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In Praise of E-Mail
By Jim Sterne, Target Marketing of Santa Barbara

E-mail is so simple -- and, at this point in the Internet's evolution, so familiar -- that you might be tempted to take it for granted. Don't. When deployed correctly, E-mail remains one of the most effective weapons in the marketer's arsenal.

The Internet's simplest app is also its most effective.

Faster than a postal letter. More powerful than a banner ad. Able to leap tall organizational structures in a single bound. It's ... E-MAIL!

E-mail is so simple -- and, at this point in the Internet's evolution, so familiar -- that you might be tempted to take it for granted. Don't. When deployed correctly, E-mail remains one of the most effective weapons in the marketer's arsenal. Yes, the Web is rich in color, texture, and multimedia effects of all kinds. But the Web is only the face of the Internet; E-mail is its voice.

What's so great about E-mail?

For one thing, it works. In December asked consumers to pinpoint what attracted them to retail sites on the Web. Sixty-three percent credited E-mail campaigns. In contrast, 38% mentioned banner ads, and only 29% cited traditional advertising. Then there's the price/performance ratio. Drawing on studies from Forrester Research and the Direct Marketing Association, a recent issue of Internet marketing newsletter Iconocast reported that banner ads have an average cost per sale of about $100. For direct-mail pieces sent through the post, that cost declines to about $71. And for opt-in E-mail campaigns, in which consumers agree to accept messages, the figure plummets to $2.

But before I continue, let me just say two important words about spamming: Don't. Ever. Thank you.

If you're not going to spam, how are you going to tell the world about your water-filled, airplane-safe, doubles-as-a-wallet neck-support pillow? You're not. But you are going to tell the people who are most likely to buy it, namely those interested in travel. How will you reach them? Not by posting banner ads on hundreds of travel Web sites. Not by rifling through thousands of newsgroup posts. And not by standing in front of the next Internet World conference dressed as an airplane seat.

Instead you're going to go to a spot like, one of several well-established sites that stock fresh bunches of E-mail addresses of consumers with a variety of interests. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that's vice-president of marketing is my coauthor on a recent book.)

At, potential purchasers of your neck pillow sign up to receive E-mail about one or more categories of interest (there are hundreds to choose from) such as adventure trips, airlines, business travel, cruises, tourist attractions, and vacation getaways. The company assigns you, the marketer, a "campaign manager" who helps you develop a winning missive and target the right audience. then posts your pitch. In order to protect its members from inundation and maintain the healthiest possible lists, validates your choice of categories and does the merge-purge thing just as direct-mail-list vendors do with traditional postal mailings. For somewhere between $200 and $300 per thousand, your message lands in the in-boxes of thousands of likely prospects. will even tell you how many of those prospects actually opened your message and whether the recipients decided to make a purchase.

I refer to the site's E-mail addresses as "fresh" because the moment that recipients have had enough offers of low-priced airfares to Mogadishu or discount tours of the Great Cheese State of Wisconsin, they will pull the plug by unsubscribing. You don't have to worry about sending the wrong message to the wrong person, because your recipients are 100% self-selecting. How long folks stay subscribed to any list will vary with the topic. For example, someone who is looking for a car will subscribe to the automotive list just until his garage is filled. Someone who collects turn-of-the-century glassware, however, might subscribe to the antiques list indefinitely. Since maintains a database of more than 9 million members, marketers can be sure that there's always a critical mass out there. Does this method work for marketers? How do you feel about response rates ranging from 5% to 15%? Has it been a successful business model for The company was acquired for $700 million by CMGI in December, just a few months after going public. Not too shabby. is not alone in this marketplace. NetCreations manages more than 6 million E-mail addresses collected from nearly 200 third-party E-mail lists. For information on other services, check Yahoo and drill down to the category Direct Email/Opt-In.

Of course, the best list of E-mail addresses is the one that you build yourself. People will often tell you "where they're @" so you can send them something. Like a gift reminder

Jim Sterne has presented his unique perspective on Internet marketing at conferences around the world, and has lectured at the University of California, Stanford University, and MIT. He stays active as a public speaker and as a consultant, helping each client set internet marketing goals and determine customer relationship strategies. Please contact Jim Sterne at (805) 965-3184 or to find out how his talents might help you achieve your marketing objectives.

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