Breaking into your prospect’s e-mail “inner circle”


By Robert W. Bly



            With direct mail response rates continuing to decline, telemarketing impeded by the Do Not Call list, and CAN-SPAM controlling e-mail marketing, direct marketers are constantly exploring channels to find the magic formula that will work for them.

            In e-mail marketing, the explosion of spam and the widespread use of e-mail filtering software have depressed click-through rates to new lows. So how can you make e-mail marketing work?

            According to an article in The Marketing Report (10/27/03, p. 5), a survey by Nielsen/NetRatngs found that most people regularly open and read a maximum of 16 permission-based emails. The only way to break into the inner circle is to displace someone, the survey said.

            And an article in DM News (10/16/03) reports, “Marketers will have to enter that emerging inner circle of trusted companies from whom people are willing to keep reading e-mails.”

Okay, but how do you break into this inner circle of e-mail senders whose messages your prospects will open and read?

It’s not easy, but there are at least six options that seem to work with some level of success:

1. Free e-zine. Write and publish a truly valuable e-zine and offer it free to folks who give you their e-mail address. If you publish regularly (at least once a month) and provide content of genuine worth, readers will come to value your publication and establish a relationship with you. You will have entered their “inner e-mail circle,” because they will view anything with your name in the “From” line as being from a trusted adviser and worth their time to at least read and open. A great example of such an e-zine is Agora’s Daily Reckoning (

2. News and updates. Similar to an e-zine, some publishers send short news bulletins to their subscribers on a regular basis. ComputerWorld sends a daily online update with short items from the magazine. You can purchase a short online ad in these   updates, thereby buying your way into the reader’s inner e-mail circle. CMP, a trade publisher, e-mails a monthly update, Business Technology Advisor (BTA), to the subscribers of all its publications. For $200 per thousand, you can sponsor BTA, having the entire issue devoted to your firm and products. Since CMP subscribers know and look forward to BTA, your message gets a higher readership and response than it would if you send it under your own banner.

            3. Service and upgrade notices. Software users will read and open e-mails from the software publisher that contain news about upgrades, technical information, or service policies. If your customers regularly need to receive service and product news from you, get in the habit of delivering it via e-mail. Then they will be “trained” to read your e-mails, so when you send a promotion, it too will get opened and read.

            4. Transaction e-mails. A survey from shows that customers do value and read two specific types of e-mails: (a) transaction confirmations and (b) account status updates. So you can get your promotional message read by embedding it into routine e-mails that contain transactional or account status information. A good example is, whose customers open and read the e-mails sends because they might contain news about their order.

5. Alert services. Consumer newsletters, especially investment advisories, have pioneered this approach. When you pay for your monthly subscription, the publisher offers you a bonus: additional content, sent periodically via e-mail, to keep you updated on the topic between regular issues. The catch: You have to give the publisher your e-mail address to receive this free online bonus. The publisher quickly builds an e-list of subscribers who eagerly anticipate and read the e-mails, because they are viewed as valuable information they pay for as part of their subscription. The most successful publishers keep the information content of the e-mails high, but also liberally promote products and services to these e-mail alert recipients.

6. Club or membership. Your prospects will read e-mails from clubs, associations, online communities of interest, subscription Web sites, and other organizations of which they are members. Therefore, if you can create a club or have your e-mail distributed by one of these membership organizations, you can enter the prospect’s e-mail inner circle.

            As a rule of thumb, whenever you can send e-mail to your prospect using one of the above methods, your chances of getting opened and read increase exponentially vs. sending a typical promotional e-mail.

            About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is and his Web site address is