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E-ZINES 101

E-ZINES 101: E-Zines and Email MarketingVisiting Professor

Opt-in vs. Opt-Out E-Mail...What's the Big Deal?
  by Visiting Professor Shannon Kinnard

The phrase "marketing with e-mail" is Idea Station's tagline. The problem is, every time I introduce myself to a new person and tell them that my business conducts marketing using e-mail, they snatch away their handshake  and say with a sneer, "Oh... so you're a spammer," or "so you're  responsible for all that junk e-mail I get!" Unfortunately, they respond  like this because they, like most consumers, are so tired of receiving  unsolicited commercial e-mail in bulk. Because the practice is rampant, it taints legitimate e-mail marketing practices.

Whether you are going to  build your own list (the industry term is 'house file') or use a list broker to reach your target audience, you need to understand which practices are acceptable and which ones are unacceptable, and thus which
ones work and which ones crash and burn. The fine line is drawn between "opt-in" and "opt-out" e-mail, and it is indeed a big deal.

Opt-out e-mail is the act of adding someone to a mass mailing (possibly because you're sure that they will enjoy receiving your information), and then including instructions on how they can remove themselves from the database if they wish to stop receiving e-mail.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, unethical marketers have so rampantly used this offer as a trick, not honoring these requests, but verifying that the e-mail address is valid and selling it to bulk e-mailers. This practice has made consumers wary of ever responding to opt-out messages. Instead, they just automatically filter them to the trash bin.

Second, opt-out e-mail requires the recipient to take action, forcing them to follow instructions, wasting their time and effort, and annoying them. This will tarnish your reputation and break down trust. And the bottom line: it doesn't work. Unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail achieves very low response.

Opt-in e-mail is just the opposite. The recipient chooses to be included in your database. They give you permission to send information to them, and they tell you what kind of information they want to receive. Because these people self-select themselves as your prospects, you are not invading their privacy or wasting your messages on uninterested parties. Because they know that they need you, and make the conscious effort to join your community, the relationship you build is based on trust and mutual benefit. However, it can be frustrating to build an e-mail newsletter and watch subscriber numbers crawl slowly. It can be tempting to speed things up by cheating  with spam.

For example, Kinnard's Pharmacy launched their e-mail newsletter 'The Balance' in March. At just over eighty subscribers in three months,  they're frustrated. Running a full brick-and-mortar pharmacy during the day doesn't leave much time to reach a niche market of consumers who are interested in their online newsletter, a level-headed approach to healthcare that incorporates both alternative and traditional medicine. Their solution is to reach pre-built audience through a list broker, rather than trying to build the list themselves through online networking and advertising.

One 'in-between' tactic is the practice of sending personalized NOT bulk-emailed invites. If you're really sure that someone would like to be included in your list, consider simply sending a sample issue and a note to them about why you think they might appreciate inclusion in your database. "I have had the most success with sending actual sample copies of my newsletter direct to possible subscribers," says Gary Christensen, who publishes the Writers Connection Newsletter. He says that he has gotten some subscribers using this strategy, but has also received notes that request removal from his list, even though the recipients never were on the list in the first place. Even though he follows each invite with this closing: "My apologies if this has reached you in error. You are not on my list. If you don't respond, you will likely not hear from me again. Thank you for your time." Again, the misperception that groups all unsolicited e-mail messages (especially from unfamiliar or free e-mail addresses) into the category of spam makes it more likely that the most effective mailings are built off pure opt-in databases such as pure opt-in lists.

As a marketer using e-mail as your medium-of-choice, the best practices are based on building or using a quality database. If you use a list broker to find your e-mail audience, it is essential that they also follow these best practices. Ask for references from existing clients and find out results of their campaigns. Visit some of their affiliate sites to see for yourself how they are collecting names.

Make absolutely certain that the broker you use is ethical, that the names in their database were volunteered and not harvested from another online source. Your response rates are directly related to the practices used in the collection of the names in your house file or your list broker's database.

About the Author:

Shannon Kinnard is the author of "Marketing With E-Mail," due this October by Maximum Press. For more information about the book, her company, Idea Station, or the free e-mail products they offer, visit them online at http://www.ideastation.com.

To subscribe to "The Balance" by Kinnard's Pharmacy, send an e-mail to balance-request@listhost.net  with the word 'subscribe' in the message body.

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