Email marketing, when used properly, is one of the most cost-effective tools you can use to communicate with your customers, clients, or membership groups. Whether you sell products or services, email is a fast, efficient and inexpensive way to keep in contact with your customers and prospects, make sales, get traffic to your web site and boost your profitability. Furthermore, if you use a good email management company to deliver the mail, you can track the effectiveness of subject lines, article headlines or special offers.
But the ability to send email doesn't mean your mailing will get opened and read. Nor does it mean those who do open the mail will be interested in your offers or click on links to your web site. So what does it take to make email marketing work for your small business or non-profit?
To answer that and other key questions about email marketing, I interviewed Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact is a leading provider of email marketing and engagement marketing services for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Janet: Hi, Gail! Many people associate email marketing with advertising. Is that all it is? Is email marketing just about advertising, or is there more to it?
Gail: Email marketing is all about communication. It is about starting a dialog and creating good customer relationships. Email marketing can be a promotion, newsletter, announcement, holiday greeting etc.
There is much more to it than advertising because advertising is usually a one-way message, while email can encourage two-way communication that will bring you closer to your customers and increase your understanding of what they want and need.
Janet: Why is email marketing important? Is it any better than more traditional means of communicating with prospects and customers?
Gail: There is no better, faster, cheaper way to communicate with prospects and customers. Permission-based email marketing is the most cost effective direct marketing method available – with dramatically higher response rates than both banner ads and direct mail - and measurable, immediate results. Email marketing can be used to compliment and enhance every other marketing activity that a business engages in.
Janet: Who should be using email marketing, Gail? Is it cost-effective for small businesses?
Gail: The real question is, who shouldn’t? Any business that wants to communicate and develop relationships with prospects and customers should be using email marketing. Services like our product, Constant Contact are specifically designed for small and medium-sized businesses, making it easy and affordable to manage and grow permission-based email lists, and create, deliver and measure the results of email marketing campaigns. There is no reason not to.
Janet: What about really small businesses - one-person businesses, for instance? Can a one-person business benefit from email marketing?
Gail: Any business, no matter what size, can benefit. With limited time, budgets and resources, email marketing is even more important to a small business because it can make even a one-person operation look larger and more professional.
Janet: Gail, I'm seeing an increasing number of consultants and self-employed individuals who are sending out mailings - sometimes with their own email accounts - for their clients. Is this wise? And if not what would be a better solution?
Gail: Using an email marketing service is more than just a better solution. It’s the only real solution. One of the most common mistakes is exposing your entire list in the To: line. Another is failing to include the ability for the recipient to unsubscribe, or sending an email campaign without a trackable call-to-action.
Bottom line? Your basic email client is not designed to be used as an email marketing system and therefore has significant limitations. For one, your email client (e.g. Outlook, Eudora, Hotmail, AOL, etc.) sets limitations on the number of emails you can send at one time.
ISPs also pay attention to the number of recipients on emails coming through their systems. An email with too many recipients may be classified as bulk and go into a recipient's bulk mail folder, or it can be classified as spam and end up undeliverable.
An email marketing service delivers your emails with proper protocols, and a good one develops relationships with ISPs to be sure their customers' permission-based email gets through. Should a problem arise, a solid email marketing service will get more attention than you could ever get on your own.
Janet: So, even if you always remember to use the blind copy option (so your list isn't public), it's better to outsource management of your email list than to use Outlook or some other email program to manage the list?
Gail: Always! Your email client is not designed to perform critical list management functions including new subscribes, un-subscribes and bouncebacks, so you would have to do all of this manually while an email marketing system does it all for you. This is just one of the many reasons to use a reputable email marketing service instead of going it alone.
Basic email clients cannot tell which email format each recipient is able to receive – HTML or text. If you send HTML from your basic email client, some of your recipients will get gibberish that they can't even read. If you just send text, you are missing out on the lift in response rates you can get from HTML. An email marketing service creates and delivers your email in the correct format every time.
A good email marketing service also provides reports and statistics on the number of emails sent, opened and clicked through to help you track and measure your success, and improve your campaigns over time. With your basic email client, this information is not available, so you are basically flying blind.
Janet: What types of email marketing are there?
Gail: There are two legitimate types of email marketing – email marketing to your own permission-based list and email marketing to reputable opt-in rental lists.
Email marketing to your own list is very effective and offers response rates of up to 15% or even higher - particularly in the case of newsletters. Every company - from one-person operations to multi-national corporations should collect email addresses from all of their customers and prospects to build their email list. Companies can do this on their website, on sales, service and customer support calls, at trade shows or events or in a guest book at their office or store. They should always be sure to gain their customers’ or prospects’ permission to email to them.
