Email marketing can be a cost-effective way to acquire new customers, and to enhance relationships with your current customers. Done correctly, email marketing can help you build trust — the foundation of all successful business relationships. Email marketing can build long-lasting relationships with your customers that can help grow your business over time. When considering the full impact this type of communication can have, it is helpful to think in terms of moving your prospects and customers through three stages.
1. Make a connection
"Permission email campaigns are ten times more effective than direct mail campaigns." - IMT Strategies
When a prospective customer visits your website, walks in your door or calls, the first step toward establishing a relationship is getting their contact information.
At a minimum, you should collect a person’s name and email address, so that you can add them to your email contact list. In general, this is all that many websites request, since the more information you ask for, the fewer people will provide it. For more targeted communications, you can let site visitors specify the type of information they’d like to receive from you.
If you are collecting contact information in person or over the phone, ask for their street address, phone number, company name and title. For example, a retail store can provide a form at checkout; if you meet prospects at trade shows or other events, you can simply collect business cards.
Whatever you do, be sure to get the person’s permission to send email marketing communications. "Explicit" permission means that the individual has signed up with the clear expectation of receiving your email. "Implicit" permission may come when you have an existing business relationship with the individual. Sending email marketing when no prior relationship exists and no permission is granted is known as spam, and there are strict regulations in place that prohibit you from including such addresses in your campaign.
Tip: Offer something in return for contact information, such as valuable content like a white paper, or a discount (e.g., "Receive 20% off your next purchase"). This will motivate respondents to provide valid email addresses.
2. Nurture the relationship
"The cost of acquiring a new customer can be as much as five times the cost of keeping an old one." - Peppers and Rogers
A successful email marketing program is built on understanding customer needs and communicating relevant and valuable information. Email is uniquely useful as a way to educate customers and prospects on an ongoing basis and enhance relationships in order to build your business.
Your email program should support your overall marketing objectives. For example, you might be trying to enhance awareness of your company among prospects, or to motivate customers to buy more from you. Retail businesses might focus on making immediate sales, while service businesses might focus on demonstrating expertise in order to nurture prospects. These objectives will drive the formats of your emails (see page 4), and let you assess the effectiveness of your email communications.
Tip: Develop a communications calendar to map out your strategy and provide a visual overview of your communications over the course of the year (see worksheet). For example, you might send an email newsletter every month, put out alerts during your busiest season, and drop one-off news announcements when appropriate.
3. Build trust
"A 5% increase in retention yields profit increases of 25% to 100%." - Bain and Co.
Email’s ultimate strength rests in its ability to engender trust with your customers. Targeted, interesting content not only gets the attention of your audience, but can encourage customers to become your advocates. After all, there is no better way to acquire new customers than by having current customers spread the word on your behalf.
The key to avoiding the recycle bin is to provide customers with the information that benefits them most. For example, a landscaping company might send emails alerting customers to an upcoming sale. This may generate some one-off business, but it does not necessarily create a long-term relationship. If, however, the landscaping company sent monthly tips about kid-friendly plants, how to keep deer away, when to plant bulbs and other helpful topics — each accompanied by a short promotion for the plants highlighted that month — customers might begin to see the company as an expert and a trusted partner, not just someone interested in meeting sales goals.
Tip: Find it hard to come up with interesting content for your newsletter every month? Interview your best customers — you may be amazed at their expertise, and how happy they are to be profiled.
Email offers a number of benefits over many other marketing methods:
Low cost — Unlike traditional marketing, there are no printing, mailing or media expenses — making email much less costly than direct mail, print advertising or telemarketing.
Proactivity — Email delivers your message directly to customers or the prospects that have asked to receive your messages and offers. You don’t have to wait for someone to visit your website or find your ad.
Relationship-building — Email lets you communicate the value of your offerings, demonstrate your successes and build your position as an authority. Recipients can respond immediately by replying, visiting your site or calling.
Targetability — You can send different messages to different types of customers or prospects, including tailoring messages to specific individuals.
Flexibility — Real-time results let you see who is responding to what parts of your message, so that you can revise your message as needed.
Get your email opened
An email marketing campaign can only succeed if people actually read your messages. How do you get your emails opened? Start with these basic practices:
"From" line — The first thing a person wants to know is who an email is from. Make your "from" address work for you by using your name, company, product or service name — whatever the recipient is most likely to recognize. Avoid generic addresses such as sales@ or info@. Your goal is to build familiarity and credibility that assures the recipient that the email comes from a reliable and trusted source. Also, make sure your reply-to address works, and you are ready to handle any possible replies.
"Subject" line — Once the recipient knows who an email is from, the next question is "Do I care?" Your subject line needs to be descriptive and engaging to encourage people to open your email and read your content. Avoid generic descriptions such as "Monthly Newsletter" in favor of vivid titles such as "5 Tips to Reduce Your Taxes." Wonder what works? Look at your own inbox. Which subject lines get your attention and which look like spam?
Frequency and timing — When delivery of your email is predictable and consistent, recipients will look forward to your messages on a certain day or at a certain time. Test alternatives and monitor subscriber feedback to come up with the timing that works for your audience. Then stick to it. Keep in mind that communicating too infrequently is as bad as communicating too often — your goal should be to keep your name top of mind without being intrusive.
Design — Is your email clear, uncluttered and easy to read? Is the most important information easy to find? Does it reflect the style of your business? Remember, many people use their email program’s "preview pane," which may not display your images or layout. Those readers may make their "read or delete" decision from the first few lines they see, so make them count. Use strong and provocative headlines so search engine skimmers can quickly take in your content. It is important to let recipients view your newsletter as a web page, through a conspicuous link.
The right email for the job
Email marketing can take a variety of forms. The right format for you depends on the type of information you want to communicate, your objective for that communication and its intended audience. For example, a retailer might send out bi-weekly or monthly promotional emails alerting customers to sales or new products. An accountant, on the other hand, might focus on a more educational monthly e-newsletter that covers news and insights related to taxes or financial planning.
Choosing an email vendor
Many businesses use third-party email vendors (such as Constant Contact) thost and manage their email marketing campaigns.
Here are some of the services an email vendor can provide:
1. Design templates — If you don’t want to design your own email newsletter — and code it in HTML— a template-based system that sets up the format, graphics and layout for you can dramatically simplify email development. Look for a provider that has a robust library of professional-looking templates.
2. Campaign management — If you plan to send a large number of emails on a regular basis, an email vendor can help you stick to your schedule and avoid mistakes.
3. List management — Your email marketing vendor can help you build, manage and secure your email marketing contacts, and make sure you comply with anti-spam regulations.
4. Reporting — Tracking your campaign results can help you determine which emails are most effective, as well as the optimal timing and frequency of your email campaign. Your email marketing vendor should provide you with real-time, detailed reports to help you see who has been clicking on which parts of your emails.
5. Support — Email vendors can also educate you on the best practices for email marketing by providing easy access to consultants, tutorials and tech support. Some may even offer live or online classes or webinars for their clients at no additional charge.