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Putting the E- in Your Direct Mail Campaign

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October 01, 2001
Customer | Relationship Management
Mary Loftness - mary@profitablecustomers.com

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

The basic theories for effective direct mail translate well to the electronic world. Blasting e-mail messages can be an excellent tool for building occupancy during low demand dates.

Collection of E-mail Addresses
There are several sources of e-mails from your customer base including at the time of reservation, at check-in, in direct response advertisements and direct mail, from group business and from the purchase of external e-mail lists.
If the guest books directly with the property, offering confirmation via e-mail is a very helpful service. Although PMSs don’t offer an integrated confirmation solution, the property can set up a canned e-mail form with vital confirmation information. Most GDS vendors will supply the e-mail address with any online bookings.

It can be very effective to ask for e-mails upon check-in. A simple stamp on the registration card with a blank for e-mail and offering special values to past customers can be a successful method.

Providing a special value in a property newsletter or advertisement also can be effective. The property might offer an upgrade or a discount on breakfast in exchange for a guest’s e-mail address.

Insure that meeting planner e-mails are stored in the central sales system, rather than just in the sales manager’s online (or offline!) address book. Insure that these e-mail addresses that are received via alternative housing sources are stored.

There are several companies from whom you may purchase e-mail addresses. Although this is the quickest and simplest way to accumulate a database of e-mail addresses, these guests are not your customers. Response rates are typically substantially lower and the cost of this communication method should be weighed against other mass-marketing efforts, like advertising or purchased mailing lists.

Storing E-mail Addresses
Luckily most PMSs have now added a field for the e-mail address; however, if there is not a designated field try the second address field, the company or the country field – if it’s large enough. Insure that the e-mail address is stored in a field that can be extracted with the report generator tool provided in the software. If all else fails, e-mails can be stored in a spreadsheet or database program with a unique guest identifier (like the confirmation or guest history number of the guest). The guest identifier can be attached to historic guest information, and the e-mail can be attached externally to the PMS history.

E-mail Formats
Text or HTML. The advantage of text e-mail is that it can be read by all. The advantage of HTML is that it is graphically pleasing. There are many e-mail systems that cannot read HTML, and many users are still on dial-up modems under 56k. For example, early versions of AOL, up to and including 5.0, did not properly handle HTML. Even in the current 6.0 version, your user may get a warning message before opening the e-mail. Slow download times affect response rates and the acceptance of the promotional message.

E-mail Etiquette
Bounces and unsubscribes. The folks who ‘police’ the promotional e-mails, and who insure that you are not continually spammed by unwanted e-mail, must be assured that your company is legitimate, and that promotional offers have been approved by the person to whom you are mailing. Therefore, it is critical that a person who doesn’t want e-mail from you anymore is immediately removed from your list. It is also imperative to have a note in the e-mail that advises guests how to unsubscribe.

Privacy. As a database manager, I don’t ever encourage a company to sell or share its customer information with an external marketing company. There may be certain brand partnership opportunities where property data can be merged with partner data to make a valuable offer to the guest. Insure that all efforts adhere to and are within the guidelines of the privacy statement on your Web site.

Should You Blast Yourself or Hire an E-mail Company?
Have you ever pressed send too early and sent an e-mail that you just wish you hadn’t? Didn’t you wish you could just get it back? Have you ever received an e-mail that was personalized to the wrong person? Have you ever received an e-mail from a vendor, which was sent to all of the clients and now you can see their entire client list?
I would encourage your first few e-mail efforts be handled by a professional e-mail company. The staff there will insure that the guest will get the e-mail in the version (text or HTML) that can be read by their e-mail system. They will handle bounces and unsubscribes and will insure that Mary’s e-mail gets to Mary.

There certainly are ways to blast e-mail directly from your desktop computer. Customer database programs like ACT! and Goldmine will allow you to blast merged and personalized documents. You can blast generic e-mails from Outlook by simply placing all the addresses in the BCC: field. Using BCC: prohibits the recipient from seeing all the rest of the people that were copied in the e-mail.

Tracking E-mail Responses
Providing a quick and easy way to respond to e-mail is critical to its success. Remember that many of your guests may be reviewing the e-mail on the only phone line in the house. Therefore a ‘call us to respond’ may cause the guest more hassle. The ideal situation is to have a link in the e-mail and a message to simply click to respond. There are a couple GDS connectivity vendors that support this technology. SynXis is successfully generating these bookings, and Unirez indicates it will be providing this service in the fall 2001.

Inputting a unique, offer-specific link to a jump page on your Web site will assist in the tracking of click-throughs from the e-mail. For instance, reference a link like: Visit our new Web site at http://www.maryshotel/greatoffers. The unique page will provide an opportunity to offer unique messages to the offer’s respondents.

E-mail is an extremely effective way to communicate with your past guests. The reduced cost over direct mail, the ability to track and target the offer, and the ability to tailor this unique, personalized message will make e-mail an excellent marketing tool.

Mary Loftness is a CRM consultant for the hotel and gaming industries. She can be reached at mary@profitablecustomers.com.

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