In the first two parts of this series, we discussed how we can effectively use e-mail as a personal tool. Now, we turn to business and check out how e-mail can be an important marketing tool in a small or medium sized enterprise.
Unfortunately, e-mail overload and spam dominates a lot of discussion when it comes to using e-mail marketing in business. However, e-mail is also one of the most effective and inexpensive marketing tools available to business owners and its low cost is even more attractive in these difficult business times. I believe, like all useful tools, e-mail can be misused to send spam, as well as properly used to serve as an effective tool to connect with customers.
Practically everyone today has an e-mail address and most of us check our e-mails every day. If your message is relevant, it will go a long way. So, let’s see how e-mail can be ethically and effectively used.
What to think about?
Think about how you want to use e-mail marketing, who is the target audience, what is the theme and content, and allocate resources: Think about the purpose for creating an e-mail marketing / newsletter plan. What are the objectives and targets? Answer these questions and then ask yourself more questions:
What would you use your e-mail marketing for? Would it be for existing customers to keep them engaged with your business? Or prospects who are at an early stage of contacting your business? Or those who may have contacted your business but have not made a purchase? What would you communicate? What would be the frequency and schedule of communication? Would you be able to sustain a 4 page newsletter every two weeks? Or should it be just pages every alternative month?
How many newsletter subscribers do you plan to add by end of a period? How much more sales would be generated because of e-mail marketing? Have you allocated resources to write a regular newsletter and can you afford to make this commitment for the long term?
What to do?
Build a solid, permission list of customers and prospects: Collect e-mail addresses not just from forms on your Web site but also from physical locations. Tell the prospective recipients what to expect, frequency to send those e-mails and what type of content would be included. Also, throw in an incentive or a reward.
For example, if you run a restaurant, you may ask your patrons to share their e-mail address on a form in return for a discount on their next meal. The form may mention that they may expect a monthly newsletter containing updates in menu, other news, recipes and culinary information. When your patrons are informed of the reasons to collect their information and what they can expect, then they will not just part with their e-mail address but also look forward to your newsletter.
You should avoid buying a list from a third-party unless you are sure that every e-mail address has been opted-in for receiving your type of e-mail. Sending an e-mail to an unwilling user will only harm your reputation, not further it.
Use reliable tools for long term use that can help you measure response, look professional and consistent: Don’t use an individual consumer application such as Microsoft outlook to send bulk e-mail to your permission-based list. While it would send e-mail, you would not be able to measure response. I like e-mail service providers (ESP) that offer their software over the Web as a service. Examples are iContact, aWeber, MailChimp, Reachmail and several others. All these services allow you to create, send and track your e-mails, maintain contact lists and pay monthly by number of e-mail addresses in your contact lists.
An ESP offers several options to manage your campaigns. For example, you may send e-mails that are text based or in HTML (so can include images and designs). You may use templates offered by the service provider or get a custom design with your own logo and colours. You may create several contact lists and include data to segment them. An important feature is personalisation where you can include dynamic elements in your e-mail based upon the data you may have on your customer. For example, addressing the recipient by name, including any specific item associated with the customer. This is called mass-customising in which you personalise each e-mail based upon information stored in the database but it is done effortlessly.
Deliverability is an important issue. Many ISPs and e-mails services try to filter the flow of e-mail at the consumer side and these efforts often lead to genuine e-mails getting blocked out. ESPs described above take steps to ensure that most e-mails reach the inbox and are not lost or directed to junk mailbox.
Have you seen innovative uses of business e-mail? Any other tips and ideas? Let us know. Write your ideas in comments.