Unrealistic Expectations: The Email Marketer's Enemy

As primary contact person for the EmailResults.com Marketers' Market (http://emailresults.com), I come in contact with dozens of business people every month who are trying to use email as a marketing tool. In many cases, these marketers are preventing themselves from being successful by harboring unrealistic expectations.

Granted this is not necessarily their fault. For one thing, suppliers within the email marketing industry are sometimes guilty of hyperbole creating the impression that this marketing medium is magic. Here are some common misconceptions and some ways people set themselves up for disappointment in the realm of email:

1. Lowball Budget

It's true that email can be an inexpensive alternative compared to postal direct mail marketing and other methods. However, many small business people have the idea that they're going to be able to run an email campaign on a budget of $200 or $100 or even $50.

By and large, the only possibilities on budgets of that size are spam lists ('We'll email your ad to a million people for $79!') and small-circulation newsletter advertising. If you've read my other articles on the subject (http://www.emailresults.com/articles.html), you know that I don't recommend spam lists.

It is possible to find email newsletters that will accept ads for under $500. This can be a good alternative for a business on a limited budget. You can search for email newsletter publishers at EmailResults.com (http://market.emailresults.com). Although you might be able to find a newsletter you can get into for $100 or $200, one newsletter placement is probably not enough to get an idea whether your ad really works. I recommend testing your ad in at least three or four newsletters. This will increase your costs but will give you a chance to find out what really works.

A newsletter ad can help you reach a targeted audience, but your ad will only be a small part of the newsletter's content, so response might not be huge. You're more likely to get a decent response with a solo ad sent to a good opt-in list. However, this is where a lowball budget becomes an insurmountable obstacle. Most list owners have a minimum order of $1,000 or even $5,000. You might be able to cajole a sales rep into letting you test a list for $300 or $500, but it's not easy. And then you have the risk of hitting the wrong list and getting skewed results. Again, I recommend testing three or four lists to get a realistic idea of response rates for your offer.

2. Phenomenal Results

Unrealistic expectations about response and conversion rates are not limited to email marketing, but they are common in this field. An email promotion that offers high value to a well-targeted audience can pull well. I've seen response rates as high as 30%, but I've also seen response rates that were effectively zero.

There's no such thing as a "standard" response or conversion rate. Your response will depend on the quality of your list, offer, and creative. The only way to find out what kind of response to expect for a particular campaign is to run tests. In fact, you should always be running tests to increase your return-on-investment. Work hard to find the most responsive lists, the best email and Web copy, the most compelling offer.

By now, you might be thinking, 'Wow, this email marketing game is starting to sound more expensive than I thought.' And you're right. But marketing expenses are part of the cost of doing business. If you don't have the financial resources (as well as the time and patience) to promote your product, don't quit your day job just yet. It's possible to build up a business on a shoestring through grit, wile, and toil, but it takes time.

3. Buying or Renting the List

Here's a common misconception that doesn't do much harm but comes up frequently. In the email marketing business, we talk about "renting" lists and "buying" media. Many newcomers assume that when they rent an email list they will receive the addresses and send out the promotion themselves. This isn't the way it works.

In the email list rental business, you pay someone else to send out your email ad for you. You'll be able to see a sample of what your ad looks like, but you will not handle the email addresses yourself. Opt-in email and subscriber lists are jealously guarded, and I have hardly ever heard of a list owner who will let that list get into anyone else's hands. The exception is the provider of a spam list, who might sell you an email database on CD, but I strongly discourage you from going that route.

If you're in the email marketing business, this might sound so elementary that you're surprised I'm even bringing it up. But the fact is that every day there are hundreds if not thousands of business people who decide they want to find out what 'this email thing' is all about, and they are out there shopping for email lists. So I see a big need for basic education in how this business works.

That said, there is one email list that you will get to handle yourself: the in-house email list that you build up yourself over time, through signup forms on your Web site, warranty and registration forms, contacts collected at your trade show booth, or whatever other source you can mine. You might use this list to send out a newsletter, company announcements, weekly specials, or some other content. You can certainly benefit from renting others' lists and advertising in others' newsletters, but your own list is a unique and valuable asset that allows you to get in front of your target audience regularly.

4. Pay for Performance

I hear from many, many business people who say they will only use email media on a pay-for-performance (PFP) basis, such as CPC (cost per click) or CPA (cost per acquisition). As an advertiser myself, I can understand this point of view, and I've had good results with PFP media for certain campaigns.

It's certainly possible that you could run successful campaigns on this basis, given the right product and target market. But for most advertisers, insisting on CPA won't work and will be self-defeating. The fact is that the vast majority of email list owners simply won't work on a PFP basis. Whether you like it or not, they insist on getting paid up front. If you insist only on using CPA media, you might be missing out on just the email list that could make your business. I've seen very promising products that never made it to market because the marketer wasn't willing to bear the cost of buying and testing media to figure out what works.

Unrealistic expectations often result in disappointment. Understanding the realities of email marketing can help even the beginner to plan a marketing effort with more likelihood of success.

Understanding the request form...

  • What are you selling: Most email campaigns are selling a product or service. Name that product and/or service in this field. (for example: security services, accounting software)
  • Target Market: Name here who you see as the market or potential buyers of your product/service. (for example: home owners, accountants)
  • Size of your mailing: How many emails do you plan to send -- this will affect your potential revenue and cost. (for example: 100,000 to 250,000)
  • Your Time Frame: When do you plan to do your mailing? (for example: mailing within one month)
  • Campaign Details: Give a more complete description of what you are planning. (for example: I plan to do 3 sequential mailings to homeowners in New Jersey in order to sell a new security system.)
If you are looking for a list or marketing services please fill out the form below and you will receive proposals pertaining to your project.
Request Information From Suppliers
Check box to release your contact
information to Suppliers when they reply.
Check box to release your contact
check box if you are the decision maker on purchasing these services.
The CAPTCHA image