These days, people are glued to their computer monitors surfing the Internet or reading e-mails. To capture this market demographic, more and more industries are cutting back on traditional efforts such as print and direct mail to focus on e-mail and Web-based methods of marketing.
According to a survey conducted by Emeryville, Calif.-based e-mail marketing company Lyris Technologies Inc., more than half of American Internet users make purchases from opt-in commercial e-mails regularly. “These poll results underscore the growing importance of the Internet as a sales channel,” says Dave Dabbah, director of sales and marketing at Lyris.
While some in the motorcoach industry have already taken advantage of the benefits of going digital in their sales and marketing, many have yet to enter the electronic age. Read on to find out the basics of effective e-mail techniques and how motorcoach operations are making this method boost their bottom line.
Say no to spam
Before you start sending off those e-mails, it’s important to understand laws related to spam — no, not the one in the can.
Spam, defined as the act of sending out bulk unsolicited electronic messages, accounted for 80% of all e-mail sent in 2004, according to www.spamlaws.com, an information provider specializing in Internet security issues. It also cites that in that same year, spamming cost U.S. organizations more than $10 billion in lost productivity and the additional manpower and equipment needed to combat the problem.
The CANSPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act, which imposes penalties of fines and imprisonment, was put in place by the federal government in 2003. In addition, many states have enacted their own legislation regarding spamming that end users must also take into account.
To ensure that your operation follows proper e-mail protocol, it’s crucial that you develop your own customer e-mail database. “You can’t rent or purchase a database from someone,” Dabbah says, “You have to build your own.”
These databases can be built through an “opt-in” process, where customers are asked whether they want to be placed on a list to receive e-mails. Using the “double opt-in” or “confirmed opt-in” process is the way to go, Dabbah says. “Let’s say somebody signed up on your Website to receive your e-mail newsletter. You would then send an e-mail response back to the customer to confirm that they intended to sign up.”
Once you’ve developed your e-mail database, you can use it as a means to send out company newsletters, specials or services updates, or surveys to hone in on customer needs. “In the travel industry, getting feedback from your customers is unbelievably important,” Dabbah says. He suggests operators send out a brief survey via e-mail to customers post travel to find out their travel requirements. The more feedback you receive from customers, the better the data you can provide them in future e-mails.
There are numerous resources available on e-mail best practices, such as software that will help you develop effective e-mail marketing materials.
Some basics about putting together an e-mail include what to write in the subject line. Use the subject line of your e-mail as a way to provide information describing what the e-mail is about. “We’ll see companies that try to be outrageous with their subject lines,” Dabbah says. “Being honest in your subject lines is the most important thing you can do.” Inclusion of names in subject lines is a good practice, depending upon the industry, he adds.
Frequency of e-mails is also an essential element to consider. Operations need to determine the appropriate number of e-mails to send a customer. “There’s a fine line between sending too many e-mails and not sending enough,” Dabbah says. Because of the nature of the travel industry, a monthly e-newsletter and possibly two or three e-mail alerts notifying customers about specials is a good rule of thumb to follow in terms of volume. “Anything beyond that turns into overkill and is less effective,” he says.
While e-mail campaigns can be done in-house, some operations may want to look to outsourcing, depending upon their size. Outsourcing can take several different forms, including full outsourcing in which an outside company is involved in the entire e-mail process, from its development to sending it out to providing reports. “Most of the companies that [use full outsourcing] tend to be Fortune 500 companies,” Dabbah says. This is not to say that smaller companies don’t use this tack, he adds, “but they usually work with advertising agencies or companies that provide additional services.”
Another form of outsourcing involves data only, which is stored on an outside company’s server “farm.”
“Your e-mail addresses are stored on the company server, which you have access to 24-hours-a-day,” Dabbah says. For this “on-demand” form of outsourcing, users simply access the system to upload their e-mail message and choose the targeted segment of people and hit the “send” button.
Upload and go
Springfield, Mass.-based tour and charter company Peter Pan Bus Lines has used this method to promote its ShowBus division, which specializes in Broadway tour packages. “We don’t have the staff to do it because it can be very time consuming,” says company Marketing Manager Flora Masciadrelli.
For the past two years, Peter Pan has used e-mail marketing company Constant Contact. E-mail is replacing more of the company’s other advertising efforts, such as newspaper and direct mail. Fifty percent of all advertising for ShowBus is through e-mail. “There aren’t a lot of costs associated with e-mail,” Masciadrelli says.
