Pocket-Sized Communications: E-Mail & Mobile Marketing Strategies

If you know a human being older than 12 who doesn't have a cell phone and/or a Blackberry, congratulations: you are in a very elite minority. Our tech-obsessed world has made these pocket-sized communications tools as natural an appendage as an electronic device can be, which means one thing for PR and marketing executives: If you want to get a message to a target audience in the most relevant way possible, then these platforms must be integrated into your overall strategies. But doing so is easier said than done. Finding your way to someone's inbox or mobile phone often can't be done for love or money--that is, unless you know how to play by some pretty revolutionary rules. A Pocketful Of Opportunity True, cell phones have been around for a while, but it's only been in recent years that they became such integral parts of people's everyday lives. Between iPhones and GoPhones, phones with mp3 players and phones that tell you when to be where, it's tough to get through the day without one in your pocket. That said, mobile phones are seen as extremely personal items by many, making it difficult for communicators to leverage their power to reach a target audience without seeming like a stalker. Here is a roadmap for getting started: Identify your target audience. Sound familiar? That's probably because it's one of the first steps of almost every initiative. However, in no way does that minimize its importance to getting started with mobile marketing, especially considering the enormous diversity among mobile phone users--not all of whom will be receptive to a mobile marketing message. For some, it could be the ultimate turn-off. The best guarantee is to start with younger demographics, who adopt these technologies early and often. If an older audience is your target, then mobile marketing probably isn't the way to go. Play by the rules. Mobile marketing initiatives must always be opt-in. Beyond that, it's important to know what each mobile option offers: For example, text messages can be sent to consumers, offering deals or prizes in exchange for something, while multimedia messages include video, audio and text components. Know the costs. The multitude of options means big discrepancies in cost. Communicators can expect to pay anything from a few hundred dollars (for carriers that allow you to send mass messages, and who don't charge recipients to receive them) to thousands for more sophisticated, targeted service providers. Keep it fun. Because mobile marketing is best for a younger, more technically literate audience, it's important to keep the messages interactive and engaging. Contests, games and incentives are all good ways to encourage participation. Don't rely on mobile alone. Mobile should never be the sole component of a communications initiative; rather, it should be integrated into the overall strategy to achieve maximum results. Have Inbox, Will Travel These days, cell phones aren't the only mobile communication device out there. Blackberries enable users to check their e-mail anywhere and everywhere, making this platform more viable and valuable--and a bit more tricky to navigate. "It's all about how people interact with technology," says Emily Callahan, managing director, marketing communications, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. "E-mail is a main communications vehicle for us because it's a cost-effective and message-effective way in which we give people bite-sized information." Callahan's organization has successfully used e-mail marketing for, among other things, an e-newsletter that goes out to subscribers monthly. The key, she says, is using the platform as a hook or a bridge to something else, lest the e-mail result in a dead end. "Use the e-mail platform to engage audiences elsewhere, like on your Web site," Callahan says. "The e-mail shouldn't give them everything they need to know and more; it just needs to pull them somewhere else." But, before it can pull them elsewhere, the e-mail subject line has to pull readers in. Today's businessperson gets hundreds, if not thousands, of messages a day, so catching their attention depends on the three seconds they will spend looking at the subject line. "Writing for this new era of communications is a challenge," Callahan says. "Each word you choose is so important." When crafting e-mail subject lines, consider these tips: Pose a question that will be answered in the e-mail; Provide information relating to news or updates; Don't use the same subject line repeatedly, even if it is an e-letter, recurring notice, etc.; Watch the character-count. According to Convio Senior Interactive Consultant Elizabeth Nielsen, most e-mail providers display just 50-60 characters in the subject line; anything more will be cut off, making the message confusing or incomplete. As for what is inside the message, Callahan reverts to her point about using the platform to drive audiences somewhere else. She recommends the following best practices for achieving maximum results: Keep it brief. Keep it engaging: "Use imagery," Callahan says. "No one wants to read something that is text-only." Choose your frequency wisely. Bombarding people with e-mail marketing communications usually frustrates them, thus prompting them to opt-out of future messages. "When you are communicating with people, you want to keep them wanting more," Callahan says. PRN CONTACTS: Emily Callahan, ecallahan@komen.org; Brian Penrod, bpenrod@komen.org Side-Stepping Spam Filters Spam filters are a concern for every communicator looking to initiate an e-mail marketing campaign, but they are especially top-of-mind for the executives at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As an organization specifically geared to raising breast cancer awareness, a key word in all its communications--breast--is also a big red flag for spam detectors. "'Breast' generally gets filtered," says Brian Penrod, specialist, online programs, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Brand Marketing Department. "But we take the risk every now and then of putting it in the subject line." Whether or not you have to take such a leap of faith due to your organization's subject matter, the following rules always apply to creating spam-proof subject lines: Choose your e-mail service provider (ESP) wisely. Penrod explains the reasons behind this necessity: "[ESPs] have the relationships with the Internet service providers [ISPs], which are the ones that actually speak to the Googles and Microsofts of the world to white list your e-mail address so it doesn't get blocked by spam filters." Komen manages all its e-mail lists through Convio, a service provider for nonprofit organizations. Allow recipients to opt-in. E-mail communications are only successful if they generate a positive action or response, so forcing them down the throats of audiences doesn't do you any good. Rather, allow users to opt-in--and out--at any time. Granting them that control will improve your results dramatically; otherwise, they will tag your address as "junk mail," and your messages will disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again. Always send messages from the same address. Once your address is recognized by ISPs, it's likely to make it through every time thereafter. Use common sense. It sounds obvious, but it is essential to avoid red-flag words at all costs. Take a look at your own spam folder to see the messages that got caught; you might be surprised which words will trigger the filter.

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