Direct E-Mail Marketing for the Specialty Camera Store

I happen to like Spam, the tasty concoction of pork shoulders that Hormel puts in the little blue cans. In computerspeak, however, Spam refers to unsolicited e-mail – and some people can take exception to receiving it. It doesn’t bother me too much, and good e-mail campaigns won’t offend anybody very much.

Have you ever made a purchase at Radio Shack? It's nearly impossible to get out of the store without their asking for your address and phone number. And yet they don't seem to do much with it. They don't call and they don't write…

Perhaps it's because direct mail can be expensive, and calling me at dinner time can be annoying. Those are the reasons I don't do much direct mail or telemarketing.

Now that we're in the digital age, I decided to switch some of my direct marketing attempts to e-mail. Here are some advantages to e-mail as opposed to letters:

  • You can send e-mail messages to thousands, even millions of addresses at virtually no cost
  • It's really immediate. You can decide to advertise something today and have the message in the computers of your customers today. They may not read it for a while, of course.
  • It's cheap. To be exact, free.
  • You don’t have to buy stamps, and you don't get all that glue on your tongue.
  • If your readers don't like the message, they can trash it without having to walk to the wastebasket or the recycling bin. There’s no envelope to tear open, no physical debris to dispose of.

But there are some disadvantages:

Your customers might regard it as "spam" or junk e-mail
 

Come to think of it, that's the ONLY disadvantage.

Some people take great offense at ever receiving unsolicited e-mail - as if you had violated their temple. Some can go to such extremes as to flame you, write nasty responses IN UPPER CASE LETTERS! Some will even try to flood your mailbox with responses or get your internet service provider to (ISP) to cut you off. And getting cut off can really happen. Look at your agreement or terms of service with your ISP sometime: you've promised you won't do bulk mailings. 

  • Some people go absolutely ballistic and will write back nasty notes, send you virus bombs, or complain to the service provider about you. This won’t happen if you build your e-mail address list carefully.
  • A badly-designed e-mailing can actually have a negative effect
  • It’s extraordinarily difficult to target the market you really want. If you buy one of those "million address lists," 99.9% will probably just regard it as annoying junk mail.

The most important part of any direct e-mail promotion is to build a qualified list. Who is qualified? People with whom you already have some sort of relationship. Traditionally that means people who have been in your store or bought from your web site or in some way have communicated with you.

Here’s where to get e-mail addresses:

Ask people for their e-mail addresses. Say something like "would you like us to send you an occasional announcement about special sales? I promise I won’t try to sell you aluminum siding…" It's an update on Radio Shack's policy.

Look at your incoming e-mail. Here are people who have already shown some interest.

Send them some information. If I’m showing a digital camera to someone, I’ll often take their picture and show them how easy it is to e-mail it to them "and what’s your name and e-mail address?" If somebody asks for a camera company's website address, I'll e-mail it to them.

On your repair tags, put another line for "e-mail address."

Take e-mail addresses from their business cards and ads. If they publish an e-mail address, they can’t be to upset if people use it.

Does your Chamber of Commerce provide a directory? Perhaps you might use it – once – and add the names of everyone who doesn’t complain to your permanent list.

Make sure that every e-mail message you send provides an easy way for someone to get off the list. And if they ask to be taken off, be sure to do it! Use text like this:

If you’d rather not receive any more e-mail messages, please hit "return" and put "remove" in the subject bar. We’ll immediately remove your name from our list. This e-mail was sent to <e-mail address> and if it was forwarded so you receive it at another address, we’ll need to know that it originally went to <e-mail address>.

Maintain your list carefully, and keep it to yourself. Don’t sell it or give it away.

Methods for making bulk e-mailings:

  • You can use your regular e-mail software and put all those addresses in the address box. Advantage: it’s quick and cheap. Disadvantage: everyone knows that this is what you’ve done, and the e-mail address of each recipient is there for the world to see. Your customers will not appreciate this!
  • A step forward: address the e-mail to one person and send blind copies to everyone else. Now the recipients will wonder who that guy is that got the first message, but at least you won’t divulge any secrets.
  • You can address your first copy to a spurious address, such as "friends@chriscamera.com," and use your customer addresses as blind copy recipients. This is a little more tidy.

While it’s possible – but awkward – to do an e-mail merge in Microsoft Outlook, I bought special software designed for nothing else. I spent $97 to buy Arial's E-Merge software and get a wonderful guide to e-mail marketing from Planet Ocean.

There are two software programs that are needed to make your personalized email system work. Arial's E-Mail Merge is the e-mail merge software that produces the invidualized messages and sends them to

Eudora Light® -- available for Free or Eudora Pro® which costs $39 Eudora Light will work perfectly well for your purposes and it's Free.

You prepare two documents. One is your e-mail list, which will look something like this:

Chris Lydle,Chris,Chris’ Camera Center,Chris@chriscamera.com
Andrew Aardvark,Andy,Andy’s Angelic Photo Store,doubleA@aol.com
Pauline Upchurch,Pauline,Church Street Camera Shop,uppityP@msn.com

Notice that each entry has the same number of fields and that the last field is always the full mailing address.

The message file must be a simple text file. It might look something like this:

To: %1%

From: Exotic SLRs of New Jersey Distributors

Dear %2%,

I’m really excited about the all-new SuperRacheFratcha-Flex 2001, and you could make a lot of money selling them at %3%.