Monthly fees are determined by the size of your e-mail list. Companies like Constant Contact will send 500 e-mails for $15 a month, and up to 25,000 e-mails for $150 a month.
The company contracts out its e-mail and Web design to Scott Noyes, owner of firinglinedesign.com, who uploads the e-mails to Constant Contact. “You pay a monthly fee and your e-mail goes through their server,” says Noyes. “It’s in a format where they are able to track your clicks on all the individual links in the e-mail.”
In a typical ShowBus e-mail, there are at least 10 or 12 clickable links. Once e-mails are sent out, reports are produced that determine specific activity, such as how many people opened the e-mail and which links were clicked. “It gives me a percentage and a hard number,” Noyes says. “It helps us to see where our market is in terms of interest.”
The reports also help Noyes decide on the frequency of e-mails. “We watch the open rate very closely — how many people open it and how many don’t.” Initially, the company sent out e-mails every six weeks, but increased it to every four. At that time, Noyes says, “we were watching it to make sure there wasn’t a negative impact on our open rate.”
To build the company’s e-mail database, Masciadrelli says customers are given slips of paper when they board the buses asking whether they would be interested in joining the company’s e-mail club. “If you are a part of the club you get first dibs on particular shows that we have extra tickets for, and we let you know about hot deals and what are the best tours coming up.”
Peter Pan also sends out e-newsletters to customers to let them know about upcoming Broadway shows and which shows are opening and closing. “We don’t use it as a marketing vehicle, but it’s a subtle nudge,” Noyes says. “We want them to see us as a credible source of information.”
For Peter Pan, e-mails are primarily used to provide information about specials. “We are always watching how many seats are full on a bus,” says Noyes. “If we are looking at a trip that is leaving in three weeks and we see there are plenty of seats left, we’ll use e-mail to fill those seats on a specific date by running specials.”
In addition to the ShowBus campaign, Peter Pan is developing e-mail marketing for their CoachBuilders garage services division.
Virtual sales calls
While some companies use e-mail as an advertising vehicle, Seattle-based charter company MTR Western uses it as a tool to enhance communication with customers and conduct virtual sales calls.
When MTR CEO and director Darren Berg founded the company in 2002, he and his staff set out to create a bus company that integrated the use of technology. “For us, the system came before the people,” Berg says. So, he made it a point to hire a sales staff that was experienced with e-mail and building presentations in PowerPoint. “You need to have these qualities and these skills because this is how we sell.” The company is also unique in that it has access to in-house resources such as IT, Web and graphics departments.
For MTR, e-mail is used as a medium to get closer to its customers while on the phone, and as a way to “hand” material to them. It is also used as a tool to follow up with customers. “Basically, we use e-mail when talking to a customer who has called to book a charter. It’s an interactive way to customize a presentation to them as we’re talking on the phone,” Berg says.
While on the phone, Berg will e-mail the customer the charter quotes as well as digital brochures of other information the customer is interested in, such as its safety or driver training. “If you’re concerned about our safety record or how we train our drivers, we have collateral materials that are in e-mail form that we can send to you and talk about it,” he says. “We visualize the customer standing at the counter in front of us talking about chartering a bus, and we’ve got materials we can hand them, so basically, their inbox is the countertop.”
E-mail is used extensively at the company, and hard copies of marketing materials, which are produced in digital formats, are rarely printed. According to Berg, almost every charter is booked this way. The rare customer that doesn’t have e-mail is faxed the materials. Continuing with the paperless concept, all billing is done via e-mail. “It saves on postage and a million other things,” he says.
MTR also uses the Internet to conduct PowerPoint presentations as part of its sales technique. The company uses a program called Microsoft Live Meeting to send a prospective customer a meeting request with a log-in to a Web-based server via e-mail. “We are on the phone with them as we show them multimedia presentations.”
Recently, Berg pitched a proposal to take over the over-the-road work for a large Los Angeles-based tour company using the Web demonstration method. “I sent the company a meeting request to attend a Web meeting,” he says. “Once they join the meeting, I show them how I can take all their work for the 2008 season and built a flow sheet showing them all of their utilization. I can also show them their dispatch and change various trips. I’m doing all of this on my computer and they are seeing it on theirs.”
These demonstrations are used on the sales side for what you would normally send a sales person out in the field to do, he says. “I’d say I do two or three [Web demonstrations] a week.”