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Electronic mail has become an acceptable form of communication and, therefore, can be an effective tool to supplement a salon’s advertising campaign. Salon owners can develop an e-mail marketing strategy and monitor it closely to generate leads and turn online traffic into paying customers.

Owners must decide what their goals are and what they want to get out of e-mail marketing, says Chris Sadler, permission marketing strategist for Milwaukee-based Fullhouse Media, which creates business communication to help companies increase their marketplace value. “It may sound like, ‘Well, I just want to sell more time on my beds,’ but it’s more complex than that. You want to drive traffic in your slow months. You want to increase your presence in town.”

Unsolicited e-mails are more commonly called spam— unwanted messages that bombard inboxes every day. Solicited e-mails, on the other hand, are the basis of permission-based marketing, a fancy term for advertisements and other forms of marketing that people want to receive.

“You’re marketing your brand, your message, your services in a channel that is specific to the online world,” Sadler says. “As more and more people have e-mail, it’s really become a good avenue of communicating with your clients.”

But just to be sure your e-mail isn’t spam, it’s best to check with your state’s legislature, as well as your legal representation, says Al Bredenberg, publisher of EmailResults.com, a site where people can find e-mail marketing services. Currently, there are no federal laws that govern e-mail, but plenty of legislation is in the works. Also, there are 38 states with some sort of spam restrictions on the books. For information on federal and state e-mail legislation, visit www.spamlaws.com

Start With A Good List

An e-mail marketing strategy is only as good as the e-mail list, Sadler says. Fortunately, the lists used by many indoor tanning salons are generated from existing customers who are likely be interested in what the e-mail says.

The better the list, the higher the response rate, he says. “If your list is really well-maintained and sanitized, and you started with a good list, then your click-through response rates are through the roof. I’ve seen higher than 50 percent. At that point, it’s almost like you’re sending an e-mail to your friends—you expect to hear a message back from them.”

Many salon owners who are trying out e-mail marketing are building their e-mail databases at the point of contact. A veteran salon owner in Columbus, Ohio, does a lot of e-mail advertising. “When customers first fill out their skin-type analysis and register to tan at the salon, everyone is asked to give me their e-mails, for possible specials and things like that,” he says. “I keep in touch, probably four to six times a year with specials.”

If e-mails are sent far enough apart, they may not be effective, but if they’re sent too often, recipients could get annoyed and hit the delete button.

Every day is probably too much, Bredenberg says. That’s why he likes the idea of a monthly e-mail. It could be used to highlight a current special or could be more in-depth, such as a newsletter. If salons owners get complaints about receiving too many e-mails, they might consider not sending them out as often.

Do It Yourself—Or Get Help?

E-mail uses resources already available to most small businesses—basically, a computer, e-mail program and Internet connection. At the very least, salon owners may choose to tackle an e-mail marketing program by themselves, without the aid of specialty bulk-mailing software or third parties.

Those needing assistance can buy a software program specially designed for e-mail marketing. A few hundred dollars will buy software that generates simple, plain-text letters to a few hundred recipients, where much more money will get a program complete with campaigns, test groups and reaction surveys. “It moves over into the advertising world at that point, and all of the potential expense that you can incur from that type of campaign,” Sadler says.

A third option is to use an ASP, or application service provider. “It might cost you $20, $50 or $100 a month, but you’ll manage your e-mail list over the Web and do all of your e-mailing through a Web interface,” Bredenberg explains. “The application hosting company will provide software on the back end. You won’t have to have anything on your own computer.”

Before salon owners attempt to send bulk e-mails from their desktop computers, it’s best they check with their Internet service provider (ISP) to make sure it’s OK to run an e-mail marketing campaign from the server. Many ISPs have restrictions on mass e-mailing and it could get a salon owner’s account pulled.

Why Not?

The benefits of permission-based marketing are still being fleshed out, Sadler says. Studies show that businesses need to integrate their message through some combination of television, radio and print advertising. The online world is one of those methods and should be used.

“We see it every day,” Sadler says. “You talk to your colleagues. You talk to people who are friends of yours who don’t work in the same industry that you do. You’re starting to realize that now people have e-mail. It’s the way we communicate today.”

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