Research shows missed opportunities in email marketing

Email signatures, or “sig files,” may be the best-kept secret in the marketing world. But as Elon University professor Earl Honeycutt shows in new research, due to be published this winter in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, not many companies take advantage of an advertising feature that can reach many thousands of potential customers.

“It’s easy, it’s cheap,” says professor Earl Honeycutt, who has studied the way hotels use (or don’t use) email signatures as a marketing tool. “You’re not having to pay for this email message and when done correctly it can pull the customer in.”

The files are a quick, easy way for companies to reach an audience already interested in their product or service, said Honeycutt, who worked with Virginia Tech professor Vince Magnini on the article “Sig Files: A Means to Strategically Enhance a Brand’s Position.”

Sig files are the small text files automatically attached to the end of an email. While it may simply contain title and contact information, it can potentially include one or more marketing elements, such as promotions, special offers and honors or awards received by the business.

Sig files offer an alternative to traditional online advertising methods, like pop-up ads, that Honeycutt says have ceased working because of a saturation of the market. People have stopped responding because there are too many messages. Sig files are uncharted territory, so they’re still effective.

The professors researched the way global businesses, especially hotels, use sig files to communicate the amenities of their properties. It turns out that they really don’t use these features very well.

“Our belief is that people who send you an email asking about your product anyway probably have more than a casual interest in your business,” said Honeycutt. “Why not make sure that your signature file already has the information that they’re interested in?”

One of the biggest problems Honeycutt says should be avoided is what he calls over-claiming, when a company cites information or accolades about their business that may not be entirely true. Another major issue is outdated information, where statistics or promotions have either expired or become obsolete.

“You have to be ethical, and accurate, with the information you send to current or potential customers,” says Honeycutt. “If a customer buys because of something you’ve said, and it’s inaccurate, you’ll lose them.”

Honeycutt offers four tips to get the most mileage out of an email signature:

1.    Read and understand the message being received from the client. Honeycutt says one of the worst things a business can do is to send back a message with a sig file that is unrelated to the initial email of the potential client. While conducting their research, Honeycutt said they received a few emails with sig files in a different language. “It’s such a waste,” he says. “They’re missing a valuable opportunity to get a message back to the client.”

2.    Present the sig file in the most accurate, professional way possible. And make sure the files are appropriate to the message.

3.    Keep all sig files current and accurate and be sure not to exaggerate messages.

4.    Enact a policy or set of standards for the sig files so they consistently and accurately reflect the brand and message.

“It’s easy, it’s cheap,” says Honeycutt. “You’re not having to pay for this email message and when done correctly it can pull the customer in.”

Honeycutt is a professor of marketing and director of the Chandler Family Professional Sales Center at Elon University. He also serves as the 2008-2009 Distinguished Scholar at Elon, having been lauded for research that has earned peer commendation and respect and who has made significant contributions to his field of study.

He has earned the reputation among his peers of being a prolific scholar, having published more than 70 peer-reviewed journal articles, co-authored four books and served on a host of committees and task forces while teaching up to three classes most semesters.

– Bethany Swanson ‘09