E-mail marketing still delivers results for B2B campaigns

Read related story: How to build your brand and business with e-mail marketing

Marketing on social networking sites might be making waves in the media, but for some Canadian businesses traditional e-mail marketing still brings home the bacon.

The simplicity and economy of e-mail marketing campaigns are their biggest strengths, these firms say.

One business that successfully uses such campaigns to reach out to a globally dispersed audience is Espial Group, an Ottawa-based provider of Internet Protocol TV middleware and applications.

The company has more than 100 employees in Canada and counts Rogers Communications, Motorola and Nokia as partner-clients.

But it also sells extensively to businesses in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and South America.

“We’ve done the research and find social media marketingis really not ideal for business-to-business (B2B) operations such as ours,” said Kirk Edwardson, marketing director at Espial.

He said Facebook-type sites are mostly geared towards consumer markets and frequented by a younger demographic. “We focus our campaigns mostly on decision makers who are older.”

A U.S.-based online marketing specialist agrees with Edwardson’s views.

Compared with direct marketing efforts – snail mail, e-mail, and so on, where an offer is created based on what the company wants to sell, social marketing initiatives focus on involving communities with creating the offer as well as promoting it, says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketingin Minneapolis in his blog.

While many marketing firms, including TopRank, are moving towards social marketing, Odden says e-mail methods still hold some advantages:

“It’s a straightforward marketing campaign based on developing an offer, defining a target audience, and creating a series of messages intended to communicate the offer and convert.”

A 2007 report from Hitwise, a search and online marketing firm based in New York, also indicates that while social networking is fast overtaking traditional e-mail, the latter still holds an appeal for older audiences.

The top 25 social networks – that include Facebook, Bebo and MySpace – account for 5.17 per cent of all U.K. Internet visits, compared with 4.98 per cent for e-mail services such as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and Gmail, according to a study by Hitwise’s London, U.K. office.

Facebook users in the 18-24 age bracket comprised 30 per cent of Internet visitors compared to slightly more than 20 per cent for Windows Live Mail users. The report gathered the same numbers for users aged 25 to 34.

However, more than 20 per cent of respondents aged 35 to 44 said they use Windows Live Mail compared to only 10 per cent for Facebook users in the same segment.

Around 20 per cent of respondents aged 45 to 55 or older, were Windows Live Mail users, while around 14 per cent of those in that segment used Facebook.

For its campaigns, Espial uses JangoMail, a hosted e-mail service. The permission-based e-mail marketing tool enables Espial to maintain mailing databases for various customers around the world and help the IPTV provider create region-specific mailing campaigns.

For SMBs such as Espial that target a globally dispersed audience with limited IT resources and short campaign timelines, an easy-to-use marketing tool that can deliver messages rapidly is vital.

Social nets require time to develop connections, Edwardson said, adding that time is a luxury his company doesn’t have. “Our customers are mostly businesses that are already aware of our products and services.”

He said what his company’s customers need is regular and relevant information and updates on products, events and issues in their industry.

Espial typically launches a mailing campaign each month and gets newsletter mail outs every six weeks. The company has around 15,000 to 20,000 subscribers around the world.

But pushing e-mail through proprietary systems can easily break the bank for smaller businesses because of the huge capital investment and labour costs.

“When I worked Corel, we had to set up our own e-mail servers, integrate these with our backend services and spend thousands in IT development hours,” said Edwardson.

A hosted service such as JangoMail, frees SMBs from such installation and maintenance expenses, as all this is taken care of by the service provider.

Espial spends around $2,000 to $3,000 each year for the service. One key advantage provided by JangoMail is its ability to handle the different character sets that various languages require. Espial does not need to install an appliance or software to be able to deliver region-specific campaigns.

The service also provides Espial with monitoring tools that enable the company to judge the effectiveness of campaigns by providing stats on such areas as receiver responses and opt outs.

For companies considering an e-mail marketing campaign, Edwardson has the following advice:

Secure customer permission – Make sure the receiver has given you consent to send marketing e-mail. That way you lessen the chance of your campaign being considered a nuisance or being blocked by an e-mail filter.

Keep the message simple and relevant – Time is valuable to customers. They want information applicable to their business needs. This means tailoring your messages to particular demographics, regions or industries. Useless information will only result in customers tuning out or worse still – opting out of your e-mail blasts.

Keep customer regularly updated – It’s vital to send messages at regular intervals so customers know when they should expect updates from you. That said it’s also important that you don’t flood your customers with e-mails. For most instances, messages every six to eight weeks are ideal.

Monitor campaign performance – Make sure you measure the effectiveness of your campaign. This can be done by seeking online or phone feedback from your customers or using tools designed specifically to measure customer response.

When shopping for an e-mail marketing tool or service provider make sure that this feature is included. Also look for e-mail marketing products that are easy to use and manage so that your staff can concentrate of their marketing tasks.

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