When the topic of budget comes up, many self-storage owners lament the amount of money spent on advertising and promotions. Inevitably, the discussion turns to e-mail marketing, because at first blush, it looks inexpensive and attractive.
Almost everyone has an e-mail address, and e-mail costs next to nothing to send. You can add links to podcasts, videos and websites. You can track who opens your e-mails and the links they click. You can get instant response to promotions and surveys. It sounds too good to be true which means it is. Theres a dark side to e-mail marketing that must be understood before you go any further.
E-mail marketing is no different than owning a fast car. If youre too easily impressed with its power and speed, youll run off the road at the next curve and flip end over endnot a pretty scene.
The first thing to do before proceeding into the realm of e-mail marketing is talk to professionals who help people use it. I spoke with Kamyar Shahmohammadi, the president of World Consulting Group, an international firm that guides clients through the use of marketing mediums. Though there is no doubt about the effectiveness and efficiency of e-mail marketing, the legal ramifications of potential mistakes may exceed its benefits, he says.
Just because a car can run faster than the wind and handles like a dream does not mean you have any business behind the wheel. In the case of e-mail marketing, you need to find a summary of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) and read it carefully. If you use e-mail recklessly, you can be liable for stiff fines and penalties.
And thats the good news. Fines are easy: You cut a check and apologize for not following guidelines (although your operation may not weather a $10,000 fine very well).
The bad news is a poorly planned and executed e-mail campaign could get your Web domain and servers blacklisted as a spam source by all Internet and e-mail service providers. This can cause all sorts of trouble.
If your e-mail domain is blacklisted as spam, any company or organization attempting to be spam-free will block anything you send. Any recipient of one of your e-mails can place your message in his spam folder, and associations of Internet providers will be notified that you are a potential spam source. This would mean that major e-mail services like Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, etc., will not allow anything you send to get to their users. This isnt the worst news though.
The most regrettable consequence is your website will also be identified as a source of spam, and youll be de-listed by the search engines. This means all the money, time and effort you spent to make your website findable for customers and prospects is out the window. Youll have to fight to get re-listed, and youll have to start from step one to regain your prominence in search-engine results. This costs money, too.
Proceed With Caution
If e-mail marketing is so risky and has the potential to interrupt your business, why do so many companies use it, and how do they manage the risk? As a storage operator, you certainly know a thing or two about managing risk. In the case of e-mail marketing, the easiest solution is to use a third party e-mail marketing provider.
Large companies like Marriott, American Airlines and Avis manage much of their e-mail risk in-house. But since you probably dont have the resources to manage the risk yourself, consider using a service like Constant Contact, Swift Page or any of the many providers you find by searching the Internet for e-mail marketing. These companies have everything in place to manage compliance issues and ensure your campaigns are effective.
CAN-SPAM Laws of 2003 have certainly created an environment that, intentionally or unintentionally, guides e-mail marketers to deploy third-party services, Shahmohammadi says. The selection of a third-party e-mail service provider should include factors such as track record, compliance factors as outlined in CAN-SPAM laws, as well as cost and statistical tracking functions offered by the service providers.
Using a third-party provider not only takes care of compliance issues such as opt-out capabilities, but brings you optimal delivery. The icing on the cake is the reporting functions that allow you to see how people use your e-mails. These can be very helpful in designing campaigns, testing offers and following up with prospects.
This is not to say using a service provider guarantees you wont run into compliance problems or a de-listing nightmare. But your risk will be substantially reduced.
Designing Your Campaign
A third-party e-mail marketing service is not very expensive, so theres little to stop you from executing your e-mail campaign correctly. The trick is to design one that brings results and does not annoy recipients. Between junk e-mail and the abundance of offers people receive from companies they actually dont mind hearing from, it can be hard to get your message read.
Pay particular attention to your subject line. Will it cause someone to open the e-mail or delete it? Keep your message short and sweet. Make your offer obvious and compelling. If you use visuals, dont overdo it. The eyes love some stimulation, but too much will put your message in the recycle bin. Make it easy for people to receive your message, and they will accept it.
Take a closer look at the e-mails you receive and think about what appeals to you and turns you off. You could study advertising design for years and never know exactly how to get it right. My best advice is to try something you feel comfortable with and examine the results. Theres an old German saying that translates to something like, Trying something beats studying it.
Let me know how e-mail marketing works out for you and what you learn along the way. Send me an email at [email protected]. Include my address in your next campaign and, you never know I might open your message and click through to your offering!
Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an offsite sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training and Internet lead-generation services. Mr. Jordheim is also a member of the National Speakers Association. You can read what he is up to at www.selfstorageblog.com. For more information, e-mail [email protected].