There are email lists available (not unlike Direct Mail address lists), of individuals who have requested to receive promotional messages within selected categories of interest. Be sure to use a reputable list vendor and expect to pay between .15 cents and .40 cents per name. In the case of opt-in rental lists, you really do get what you pay for.
The one area of email marketing you want to absolutely avoid is spam or UCE, which stands for unsolicited commercial email. Spam is email sent without the recipient’s permission. A good email marketing vendor can help you email responsibly, make sure your email gets delivered and keep the reputation of your company intact.
Janet: What's the difference between a promotion and a newsletter?
Gail: In a nutshell, email promotions are primarily one-way communications designed to achieve a short-term goal - driving traffic and sales. Promotions generally contain one or more direct calls-to-action "click here to buy now," "sign up today," “give us a call” to elicit immediate action on the part of recipients.
Email newsletters, on the other hand, are regularly scheduled communications that encourage a two-way "conversation" and include valuable information. While a newsletter can contain some calls-to-action that provide short-term benefits, it is uniquely suited to accomplish the long-term goals of customer retention and loyalty.
Janet: When do you use each?
Gail: Both email promotions and email newsletters have their place. My advice is to use both in your email marketing plan, but treat them differently to maximize the value of each communication type.
Use a promotion to:
Help you get your share of holiday business
Boost sales, appointments or traffic in otherwise slow months
Promote your brand
Clear space for new stock
Move excess inventory
Get your name in front of a new or existing customer
Or, reward your most loyal customers
Use a newsletter to:
Build relationships with your customers and prospects
Position your company as a valuable resource
Obtain and retain the mind share of your customers
Educate and inform your customers
Build your credibility over time
Widen your audience via "word-of-mouth"
Begin a dialog with your readers by asking for reader feedback
Janet: Do you need a web site to do email marketing?
Gail: Absolutely not! While everyone with a website should use email newsletters and promotions to bring their subscribers back to their site, businesses that are not online, can also benefit from email marketing. Email is the communications medium of choice for most businesses and many consumers. Businesses without websites can easily send newsletters, promotions, announcements and invitations by email and generate an email reply, a telephone call, an appointment or a personal visit.
Janet: How do you get people to read your newsletter?
Gail: Janet, you know this one! There are so many things that you can do to get people to read your newsletter. The most important of which is to ensure that your newsletter is relevant and pertinent to the people on your list. When subscribers “join your mailing list” they should know what they are signing up for – and you should meet those expectations! Once you’ve done that, you can improve readership by making your subject line “interesting” and your copy and message concise, compelling and to the point. We have lots and lots of information on how to be a better email marketer in our blog.
Janet: What prevents people from reading newsletters and promotional mailings?
Gail: First and foremost, the key is to
Identify yourself and your communication (let them know the email is from you and remind them that they opted in to receive it)
Be easy to read (check spelling, grammar etc.)
Offer value – whether in a promotional offer, key information and coaching
Your email reflects your business – add images, links and colors to make your communication look compelling and professional.
Janet: Gail, what are the most common mistakes made by email newsletter publishers and mailing list owners when they mail to their list?
Gail: One of the biggest mistakes an email marketer can make is failing to send what was promised when the subscriber opted in. It is important that your emails be relevant and add value, so targeting is important.
A common newsletter mistake is delivering a newsletter that is nothing more than a promotion in disguise. Remember -your newsletter should be mostly informational.
Emailing too frequently is another common mistake. We recommend no more than four times per month if your emails are strictly promotional.
Janet: What suggestions do you have to them for improving the response to mailings?
Gail: Think of this as a customer or prospect dialog. Make sure that your promotional offers are compelling and your newsletters and announcements significant and newsworthy. I’ve already mentioned targeting and relevance a couple of times. It’s simple - just ask your readers what they want to receive and then give it to them. There are lots of hints and tips available on our site.
Increase your response rates by incorporating call(s)-to-action (links to click, phone numbers to call, store/office locations to visit) and creating a sense of urgency. The urgency should begin with your subject line and then continue throughout your email.
If your email is a promotion, you may want to limit the time of the offer or include a bonus for the first 50 customers. Coupons, contests, special discounts, white papers etc. are also effective means of encouraging response.
Janet: Gail, those tips are really helpful! Do you have any last tips for small businesses who are considering email marketing as a way to communicate with their prospects and customers?
Gail: Sure, just try it! Constant Contact offers a no-obligation free trial so small businesses can see for themselves how it works and how easy it is to use.
Janet: Thanks for all the information. It's been great talking with you.
Gail Goodman is CEO of Roving Software, makers of Constant Contact® Do-It-Yourself Email Marketing™, a leading email marketing service for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Editor's note: Not using email marketing yet? Or not happy with your provider? BusinessknowHow.com uses and recommends Constant Contact. Try it free today.
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