Talk to any relationship counselor worth his or her salt, and he or she will undoubtedly preach and emphasize the importance of communication. And rightfully so – after all, how can two people expect to get along amicably and happily if one doesn’t know what the other is thinking? How can you expect to be a good partner and improve and enrich your partner’s life with you if you have no idea what they truly wish for?
The same principle applies to the relationship between a small business owner and his or her customers. How can you effectively gauge what your customers are looking for if you don’t ask them? What better way to learn of your biggest areas for improvements than buy asking your customers what they’re most unsatisfied with? And the communication road travels both ways – by staying in touch with your customers, you can not only keep them apprised of the latest company news and any promotions you have planned, but you can also effectively help them get to know you as a business owner and the story and vision behind the business itself.
Why email communication is important and which options are right for you
Social media can be an effective tool to achieve this communication (and we’ve covered many different facets of it previously on this blog), but don’t forget the old, reliable standard bearer in Internet business communication – email marketing. It is arguably the most effective, most efficient, and most rewarding things your business can do online short of having a website.
Email marketing is simple – businesses collect email addresses from their customers or potential customers by asking them to opt-in to receive emails (businesses can buy email addresses from services, but it’s a shady practice and the engagement you’ll receive from those purchased emails is dramatically less than what you’ll get from organically cultivated addresses). You then send them a formatted email that can contain any sort of content that’s appropriate, and on a schedule that is also appropriate (we’ll get more into those later). So what are the top benefits of starting and carrying out an email marketing campaign? Glad you asked!
Benefits of email marketing
Your business won’t succeed without money (duh), so it’s no surprise that the number one reason to start email marketing right away is to increase your revenue and sales. Convinceandconvert.com found that of all people who received some sort of email marketing message within the year, a whopping 44% of them made a purchase directly related to one of the messages they received. Think of how many customers you deal with in a given year.
You can (very) conservatively estimate that of that number, you’ll be able to get 50% of their email addresses (you can increase that dramatically in a variety of ways, but we’ll save that for another blog entry). If your business has 500 customers a month, that’s 6,000 a year. Using the above estimates, that’s 3,000 email addresses gained, and 44% of 3,000 is 1,320. That’s 1,320 additional sales/transactions you would receive from a very basic, straightforward email marketing campaign – which is 22% of your total sales! Granted these are estimates, but you should immediately see the power that email marketing has.
And while you will have to spend some time and possibly some cash on your email marketing campaign, we’ll leave you with this mind-blowing stat courtesy of Experian – for every $1 spent on email marketing, the return on investment (ROI) is a staggering $44.25.
Increase brand recognition and improve customer relationships
Another way email marketing can help you increase revenue is by turning your one-off or irregular customers into loyal, repeat buyers. One of the most proven methods of doing this is by effectively telling your company and brand’s story. Blogs, interviews, and even advertisements can all help, but there is no more direct and proven method than email marketing.
Many of your email messages sent out to your customers can (and should) be about in-store promotions, upcoming sales, and things that are directly related to transactions. But a little diversity is always a good thing – by sending the occasional informative message to your lists (such as pictures from a recent company barbecue, a birth announcement from you or one of your employees, a funny or noteworthy story from your company’s early days, etc.), you’ll be more clearly defining who you are and what your company is all about. Asking your customers to share with their similar stories or by otherwise getting them to engage with your content is also key in building a relationship with them. Once they have a better understanding of what you stand for, they are more likely to have an emotional attachment to your brand and much more likely to repeat as a customer.
Those are just a couple of reasons why email marketing works, but are arguably the biggest. But before jumping in headfirst, take a quick look at some best practices tips.
Best practices of email marketing
- DO Use an Engaging, Creative Subject Line
Keep it under 50 characters (20-30 is a good range to shoot for), but by all means be humorous, original, or otherwise attention grabbing (without using all caps, of course…that’s a big DON’T). Chadwick Martin Baily found that %64 of people chose to open an email based on its subject line alone…and be sure to personalize it with the customer’s first name using a script, if possible.
- DO Feature Prominent Brand Recognition
Always include your company logo, and try to always keep it in the upper-left hand corner where it will be viewable on the majority of email client programs’ preview panes. Be sure to also have a URL embedded in the logo that clicks through to your home page.
- DO Use Appealing Formatting
Nobody likes a wall of text in their email, so stick to short paragraphs. When designing your template and subsequent emails, try to avoid going wider than 600 pixels to get the entire content viewable for the majority of monitors and resolutions. And definitely include at LEAST one image, more if appropriate (and always have images with an embedded URL).
- DO Email On Schedule
Don’t go overboard, but don’t forget to send on a regular basis. When first starting out, try once a week out and see how that goes…if you forget to send too often, your customers might forget you’re there
- DON’T Go Crazy with Variety
You don’t want to be black and white with only text, but you also don’t want your messages to look like the lovechild between a rainbow and a kaleidoscope. Limit your font types and sizes to a maximum of three and any accompanying background colors (either in themes or borders) to three as well
- DON’T Try to Hide Your Unsubscribe Link
It’s unethical and annoying, and if you’re following the above rules and the guidelines below, you probably won’t have to worry too terribly much about unsubscribes
- DON’T Neglect Your Lists
Make the time to clean up your lists at least once a week. People change email addresses more often than you’d think – keep a folder of bouncebacks and unsubscribe notices and adjust accordingly. Most all email marketing programs/solutions allow you to create segments or lists of email addresses. Think of how best to organize your customers and continue to add and subtract users accordingly.
- DON’T Send Just to Send
Although above we recommended sending once a week, that was only an example – if you think it will be tough for you and your business to have something worthwhile to say on a weekly basis, by all means cut that regular schedule down considerably. One of the best ways to get people to disengage and unsubscribe will be to regularly send out fluffy, nothing emails.