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Four Essential Elements of a Successful E-Mail Campaign

January 2009, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Denny Long

There are only two advertising areas in which the automotive industry spent more money in 2008 than the prior year: direct mail specifically targeted at current customers and e-mail marketing, according to DMNews. Newspapers, television, radio and other media have all seen a decrease in ad spending.

When times get tough, the industry starts to focus on measurable media. If you’re thinking about using e-mail marketing, you need to know which elements you can’t do without and how each can help you gauge the success of the campaign.

With that in mind, here are the four absolutely essential elements of a successful e-mail marketing campaign:

1. Delivery rate. You must make sure that you are using a system that doesn’t just send e-mails, but gets them delivered. Here are some items to look for:

• Status with major Internet service providers (ISPs). If your service is blacklisted with the major ISPs, your e-mails will be blocked before they get to the consumer’s inbox. Does your service guarantee a 100 percent delivery rate?

• Accurate e-mail addresses tied to geography. Unlike purchasing a direct-mail list, e-mail addresses do not include geographic indicators. You need to make sure your service provider offers geographic-specific e-mail addresses. It won’t do you much good to e-mail someone in New York if you’re in Seattle.

2. Open rate. You must get the recipient to open the e-mail, else all is lost. Here are the items that affect open rate:

• “From” Name

• Subject Line. This is a biggie! There are certain words that scream “junk mail.” Most junk mail filters screen for those words. You should use your dealership name and city so the recipient knows this is a local offer and not a nationwide junk offer.

• Time of day sent

• Day of week sent

3. Click-through rate. Now that we got the recipient to open the e-mail, we need to get a response or click-through. Here are the items that affect response:

• The offer. There seems to be a general misconception that you can send anything by e-mail and it will work for that reason alone. This is far from the truth. The offer needs to be compelling, which means a lot of thought needs to be put into it. You need to make an offer that is outstanding. Right now, most dealers are willing to offer bargains if it helps them sell some vehicles. Those great deals need to be spelled out in the offer.

• Graphics and layout. This too is important. The graphics should look exciting. It should look like something that would make you respond.

• Copy. You need to make sure the offer is conveyed clearly in the copy. Tell the consumer exactly what you want them to do.

n Call to action. Again, we need to tell the consumer exactly what we want them to do. “Click here for more information” or “Print this e-mail and bring it to the dealership” or “Call the 800 number.”

• Information “above the fold.” When you open an e-mail, you typically don’t see the whole offer without scrolling. You need to make sure that the important part of the offer is in the top section, where everyone who opens it will see it.

4. Conversion rate. The conversion rate will depend on what we are asking the recipient to do. Are you asking them to complete an application? Are we asking them to call? Are we asking them to come to the store? Here are elements where most haven’t placed a lot of thought:

• Landing page. You made an offer and the recipient was compelled to click through, but they landed on a page that didn’t tell them what you wanted them to do next. The landing page should serve as a continuation of the offer. Again, you need to point the consumer in the right direction and tell them exactly what you want them to do. This is an area where most make the mistake of just sending the consumer to your home page. That’s not a continuation of the offer. You should have a special landing page that goes along with the e-mail offer.

• Tracking offer. If you just want the recipient to call or come to the dealership, you should make a tracking offer. that is, a bonus that is only offered in the e-mail (free gift, extra discount — anything, as long as it’s legal). A tracking offer will let you know that the e-mail worked.

There’s actually a fifth element that is needed to prove the first three: tracking! Most e-mail systems will track the opens and click-through rate, but unless you create landing pages that allow you to take the information and continue with the tracking process, you lose control.

E-mail marketing really works if you focus on all the essential elements. In today’s market, we need to take advantage of anything that works! Good luck and good selling!

Denny Long is senior vice president of Dealer Marketing Services. E-mail him at

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