Imagine a direct marketing piece that 51% of the recipients open and 20% actually read. Moreover, you can know who opens the piece and see exactly what each person reads — in other words, instant visibility into the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
It is possible with e-mail marketing. The above metrics are results from an inaugural e-mail newsletter the Gallery BMW Group, two dealerships in the Boston area owned by the Marubeni Corp., sent to potential and current customers in March.
Yes, e-mail marketing has developed an unsavory reputation the last couple of years because of that annoying phenomenon called spam. But e-mail filters are getting better. Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates recently told a group of automotive executives in Detroit that spam e-mails are down by a factor of ten this year.
Customers are becoming more sophisticated as they ignore e-mail campaigns pushing the hard sell with offers and deals that provide little value. Gallery adopted a softer approach, says Bob Mitchell, the group's business development manager.
Gallery partnered with IMN Inc., (iMakeNews), a Newton, MA, firm that produces soft-sell e-newsletters.
Content on the first e-newsletter included stories about spring car care, weekend trips to Cape Cod and a romantic bed and breakfast. Yes, there were stories about various BMW vehicles and about Gallery breaking ground on a new facility.
Content regarding specific deals or offers was noticeably absent.
“The mistake is modeling the e-newsletter on a direct-mail piece,” Mitchell says. “The customers that open our e-newsletter likely are not going to buy a car tomorrow.”
For Gallery, the e-newsletter is set up to sell the entire dealership experience. “We want to plant the seed in the minds of our readers in a non-aggressive, yet informative way that Gallery BMW is an important player in luxury-car buying,” Mitchell says.
In addition to building the e-newsletters, IMN provides a service called Buy Signal that alerts the dealership every time a reader clicks on a button requesting more information. “We treat those inquiries as soft leads,” Mitchell says. “But we do contact them by phone immediately.”
The Buy Signal service also is able to segment customers based on their level of interest in specific content on the e-newsletter, allowing the dealership to target those readers more intelligently with future e-newsletters.
While the results are impressive, the process has not been easy, Mitchell admits. Gallery decided last year to expand its traditional marketing into nontraditional markets, including e-mail marketing. It took several months before the group was ready to send out its first e-newsletter.
Collecting e-mail addresses proved to be the most difficult. “It's not a part of the natural process in the dealership,” says Mitchell. “Who's going to ask for it? Everyone is busy in the store. It didn't seem important at first.”
Gallery started having its service advisors request the e-mail addresses. It was trial and error. Gallery grappled with issues such as where in the process and how should the service advisor ask often leery customers for their addresses. Customers also were reluctant to give their e-mail addresses.
Gallery printed mock pieces of the e-newsletter's first page and provided the advisors with talking points on the benefits for the customer. Once customers realized the benefits, it became an easy sell.
An e-mail solicitation to a database of 2,100 people who had sent leads to the dealership resulted in only 45 opt outs. By February, the list had reached a tipping point where investment in an e-newletter seemed viable, Mitchell says.
“It has become an important adjunct in our marketing strategy,” he says. “E-newsletters have proven to be a high impact way to reach people.”
Questions Dealers Should Ask of Potential E-Newsletter Partners
As e-mail marketing becomes bigger, and more companies begin offering e-newsletter services, dealers need to choose their partners carefully.
Bob Vieraitis, a vice president with OnStation Corp. suggests several questions dealers should ask potential vendors:
- Can an e-newsletter vendor provide e-mail addresses for 20%-30% of the customers in your database?
- Do your e-mail campaigns comply with all of the spam regulations?
- Will e-mail addresses that bounce back or opt out be handled appropriately?
- Will the leading Internet service providers (ISPs) give clear passage to your e-mails?
- Will e-mail browsers display your e-mails correctly?
- Is the content and the look of your e-mails designed to create the maximum response rate?
- Are you able to target your customers with the right message at the right time: service reminders to the right customers; satisfaction surveys to customers following a sales or service visit and end-of-lease or end-of-warranty promotions?
- Can your vendor help you set up a process to handle responses effectively?