Because distribution is strictly limited, nobody within a 10-mile radius of %3% will even be able to sell them. You’re guaranteed a huge margin, because you can charge whatever you want. You can sell the SuperRacheFratcha-Flex 2001 with confidence, %2%, because our quality assurance department (Phil) has tested every 300th production model carefully.

%2%, call me today!

Warmest personal regards,

Freddy

When the merge is run, you’ll end up with messages that look like this: 

To: Chris Lydle

From: Exotic SLRs of New Jersey Distributors

Dear Chris,

I’m really excited about the all-new SuperRacheFratcha-Flex 2001, and you could make a lot of money selling them at Chris’ Camera Center.

Because distribution is strictly limited, nobody within a 10-mile radius of Chris’ Camera Center will even be able to sell them. You’re guaranteed a huge margin, because you can charge whatever you want. You can sell the SuperRacheFratcha-Flex 2001 with confidence, Chris, because our quality assurance department (Phil) has tested every 300th production model carefully.

Chris, call me today!

Warmest personal regards,

Freddy

The Aerial E-Merge Software sends it to the outbox of Eudora. At this point you must perform one small manipulation – changing the "queue" status of the messages – or they’ll all go out with a crazy date. Then click send and wait several minutes for the messages to get sent. Because each message is sent individually, your ISP (internet service provider) doesn’t regard it as a bulk mailing.

Does it work? It can, if the messages are unique and timely. Personalized e-mail has a much higher response than non-personalized.

Let me give away a secret: I have two ways of sending e-mail to my friends in the Photofair dealer association. In America Online I dumped everyone’s e-mail address into a group. When I send mail using this system, all the other addresses show in the recipients’ letters. If I’ve asked for a used Nikon SB-22, nobody responds unless he has one to sell.

If I send exactly the same message using my e-mail merge software, about half the guys write back, if just to say hello. Obviously the messages I send using the merge method tend to be more carefully thought out, but still…

Two examples:

Dear Mr. Jones,
 
I really need to hire somebody to work here in the store, and wonder if you
could suggest someone!
 
Clint McGuire is leaving the store to help found a theater group in
Tennessee. (Theater is his first love.)  Do you know someone to replace him?
 
Any applicant must be personable, neat and friendly. The ideal candidate:
 
* is a Photoshop Expert (for our restoration work)
* is a whiz-bang salesperson
* is ultrareliable
* knows everything about photography since the days of wet-plate photography
* has thousands of friends who would follow him/her to the store
* will work flexible hours
* will not be going off to school in the fall (unless it's a local school)
 
That's the ideal; someone meeting 3 out of 7 requirements would be great!
 
If you know anybody who might be interested in such a job, I'd really
appreciate a heads-up.
 
There's no reward except my sincere appreciation.
 
Chris Lydle
Chris' Camera Center South
106 Laurens Street SW
Aiken, SC 29801
803 641-0501
 
p.s. - if you find this e-mail offensive, just hit "return" and write
"remove" in the subject line.

I mailed about 350 of these; about 60 came back as undeliverable, and about 75 people responded with recommendations or a polite note saying they couldn't help but maybe I should contact so-and-so.

Realtors: One Sunday I went through the newspaper and the Real Estate Book and copied out the names and e-mail addresses of about 30 local realtors.

To: %2% %1%

Dear %2%,

Immerse your prospects in a virtual real estate tours and you might immerse yourself in profit. Virtual real estate tours have become an important selling tools, but they can be awfully expensive. At Chris' Camera Center in Aiken we've just lowered the cost of entry into this exciting field.

For only $689.97 you can purchase a camera kit that contains a digital camera, 180° fisheye lens, software that stitches your images together, and Image Keys (Image Keys are licenses from iPIX that enable you to upload completed images to the Internet) Enough keys for a three-scene virtual tour are included, and extras are about $12.50 each. 

You'll receive free certificates for three keys with your purchase of our Olympus/IPIX camera kit. The kit includes an Olympus D-360L Digital Camera, the 

Owning your own camera means you can create tours anytime you need them. You can shoot the property on the same day you get your listing, and post your virtual tour on the Internet hours later. Great for fast moving markets with high turnover rates! The Wizard Software you'll receive with your camera kit will guide you through the process of building your virtual tours quickly and easily.

The Wizard Software that's included in your camera kit provides several options for customizing your virtual tours. Shoot as few or as many scenes as you want, preview unlimited images, and select the best ones to showcase your property. You can also create you own email versions of your tours, and send your tours to any of our real estate partner Web sites that are already displaying your listing information.

%2%, I've posted information about this exciting system on our website at www.chriscamera.com/south/ipix.htm

Why not visit our store and I'll give you a brief demonstration of how easy it can be.

Each additional Image Key for the Wizard is $12.49 (sold only in a 4-pack for $49.95), and can be purchased from the iPIX Store at http://www.ipixstore.com

Chris Lydle
Chris' Camera Center South
106 Laurens Street SW
Aiken, SC 29801
803 641-0501
 

Several realtors called or e-mailed back, but none bought immediately. However 6 weeks later one came in and bought a nice digital camera outfit - about $700 - saying as she left "We were on our way over to Wolf Camera in Augusta and then I remembered the e-mail you sent me…"

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