Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

First impressions can mean everything in email marketing.

But many brands seem to be falling short, with 77 percent of them failing to make a good impression with new email subscribers, according to a study by Minneapolis-based digital marketing firm Ciceron.

That's why brands need to take a closer look at how they're interacting with their email subscribers in those first few critical hours of opting in.

"If somebody raises their hand and says, 'I want to get emails from you,' then you better impress them right away or they're going to start ignoring your emails," says Julie Verhulst, director of client services at Ciceron. Its First Impressions Email Marketing Study was released in March 2013 and updated this March.

The first study showed 83 percent of brands failed to make a good impression, and the number fell to 77 percent this year, Verhulst says, noting the drop could be, in part, the result of some of the original firms' eliminating email programs.

One of the biggest shortfalls -- made by 37 percent of the brands -- was failing to send any messages within the first 48 hours of the email recipient's opting in, according to Verhulst, the study's lead researcher.

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Thank you, welcome: To be sure, those first few hours are critical as is that first welcome email. The updated study found 45 percent of firms surveyed sent one to new subscribers.

"We recommend an immediate thank-you," says Nicole Larrauri, managing partner of EGC Group, a Melville-based marketing and digital services firm.

The email user is most engaged in that 48-hour window after opting in, she notes, so there should be an acknowledgment or thank-you on behalf of the brand to that new subscriber, she says.

For GarageTek Inc., a Melville-based franchiser and manufacturer of garage storage systems, that thank-you email goes out within 24 hours, president Marc Shuman says.

"It's a common courtesy," he notes. "You want to get back to them as soon as possible with an affirmative message."

But a simple thank-you message isn't enough.

Call to action: There should also be some sort of incentive or call to action, notes Larrauri, whose firm recently revamped GarageTek's email visuals and messages to make them more compelling.

For some brands it could be a monetary incentive like a discount; for others it could be a link to additional content or a white paper subscribers might find interesting, says Larrauri.

GarageTek has offered a free in-home consultation in its emails, as well as a discount off an accessory. The firm also includes links to its social media websites, which is another call to action.

Set expectations: Just be sure with whatever email you do send that you set clear expectations for the subscriber, says Ellen Williams, development director for New York and Connecticut for online marketing firm Constant Contact.

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This includes the frequency of communication and what the subscriber can expect in terms of content.

For example, it might say something like you'll be receiving great information on how to use my product or services on a monthly basis, says Williams, noting the tone should be warm.

Follow through: Whatever expectations you establish, be sure to "live up to the promise you make in that first email," she says.

Otherwise the relationship could end as soon as it begins.

Set the tone: And lastly, keep your email consistent with your brand in terms of logo, colors and tone, Verhulst advises.

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Many emails are just text emails with no graphics at all, she explains.

"If you set the brand tone in your welcome message, now I know what your emails will look like going forward," Verhulst says.