-again email strategy will alienate your customers and prospects. If you promise to send a once-a-month email newsletter or bimonthly email alerts, the success of your relationship marketing strategy is undermined the first time you miss your self-imposed deadline.

Most important, your email has to be effective. Unread email is a waste of Web resources, your time, and the recipient’s time. Your email has to be more than “brag and boast” advertising. It has to be interesting in style and relevant in content. More important, it has to be meaningful enough to motivate readers to visit the relevant premium content areas of your website.

It’s important to remember that your customers and prospects are receiving more and more email every day. Unless your email message stands out by virtue of its brevity or extremely relevant content, it’s unlikely to be read. Your email will either sit in your customers’ inbox, waiting until a later (that often never arrives) time to be read or the recipients will delete your message. Worse, they may request that you remove them from your email distribution list.

Using Email to Drive Visitors to Your Website

Email should be sent to previous website visitors or new prospects each time new information is posted on the website. The new information should be as easy to locate on the website as possible. Some of the ways this is done include:

  • Email alerts to inform customers when new content has been added to your website. You can include the URL of an unlinked page in your alert so that recipients can click on the link and go directly to the desired page.
  • Email teasers, which are a bit longer than alerts. Email teasers typically list the headlines for new information placed on your website along with a paragraph or two amplifying the headline and further describing the information that has been added. Teasers also include the URLs of the specific pages where the new information is located, permitting visitors to go directly to the new content.
  • Bimonthly or monthly emails that function like a newsletter, telling the whole story—or enough of the story—so that visitors do not have to go back to the website to learn more. Although the text will be unformatted, visitors will be reminded of your constant efforts to provide meaningful information. More important, visitors may choose to forward your newsletter to friends and business associates who might benefit from the newly added content on your website.
  • Longer emails, which are read if they offer compelling and relevant information. The 1to1.com email newsletters sent by Peppers and Roger fall into this category. Each email contains several full-length articles. Although tightly written, each email contains enough information to communicate a key point.
  • Summaries that update your customers’ knowledge of your website. One of the best examples of this is the weekly alert that E. P. Levine sends out informing camera lovers of additions to their inventory of used equipment. Summary emails can be read at a glance and avoid the necessity for visitors to launch their Web browser and visit the website itself.
  • Attached files, such as formatted documents, PowerPoint presentations, or sophisticated publications created using page layout programs like Adobe PageMaker and saved using Adobe Acrobat.

Attaching Documents

Adobe Acrobat permits you to distribute fully formatted publications that appear on screen exactly as they looked when they were created and can also be printed on the recipient’s printer. Acrobat publications contain all of the formatting attributes and design nuances found on a the original print version, including typefaces not available on the individual’s computer. The Adobe Acrobat Reader has already been widely installed on computers and can be downloaded for free from the Adobe website. (Always provide a link to the appropriate page of the Adobe website for the convenience of those who may not have already downloaded Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

However, there are three primary disadvantages of distributing attached documents:

  1. Acrobat files take time to download and occupy valuable computer hard disk or network space.
  2. Some corporations, to prevent the transmission of computer viruses, do not allow attached files through their firewalls or email security systems.
  3. Attached files do not drive email recipients back to your website, which, after all, is the whole purpose of sending the email.

Choosing the Right Option

Any one of the above options might be enough to guarantee success. More important than the perfection with which these options are executed is the consistency in which you implement your email campaign.

A one-page email “teaser” that goes out like clockwork on the first and fifteenth of each month is far better than an occasional four-page email newsletter that disappears from view for months at a time. Your goal is to constantly keep your prospects and customers aware of your presence and, whenever possible, to drive visitors—and their friends and coworkers—back to your website for more information.

The very fact that you consistently send an email teaser or email newsletter to your customers and prospects reminds them of your professionalism and your commitment to providing the information they need to do their job better or enjoy their pleasures with more satisfaction. Consistency equals success.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of using information and email to propel the customer development cycle. Information used to be frightfully expensive to communicate to prospects and customers. Producing, printing, and mailing postcards and newsletters can be expensive and it can take weeks—often months—for even the simplest project to get designed, produced, printed, addressed, and mailed.

All in all, the best email approach combines brevity and meaningful content with one or more hyperlinks that take visitors to a specific premium content page that interests them.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Your email strategy should be attainable, consistent, and effective.
  • Email is cheap—use it to propel the customer development cycle.