Over the past few years, research has continued to prove the benefits of email marketing campaigns for business: low costs, high conversion rates and detailed tracking are all notable features.

But email marketing is becoming much more than just a tool for spammers and online businesses.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy on the differences between spam and permission-based emails, and more and more of them are accepting permission-based e-mail marketing as a positive replacement for direct mail.

The best news is that the majority of people who receive permission-based emails open, on average, 78% of them.

Jupiter Research reports effective email marketing campaigns can produce 9 times the revenues and 18 times the profits of broadcast mailings. But crafting an effective business email is both an art and a science. Here is a list of factors, potential problems and effective solutions to keep in mind:

1. Spam! Spam! Spam!

The average consumer receives more than 300 emails a week, 62% of which are spam.

No wonder there’s such hostility towards the industry. But spam filters, bulk folders and “report spam” features are helping consumers become more at ease about the perils of spam.

While 89% of users cited spam as a major concern in 2003, that number dropped to 85% in 2004, proportionally to an increase in the use of spam-fighting tools.

So as a permission-based business email marketer, what can you do?

One tip is to remind your subscribers to add you to their “safe senders” list.

The second, and most important, tactic is to make sure your email marketing service provider has a good relationship with ISPs. This will ensure that your email marketing campaigns go into your subscribers’ inboxes, not their junk mail folders.

When choosing an email marketing software, make sure the company has strict anti-spam policies and complies with the guidelines of Can-Spam.

2. Images and formatting: Why do my emails look broken?

Broken email campaigns are an increasing concern among email marketers, especially since several companies and web-based email providers now block graphics as a measure to combat spam.

In fact, according to ClickZ, 40% of email marketing campaigns delivered to inboxes are “broken.”

So what’s the solution?

Some email marketing programs publish all your sent email campaigns to a secure location on the web (a location only original recipients of the email can access, thanks to encrypted technology that automatically authenticates the user). In some programs, the technology also ensures you can track your users’ behaviours, even if they are reading your email campaign at the secure web location.

3. Personalisation and relevant content: In a business email, one size does not fit all.

In a recent study by DoubleClick, email users were 72% more likely to respond to a business email if its content was based on the interests they had specified.

That number points out the absolute importance of allowing users to choose their own interest groups and have control over which business emails they receive.

The most popular interest categories, according to the study, are coupons and household goods.

But you’re coupon is no good unless the user opens the email.

Users in the study said the most compelling reason for them to open a business email is the name in the “from” field. So it’s a good idea to make sure your company name is clearly stated there.

Another major factor is the “subject” line.

Users cite discount offers and interesting news as the most compelling subject lines, followed by new product announcements and free shipping offers.

4. Click-through and conversion: Show me the money!

So the user has opened your email and read the content. Great. But where’s the sale?

There’s good news here. For one, consumers are increasingly likely to make purchases as a direct result of a business email campaign.

One-third of users in the DoubleClick study had purchased something by clicking a link on an email. Another 42% clicked on an email link for more information, then purchased the product at a later time.

Second, online coupons are booming: 73% of consumers have redeemed an online coupon for an online purchase, and 59% have redeemed an online coupon offline.

In terms of industries, the top performers are travel, hardware/software, electronics, apparel, food, home furnishings, gifts/flowers and sporting goods. All companies sending business emails in those categories said between 71% and 80% of recipients have purchased their products because of an email campaign.

There’s no need to fret if your company doesn’t fit into one of those industries. The overall landscape for email marketing conversions is looking brighter every day.

5. Stats tracking: Who are my real consumers?

Email marketing is an increasingly popular tool in effective CRM, and it’s about time more businesses recognise that.

First off, if your provider’s email services for business do not include detailed, real-time tracking, you’re getting a raw deal. Real-time tracking is now an industry standard, and it’s highly valuable, as it allows you to see the exact moment a user opens your campaign, clicks on your link and makes that purchase.

Studying your users can help you improve your communications efforts, so each campaign performs better than the last (several email service providers also let you compare the performance of your campaigns).

But many marketers are still in the dark.

According to a recent WebTrends research, only 5% of marketers are very confident in the measurement of their online marketing efforts, while 26% admit they’re “flying blind.”

WebTrends says the low confidence comes from a lack of knowledge when it comes to measurement, which means there’s still a lot of work to be done.

In email marketing, a blind shot won’t take you very far. But if you aim properly by following these essential rules of play, you will soon be reaping the same major results as so many online and offline businesses.

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