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Although spam and viruses have made people wary of opening e-mail, electronic notes can still be a powerful way to get a marketing message across. ExactTarget is taking aim at your in-box.

Although spam and viruses have made people wary of opening e-mail that isn’t from someone they know, electronic notes can still be a powerful way to get a marketing message across, according to Scott Dorsey, president of ExactTarget. He chats about e-commerce, saving money, and getting clients to lose their socks.

How did the company get started?

ExactTarget was formed by four partners with experience in both e-commerce and database marketing. Up until then, e-mail marketing was just too hard for small businesses. Our goal was to bring the power of email marketing to small businesses and make it easy. What we discovered was that big businesses liked our software too.

Why do you think e-mail marketing is important for a company’s marketing efforts?

E-mail is just such a strong marketing tool. It is cheaper than any tool in history, more interactive, faster, and trackable–so it’s possible to review the success of an e-mail just hours after it’s sent. Plus, e-mail is an ideal tool for retaining existing customers, rather than focusing your entire marketing budget on customer acquisition. E-mail lets you create an inexpensive dialog with customers and they really respond to that.

What kinds of issues do you face in differentiating e-mail marketing from spam?

It is getting tough for legitimate marketers out there. Spam filtering makes it difficult to get your message through to your customers, unless you’re very careful with your email content and have the proper ISP relationships in place. We practice only permission-based marketing–meaning we’ll only send e-mail to those that have asked to receive it. We work closely with our customers to ensure all lists are opt-in, and have terminated clients that don’t adhere to our permission policies.

Has the prevalence of spam presented challenges to Exact Target?

Yes it has, primarily from an e-mail delivery standpoint. Getting legitimate messages delivered through spam filters takes more and more technology and know-how. We have joined a coalition of other permission-based email marketing companies to make sure that new policies and technology is adopted that blocks spam, but allows legitimate, opt-in messages through.

What do you think is the future of e-mail marketing on the Web?

The exciting thing is that e-mail technology keeps getting better. The future of e-mail is even more targeted messaging, or true “one-to-one” marketing, where each e-mail is dynamically customized to meet each individual’s needs and interests. The technology is there now, but most businesses haven’t unlocked the value in their customer database.

What are some of the essential elements of a good e-mail marketing campaign?

Good e-mail campaigns catch the user’s attention. The first goal is to get the e-mail opened, which is most easily done by testing and optimizing the e-mail subject line. Think of an e-mail subject line as the “outside of the envelope”–if they don’t open it they can’t respond to it. Our software enables our clients to track open rates so they can test and tweak subject lines to maximize response rates. Other essential elements of a good campaign include targeting and personalization–two things that e-mail does much better and cheaper than any other medium. The more personalized a message is, the higher it the response rate.

What do you like about your job?

I think it is just the excitement of being in an industry that is really taking off and being adopted by businesses of all sizes. Even non-profits and associations are turning towards e-mail. I really like offering a product that is so readily accepted by so many different types of organizations. Once they see what is possible with e-mail these days, their socks are blown off. And that makes it fun.

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