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E-mail Marketing in the Age of Spam

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By Joe Cooke

TOP 5 IN REAL ESTATE, May, 2009-E-mail abuses (such as phishing and spamming) have changed the nature of e-mail communications. The key to successful e-mail marketing in today’s market is to have your prospects “opt-in” and to have them proactively label your incoming e-mails as friendly and expected. That means two things for you: (1) your prospects need access to a sign-up form, and (2) you have to be delivering material that is needed, wanted and expected.

Capturing Your Prospects Online

Ann Brown, CEO of Professional Virtual Assistant (www.virtualadminplus.com) suggests that the cornerstone of an effective e-mail campaign rests on your ability to give something of value to your prospects and clients. For instance, in order to induce people to opt-in to your mailing list, you might give something away-a pre-showing checklist, free staging tips or a house-hunting guide. Once your visitor completes the sign-in form, you should have an automatic follow-up system, such as a monthly newsletter. “The key is to keep your name and brand in front of people on a consistent basis,” Brown notes.

The less you ask for, the more you will get. However, the more you ask for, the more qualified your prospect will be. If your goal is to get lots of names for your database, ask for only first name and e-mail address. If your goal is to obtain a lesser number of highly interested prospects, ask for first and last name, e-mail, phone and even address. You will have fewer people sign up, but they will be the ones who have a high degree of commitment to your services.

You can also increase the sign-up rate by making your incentives and newsletters relevant and appealing. You might want to think about what you call things as well. For instance, rather than offering a monthly newsletter, you may want to call your regular correspondence by another name, such as “Monthly Regional Market Update.”

You can build your client/prospect list through your website if you have the expertise and capability, or you can integrate an online service, such as Constant Contact, aweber.com or Oneshoppingcart.com. Services such as Constant Contact charge on a sliding scale, depending on what services you select (mailing list, surveys, etc.), and allow you to send mass e-mails to your list. These services do not allow spam-your mailing list has to be an “opt-in” list-in other words, the people on your list have agreed to receive e-mail from you.

Place your opt-in form everywhere you can: on your homepage, sub-pages, blogs and any landing pages that you have (for instance, websites specific to a certain property). You might also consider adding a pop-up window that arises when someone leaves your website. You won’t be able to use this with visitors who have their browsers set to block them, but you’ll surely get some people seeing them. There are also drop-down boxes that cannot be blocked. These options annoy some people, so you have to use your best judgment on adding them or not.

Consumer-friendly, E-mail Marketing Campaigns

E-mail is still one of the great marketing tools. Yet few people use it effectively. In addition to providing information and continuous contact, a well-developed e-mail campaign can demonstrate your professionalism in a tangible way. On the other hand, a poorly developed or poorly executed e-mail campaign can damage your reputation with your prospects.

One of the easiest ways to show your professionalism and your level of technical expertise is video and audio messaging. Brown set up her video messaging using a $30 Logitech camera from K-Mart and AudioAcrobat.com, an online video posting service. You just plug in your camera, record your message and upload it to AudioAcrobat, following the simple instructions. Keep the message short, no more than 2-3 minutes. Your prospects can see from your message that you keep up with technology, and from that, they will infer your level of professionalism and commitment. Plus, they get to see a real person.

Brown recommends that for e-mail inquiries, rather than using an autoresponder, either call your prospect or send a personal e-mail right away. Also, keep your e-mail replies simple. Avoid fancy backgrounds, pictures and any kind of extras that might tag your response as spam.

Also, the look of your e-mail can be one of the quickest ways to annoy your readers. An e-mail with text that has many different sizes, colors and fonts is tacky and makes you look like an amateur. Remember that italicizing, bolding and underlining your text are tools, not decorations. Use these features when necessary and to make a point, but do not, for instance, make all the text of your e-mail bold. Yes, plain text can be a little boring. However, there are many companies that will create a template for your e-mail at a very low cost, and this is a better solution to a plain text e-mail than abusing the text effect features.

Most e-mail programs include a “spell check” feature. If you are not the world’s best typist, set this feature to run automatically. Also, double check your recipient. I once meant to forward an e-mail from a client to a co-worker, with some explanatory text. The co-worker was a close friend, so the explanatory text was somewhat informal. In a bit of a rush, I hit send, realizing too late that I had responded to the original sender, rather than forwarding to my friend and co-worker.

Be cautious when using sarcasm or humor. Some people will just not get it, and you run the risk of offending someone. If you must be funny, try using emoticons or a smiley :) to get your point across.

Avoid using all caps. It is irritating and unappealing, and it speaks volumes about your knowledge of the Internet. TYPING WITH ALL CAPS IS CONSIDERED SHOUTING and is very unrefined. If you think you have to use all caps because someone has bad eyesight, use a larger font instead.

Do not forward chain letters, petitions, religious content or urban legends. The content is typically unsupported and of zero value. They are a waste of your clients’ valuable time. If you think someone must have something, print it out and send it via “snail mail.” In fact, don’t ignore the value of plain, old United States Postal Service mail. The proliferation of e-mail and cell phones has made old-fashioned, hand-written notes all the more effective. Once you’ve automated your e-mail system, take some time every day to sit down and write a personal note to a client or prospect.

You might just find that the real power of the Internet is in going beyond what everyone else does-not just in keeping up with current trends and technology-but by adding a personal touch.

Joe Cooke is an author, speaker and trainer with over 25 years of experience in business, law, marketing and real estate. Visit www.joecooke.com for more information on real estate tips and techniques.

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