Yes, e-mail is just another medium (albeit an incredibly effective one) for direct marketing. But it requires you to make a dramatic shift in focus from quantity to quality in your marketing efforts. It requires you to get explicit permission prior to its commencement, and then exercise a certain adroitness and agility in responding to the opportunities brought about by this truly interactive process.

For the first time you can, for an affordable cost, ask your individual customers exactly what they want from you, and then provide them with a solution that fits them perfectly.

Cyberhouse Rules
Here are 14 common-sense tips to help you fight the good fight against spam and stay on the right side of the law.

1. Make it obvious why you are sending the message.

2. Make it easy for the recipient to opt out or unsubscribe.

3. Provide a valid, working reply address in the "From" line.

4. Do not sell your e-mail lists to others. By all means, collaborate with other reputable organizations to provide your customers with valuable information but, once again, make it clear to all recipients why they are receiving each and every message.

5. Always publish a privacy policy on your Web site, and then follow it. For some good examples of how to write a privacy policy, visit TRUSTe's site.

6. Whenever you receive a complaint from a recipient, respond quickly and courteously. If possible you should use an e-mail marketing provider, or e-mail server software, that allows you to view a user's database record and learn where and how his or her e-mail address was obtained. Complaints are usually quickly resolved when users are reminded where and how they opted in to the e-mail program, and are given help unsubscribing.

7. On your sign-up page, test "prechecked" opt-in buttons vs. ones that need a user's explicit selection to opt in, to see which ones get a better response.

8. Keep an eye on your program's ongoing unsubscribe rates. A high or growing rate probably indicates that the recipients are not receiving much value from your messages. Conversely, a growing number of "pass-alongs" (whereby one subscriber recommends you to a new subscriber) likely shows that you are meeting a perceived need.

9. The more personalization and content customization options that you can provide your subscribers, the better. Use a sign-up Web page to gather contact information (including names and e-mail addresses) and content preferences or subjects of interest. This will enable you to provide them with a personalized subject line and salutation, as well as relevant, targeted content, such as events in their locality and news, features, and tips about products they own -- or are interested in learning about.

10. Ask for an alternate e-mail address when users subscribe. This way you can continue to contact them if e-mail sent to their primary address bounces (for example, if they change jobs).

11. Provide a confirmation message whenever someone subscribes or unsubscribes. Not only is this a courtesy, but it also helps reduce "spoof" sign-ups. You can also use a two-part sign-up process that requires subscribers to click on a link in the confirmation e-mail to validate that the e-mail address is correct, and that they do indeed wish to receive future messages (and are not simply the victim of a prank sign-up).

12. All your e-mail marketing efforts should be built with the aim of growing a well-qualified database of high-value, loyal customers. This database can then be used to develop an e-mail-based dialogue that lets you learn about your individual customers' needs and interests, and provide them with a tailored (and profitable) offering that meets those needs. Although e-mail can play a valuable role in customer acquisition, it is in retention and loyalty building that e-mail truly excels.

13. If you do not already have e-mail addresses for your existing customers, start gathering them now. Use your Web site and your "offline" media efforts to drive subscriptions. I have found that the most responsive customers (and those who are most likely to purchase) are those who have signed up at a company Web site to receive future information by e-mail -- very often in the form of an e-mail newsletter.

14. If you work with an opt-in e-mail provider, be sure that every message sent on your behalf generates subscriptions for your own e-mail marketing efforts. You can expect to pay about 25 cents to 45 cents (U.S.) per message delivered by these opt-in providers, vs. 10 cents or less for outsourced delivery using your own e-mail list.

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