From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, November 01, 2001


You've got mail

Ranjyoti Barooah

IN the movie You've got Mail, Tom Hanks used it to woo Meg Rayan. Campaign managers in the last US Presidential election used it to talk to potential voters. Back home, Coca-Cola captured the essence in a TV campaign to align itself closer to the youth market. All around the world, people use it to communicate with each other. In the history of mankind, nothing has so drastically altered the way we live, talk or communicate with each other than the ubiquitous five lettered word, e-mail.

Nearly 95 per cent of all Internet surfing time is spent on e-mail alone. Today in the US, some nine billion e-mails are sent out everyday. From the telephone, as marketers, we have moved on to the next big wave - e-mail solicitations. Fast, cheap and personalised, commercial mail can be simultaneously beamed out to millions of users from Alaska to Zaire at a fraction of the cost it would have otherwise taken. Earlier on, marketers in the US saw the wave coming and today they are happily riding the $1.1 billion e-mail marketing wave. Although the wave is yet to hit Indian shores, a few small breakers are already hitting our beaches as companies begin to put their Internet act together.

But the going has been less than smooth for almost everybody. Lack of knowledge coupled with lack of quality databases has been the biggest stumbling block. While knowledge can be learned or bought, the lack of quality databases is more a long-term problem. Unlike the US, thanks to a decade's headstart in database marketing, which forms the bedrock of knowledge base in building databases, in India, companies are having to move straight into building databases in the Internet era.

So, how do successful companies go about the business of e-mail marketing? They first do it by setting their e-mail marketing objectives. Most marketers confuse e-mail marketing with spam or commercial mail. While commercial mail, whether requested for or not, constitutes a valid marketing effort, in most cases, it is used as a booster to give a quick awareness to an existing offer or to drive people to a particular actionable call. Commercial e-mail work just the way as direct mail works. One hires lists from list vendors, ISPs, portals, e-mail providers and sends out an e-mail to his database. Pretty simple right?

Wrong. Starting from the very obvious, almost every e-mail list vendor in the country has little understanding of the dynamics of database marketing. So, the likelihood of one getting landed with a host of dead, inactive and useless mail IDs is very high. At the very least one would probably be sending mails to a large number of people who are out of his target range.

Secondly, unlike other media vehicles, e-mail is unforgivingly rude. Get it wrong once with your prospect and you have lost all chances of ever getting him back. As a principle one should follow the TRAMP rule ( Test- Rollout- Analyse-Modify-Post). But following this rule can be pretty tough for the uninitiated as most marketers find out early on. There is no easy way. There is only the right way.

Setting clear objectives of what you want out of your e-mail marketing becomes critical. Unlike other media vehicles, database marketing allows for targeted marketing, which means that instead of using aggregates such as SEC classifications, one needs to select audiences by income, age and other qualitative profile matches. This, of course, means that as a marketer one would need to make segment-specific communications instead of one communication message which would fit all plans.

Content management (now thats something like a tsunami coming our way!) becomes mission critical. How do you ensure that the right piece of communication is always going out to the right person, especially, if you are trying to juggle different content types for each identified segment? The jigsaw puzzle becomes truly mindboggling. A good content management software helps.

Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Elmer Wheeler propounded this profound statement. Care to guess how many of the thousands of e-mails you have received till date actually made you want to look at it? In the mad rush to ensure that the right content reached the prospect, e-mail marketers have forgotten that often it is the visual depiction of the content that lead to a click through.

Responsiveness to e-mails sent out is another important factor, which will help you increase your future response rates. Over dependence on auto-responders will cause your e-mail marketing programme to suffer a slow death. While they are useful for mundane, typical tasks, nothing so delights an e-mail respondent than a human touch, especially one that is fast, quick, and to the point. Can we please see more marketers do this?

Lastly, if you are planning to or in the process of managing an e-mail marketing programe, for God's sake, go out and buy a good e-mail campaign management tool. I have seen too many programmes fail, simply because the marketer equated e-mail marketing to designing a nice mailer and then broadcasting it through Outlook. Ever watched a postal department at work? Mail comes in large bags, which are unceremoniously dumped. Workers then go around sorting the mail by type, class, and location. Next it is further sorted by pin code so that your specific mail will reach your specific address and not your neighbours. A good campaign management tool does precisely this.

While there are several other aspects to be borne in mind (we wouldn't want to give it all away would we ?), the above are the main aspects, which either make or break your e-mail campaign. A good profiled database, top notch content management software, reasonably good creative, a human interface to handle those special mails and a good campaign management too. And hey presto, you're in business.

(The author is CEO of brandquiver. Feedback can be e-mailed to

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