William would like to thank Madhur Limdi, managing consultant, Xpedior, for his assistance in writing this month's column.

The goals of an effective outbound e-mail campaign need to be defined. Is the focus customer acquisition or customer retention? Is the focus to establish an automated response management mechanism for the rising tide of e-mails from consumers, customers, etc.? Will it build an online community of interest? Most adopters of e-mail marketing are leaning toward the customer retention initiatives.

Where to begin is closely linked with the goals of the solution. Some companies believe that at the outset all they really need is an outbound campaign management engine. Others see the need for only a response management engine to handle the responses to the growing number of queries originating from their customers, partners, suppliers and dealers. Others may need to supplement this solution with a content management repository to support the communities of interest. Both campaign management capabilities and the response management capabilities will be essential as part of a Web marketing initiative.

There are a couple of options for acquiring the e-mail addresses. You can start with a traditional direct mail campaign and solicit customers for their e- mail addresses in exchange for some incentives, or you can bypass the direct mail campaign and buy e-mail address lists from opt-in vendors.

The leading e-mail marketing vendors provide the functionality to define and build the marketing campaigns. Additionally, they provide the ability to perform basic segmentation, select target segments and predefine templates to generate personalized e-mail offers and messages. Once these personalized e-mails are crafted, they are sent out using the outbound e-mail engine. From that point on, the response management engine takes over.

Establishing automated responses to customer e-mails and the ability to route e-mails to appropriate mailboxes or customer service representatives are some of the features one can expect. Automated responses can be as basic as keyword searches or as sophisticated as natural language query-based parsing. E-mail response management provides the ability to be responsive in a timely manner to a large volume of e-mails. Availability of an event-based response management in a solution is a major plus.

The solution architecture in Figure 1 can be subdivided into three primary areas. The consumer data layer (the CRM-ready data warehouse) where the consumer data is stored includes demographic and psycho-graphic data, clickstream data as well as transactional data assimilated from multiple customer touchpoints. The content repository area provides the content to maintain and grow communities of interest, driving the consumers to visit a Web site or subscribe to a newsletter. The e-mail marketing engine, which manages the definition and execution of outbound e-mail campaigns and their responses, provides some basic metrics to measure campaign success. It is important to note that a CRM-ready data warehouse is the backbone of and a precursor to building a fully functional e-mail marketing solution.

Figure 1: Architecture to Support E-Mail Campaigns and Response Management

Building a successful e-mail marketing solution involves finalizing the goals, establishing the implementation plan for campaigns, following netiquette, building opt-in relationships with customers and being able to engage customers in an interactive dialog over the lifetime of the relationship. Though e-mail marketing campaigns can generate quick responses compared to direct mail campaigns, duration of 6 to 12 months will be essential to really get this solution absorbed into the organization's culture.

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