Using Email to Reach Out the Right Way

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatEmail is a cost-effective way to reach customers and patients. But just because it’s cheap and easy doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. When done incorrectly, email messages can alienate the very audience we’re trying to cultivate.

Send Only Useful Messages: I once had the grand idea of using an email-marketing program to keep advertisers (those folks who make this magazine possible) and potential advertisers informed and engaged. When I began working on each issue, I emailed them with the theme and deadlines. A week before the due date, I sent a reminder. When the magazine went to print, I dashed off an update. When it mailed, I let them know.

This lasted for one issue. Although sending the messages seemed free, it cost time. I also worried about annoying the recipients. This was in the early days of email marketing, and I couldn’t tell who was reading what I sent.

I scaled back my messages to one per issue. I stopped sending all but that first email, informing advertisers of the theme and deadlines; that one mattered most. Besides, I hoped if I emailed less often, my recipients would be more apt to read what I did send.

What messages matter most to your audience?

Segment Your Audience: I quickly developed a rhythm of sending out one mass email per issue about advertising, but it wasn’t as smooth as I hoped. No matter how carefully I worded my message, I always seemed to confuse someone. This resulted in follow-up communication to clear up my miscommunication.

I realized that I was trying to make one message work for everyone: regular advertisers, occasional advertisers, and potential advertisers. A message for regular advertisers might confuse the occasional ones. Alternately, a message encouraging potential advertisers to run an ad might irritate existing customers. To solve this, I divided my list into three groups, sending a different message tailored to each segment.

Your biggest customer is different than your smallest, and both are different from your patients. How should you segment your list?

Send Only Wanted Messages: About a fifth of AnswerStat readers receive their copy electronically. I email them each time a new issue is available. As part of their subscription, I send occasional, relevant messages that have a high likelihood of interest. So I don’t irritate readers, I send no more than one extra email per month. If you’re like me, you’ve unsubscribed from organizations you liked simply because they emailed too often.

How frequently should you email your audience? How often is too often?

Allow for Unsubscribes: Even though it’s a legal requirement to provide a way to unsubscribe, I’m shocked at how many organizations don’t. Plus there are unethical ones who let you click unsubscribe but don’t actually remove you.

Allow for and honor unsubscribes.

Maintain List Integrity: Though I’ve never done it, email databases are easy to buy. It’s also common for companies to harvest contact information from websites and directories. The result is sending messages to folks who didn’t opt in. These messages are illegal and constitute spam.

In your zeal to communicate with as many individuals as possible, make sure you don’t add people who didn’t expressly opt in to your list.

When you send useful and wanted messages to your segmented list, allowing for unsubscribes and avoiding spam, you are on the right path to effective communication.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]