E-mail marketing still strong despite social media buzz

By Arlene Satchell, Sun Sentinel

Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are providing businesses with new ways to market their products to existing and future customers.

But as businesses rush to ‘friend’ and ‘tweet’ their way into consumers’ hearts, is e-mail marketing being trumped by social media?

Industry experts say no and contend that e-mail adoption and use remains strong with businesses and consumers alike.

“E-mail is still the central hub for how people want information to be pushed to them,” said Karen Talavera, digital marketing expert and president of Synchronicity Marketing in Lake Worth.

According to Forrester Research, 90 percent of online Americans currently use e-mail as a mainstream communication channel. By 2014, it forecasts there will be 153 million active e-mail users nationwide, up from 145 million in 2009.

“It’s very simple to use and cost effective,” said Jude Diaz of Wealthwise Technologies, a Plantation investment advisory firm that has been using Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact’s e-mail marketing service. “You see a lot of nice results with minimal efforts.”

In November, Gregory Drew, owner of Boca Powerhouse gym, sent a free seven-day promotional workout offer to 4,134 women in the Boca Raton area. He used a geographically targeted e-mail marketing platform from local company CityTwist.

The e-mail campaign cost him about $250, but his return on investment was $10,400 in revenue — the value of 26 new memberships.

“It’s worked better than any other form of marketing I’ve used,” Drew said. “I’ve had 10 times the results.”

By 2014, consumers are forecast to receive an average of more than 9,000 e-mail marketing messages annually in their primary inboxes, according to Forrester. Spending on e-mail marketing is also expected to climb to $2 billion that year, up from $1.2 billion in 2009.

To distinguish their messages from spam, e-mail marketers should adhere to standards established by the federal CAN-SPAM Act, which regulates commercial e-mail, Talavera said.

For example, the standards stipulate providing an unsubscribe option and sender information, such as business name and address with each message.

Boca Raton-based CityTwist has had success in the downturn with its geo-targeted e-mail marketing technology and has had to hire more staff to meet growing demand.

Brick-and-mortar businesses like Boca Powerhouse can tap into CityTwist’s database of 125 million consumers nationwide who’ve opted to receive promotional offers from vendors.

For 5 cents per e-mail, businesses can send e-mails with discounts or special offers to residents in a specific zip code or a targeted radius of their locations using CityTwist’s software.

When the Dermatology and Liposuction Center in Delray Beach opened last August, management opted to use CityTwist to spread the word about its services. Since then it’s sent other e-mails offering a variety of discounted services.

“We’ve definitely gotten business through it and the business paid for the costs,” employee Lisa Amar said.

CityTwist Chief Executive Officer Ken Schwartz said the company expects to double its revenue in 2010. In 2009, revenues topped $3 million.

Talavara said e-mail marketing’s low cost compared with other forms of direct marketing is helping to drive adoption in the economic downturn.

Starting at $15 a month, a business with a database of 500 or fewer e-mail addresses can send customized messages using Constant Contact’s e-mail marketing system.

Tracking tools that show how many e-mails were opened, forwarded or not delivered and other measurements are also provided, said Lisa Sparks, Constant Contact’s regional development director for South Florida.

Experts also say businesses are using social media tools in tandem with e-mail to broaden their marketing reach.

“Using e-mail to deliver blog posts, videos, Facebook fan pages, product reviews and any other type of social media to your customer is now more common,” said Taigh White, president of the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association.

The two channels can help spread the word about brands online, said White, an online marketing manager for BankAtlantic in Fort Lauderdale.

Arlene Satchell can be reached at asatchell@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4209. Follow her on Twitter.com @theSatchreport.

Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel