The rules of e-mail marketing are changing and challenging travel agents to adopt best practices or face loss of business and credibility. In fact, effective e-mail marketing is increasingly seen as one of the core skills for agents to deploy to build their businesses and solidify client relationships.
This was underscored by Vacation.com, which offered seminars on effective use of e-mail marketing during the consortia’s recent Las Vegas conference, including a new 55-page handbook, ‘Undeliverable = Unprofitable.”
The handbook warns agents against roadblocks. This includes the proliferation of scammers, consumer hesitation to offer e-mail addresses, the growing number of personal e-mail addresses and complex delivery rules. Vacation.com urges agents not to take the use of e-mail marketing for granted.
The handbook quotes a 2009 Google study that estimates that 94 percent of mails are classified as spam. Vacation.com’s motive in offering the guide is to assist agents in using e-mail marketing effectively— including Vacation.com’s Engagement program.
Contents of the guide include how to grow lists and manage them, determining deliverability, the top 10 things to do now and a resources guide that includes e-mail terminology, list service providers, list update options, CAN-SPAM rules of the road legislation, the basics of e-mail design and the importance of content.
To keep a list growing and to maintain a healthy sized list, according to Vacation.com, agents must be able to maximize the number of new subscribers and minimize the attrition of those who leave the list. As many as one in every three addresses will go bad in the course of a year, experts estimate.
Some factors in slow growth of subscriber base are beyond the agent’s control. Today, 55 percent of households receive permission-based e-mail, but this will only increase to approximately 60 percent by 2012. There is also consumer frustration with cluttered inboxes and e-mail overload. More marketers are tending to email to their consumer bases because they find it the most cost effective way to generate revenue.
Agents can control other factors such as how smartly they attract new subscribers, how diligently lists are maintained and how effectively agents persuade subscribers to remain engaged and on the list.
If agents have collected e-mail addresses for less than 50 percent of clients and active inquiry names, Vacation.com believes they are behind the curve and need to quickly implement one or more list growth techniques. These include call center request for e-mail addresses; co-registration (a subscription form placed on partner web sites, events/show), subscriptions from forms, kiosks at events and in-office registration.
Also useful for list growth are online marketing campaigns and search marketing to drive visitors to subscription forms on agency websites; viral marketing (e-mails and social media links) and web site registration.
Key considerations in list growth include who you want on your list; where you'll find them; what their needs are; what value you'll provide; when and how to make contact; how to treat them; and how to engage with them and keep them.
Tips offered by Vacation.com for growing lists include offering a subscription mechanism on your home page and in the same place of every page of your agency’s website. Offer a well-crafted automated confirmation message, track and analyze what source best attracts new subscribers and best produce long term subscribers. Agents can also provide an enticing and relevant incentive to subscribe and clearly state the value proposition and benefits for signing up.
Agents should make a commitment to reaching a goal of having valid e-mail addresses for at least 50 percent of current/past clients and ‘hot’ prospects. They should develop and implement a plan to contact and duplicate the records of those without valid mail addresses— either using the agent’s own time or outside calling firm.
Also useful is to develop and implement a plan to collect e-mail addresses from new clients or prospects contacting the agency. This can include phone scripts, sign-up boxes on every page of the website or easy to use paper signup forms for shows. Content is another topic of critical importance to effective email marketing.
E-mail marketing may not be glamorous but it is an indispensable element in agency marketing programs and warrants close attention by senior management.