E-mail marketing is one of the best ways to nurture relationships with customers and potential customers. Although social media is hot, e-mail marketing has an important role to play in online marketing and content distribution.
Why e-mail marketing is important
Speed: It’s instantaneous.
Efficiency: Send one e-mail or 1,000 e-mails with one mouse click.
Management tools: Track who receives your mail, who reads it and what they do next.
Coverage: Most everyone reads their e-mail.
History: E-mail is in your inbox, while social media is dynamic. If you miss a Tweet, it's gone.
These factors explain why e-mail marketing is a popular way to reach out to new and existing customers electronically. It’s a way to send word of deals, reward loyalty or simply get your brand message in front of new eyes.
The Direct Marketing Association reports that 23.8 percent of marketing e-mails were opened in the most recent quarter, up 7.1 percent from the previous quarter. E-mail is bringing in $40.56 for every dollar spent on it in 2011, compared to catalogs' ROI of $7.30, according to DMA.
“As we come to the end of 2011, e-mail is not just alive, it's thriving,” said Martin Lieberman, a managing editor with e-mail marketing vendor Constant Contact. “More messages are being sent, [and] people say they prefer e-mail over other communications methods.”
Tempted? Many services help small businesses start an e-mail marketing campaign. Here are five popular ones.
AWeber has a track record of exceptional success with e-mail marketing deliverability. A key element determining the success of your e-mail marketing campaign is deliverability. E-mails simply have to get through. The service has established relationships with multiple ISPs to ensure that e-mail messages do not end up in the spam box.
AWeber also offers intuitive tools to assist with e-mail creation, as well as sophisticated analytics. In addition, the service delivers simplified split testing, the ability to send different e-mails within a campaign to see which is more successful. Basic pricing runs from $10 to $130 a month.
iContact has a sleek, professional user interface. Even those new to the game will be able to find their way around easily. Another nice feature that we didn’t see in every e-mail marketing tool is the ability to segment an e-mail list.
Segmentation allows the sender to customize a list that determines which types of subscribers receive certain e-mails. Its rich feature set includes not only social-networking capabilities, but the ability to access its tools using an iPod or Android device. Pricing runs $14 to $240 a month, with a 15 percent discount for an annual subscription.
This service wins points for sheer longevity. Founded in 1998, Constant Contact is one of the oldest and most road-tested e-mail marketing services. Constant Contact has kept pace with the times. It now provides a wide range of social media tools. It allows users to build buttons into their messages for such popular portals as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Those who receive your e-mails can easily opt into your offerings directly from your social media fan pages. As with most such services, small businesses can create customized campaigns based on a variety of designer templates that offer diverse colors, patterns and layout schemes. Constant Contact also has great technical support. Prices range from $15 to $1,500 a month, depending on the number of e-mails targeted.
Mail Chimp has all the basics and more. It has an intuitive tool for e-mail creation, smooth integration with social media, easy-to-use contact-management tools that allow users to import directly from Excel and Salesforce. The program has a rich set of features that deliver metrics on your campaign.
You’ll see how many e-mails are opened, how many links are clicked, how many messages bounce and even how many e-mails are forwarded on. Mail Chimp has very advanced features that enable you to send an e-mail at 4 p.m. in each timezone. Mail Chimp is also part of The Small Business Web and works quite well with other services such as BatchBook. Priced at $10 to $240 month for unlimited messages, with a free option for up to 12,000 e-mails a month.
Vertical Response is especially strong visually, making it easy to create appealing e-mails with a variety of styles. It offers an e-mail-creation wizard, along with editable templates that enable users to create up to three columns in a message, and to easily replace or edit images.
Users can choose from tens of thousands of stock images or take advantage of a hefty allowance for online image storage. A survey-creation tool makes it possible to generate customized customer surveys. Vertical Response offers pay-as-you-go pricing. One credit buys one e-mail and credits cost about a penny apiece. If you send e-mails to 1,500 people you'll pay $19.50.
Avoid spam and send quality messages
Even with the best tools in hand, a savvy business owner approaches e-mail marketing with a degree of caution. There’s a fine line between marketing e-mail and spam. No one wants your spam.
While all of these services have special tweaks to help keep your message out of the spam filter, that doesn’t mean it isn’t spam. The heart of the distinction is content. If your mail fulfills a need and desire, if it serves a purpose and adds value for the recipient, it’s legitimate marketing.
These few tips help ensure that all of your e-mails are quality messages.
- Know your audience.
- Write to your audience.
- Use great subject lines.
- Don't write too frequently and don't write too infrequently.
- Review your e-mail analytics to learn which topics are most clicked on, and what times of the day are most popular for sending e-mail.
- Keep your content interesting and relevant.