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Email Marketing

by Tim Torian

Email Marketing done right is a cost effective and powerful tool for your business.  Create a newsletter for your business. Use email as an effective tool in the sales and support cycle.

Identify your target

Start by determining who you want to reach, and why. Are you aiming to get new customers, support and retain existing customers, or influence those who influence your prospects?  Create a picture or profile of your readers.  What do they want? What do you want them to do as a result of receiving your newsletter?  Determine how you measure success.

Schedule it

You have to set aside time, or it won’t happen. Evaluate the potential value, and then determine how much time you can commit to a newsletter program. Then set your schedule accordingly. It is better to send out a good short newsletter once a year, than create a “monthly” newsletter that only goes out every 2 or 3 months. 

Design it

Select an email delivery vendor (more below on how to do this). Review their templates, and pick something with the right layout – you can change the colors and graphics. Customize your template.  Use the same layout for every issue. Make it easy to scan through by putting similar content in the same location every time. Make it clearly identifiable, using your logo and color scheme. Creating the template may be one area where it is worth investing in a professional designer.

Will your message be read on smart phones or tablets? Design for mobile platforms as well. This can be done by making the graphics gracefully scale back to a single column.

Give careful thought to the title of the email, and the reply address. This has the biggest impact on whether it gets delivered, and whether it gets read. Make it consistent if you are sending a recurring newsletter, so it is easy to identify.  Avoid words that might trigger a spam filter.  Use words that uniquely identify your brand.

Give some thought to the “tone” and the layout of your email message. Be consistent. 

Short summary headlines at the top of the email are a popular format that allows people to quickly click on the topic that interests them, without wasting time.  If it’s not easy, it will not get read.  Link back to your website for more detail.  Include compelling images. Avoid graphical “ads”. Readers tend to automatically skip over these.

You will also need to design the email messages that get sent when someone signs up for your newsletter, the “opt in” email that gets sent, the confirmation web page for a new subscriber, and a similar set of messages and web pages for the unsubscribe process.

Set up a newsletter sign up form, along with a sample of the current issue on your web page. Put it on your social media as well. Most email services have cut and paste code that makes this easy – get help from your web designer if needed.  Link to back issues from your website sign up page. Make it easy for prospects to see if they want to sign up.  Consider offering an incentive for signing up, such as a discount coupon or free article.

Be sure to include your name and address, an unsubscribe link, and a way to easily forward to a friend in the footer of your message template.  Include a “view on the web” option at the top right of the message.

Add Value

Make sure you have something to say that your target audience will be glad to receive. It is better to communicate less often with valuable content, than to be one of the many incoming emails that get ignored. Be remarkable.

Here are some tips for coming up with content:

  1. Reuse material you already have. If you do any writing, or have a blog or website, chances are some of the material can be re-used in multiple ways.

  2. Mine your email. Identify issues that your customers are having, and re-use the responses or advice you have given them.

  3. Set up an information feed. Most of us get huge numbers of trade journals, vendor newsletters and marketing emails. Create a separate email address such as news@yourcompany.com, and set up a rule to move incoming mail to a separate folder in your email program. Create or move your subscriptions to use this email address. Scan it for content when you sit down to create a newsletter. Use Google Alerts to email you links to new web content containing keywords you are interested in. Set up an information web page using Google or Yahoo, and customize it with RSS feeds to organize the incoming information from websites relevant to your newsletter.

  4. Use a note taking application. Get set up with OneNote or Evernote, both of which allow cut and paste from websites, with an automatic link back to the page clipped. Use a tool that automatically links websites of interest for future use, such as www.diigo.com/tools. This allows you to quickly save information of interest for your next newsletter.

  5. Reuse information. Articles from vendors and industry publications and magazines often have newsworthy information of interest to your customers. They sometimes even provide newsletter ready content they want to reach your customers. Often you can reword existing articles to better suit your audience without violating copyrights. When you find an interesting topic, search the web for articles, and pull the key concepts relevant to your audience into your article.

  6. Invite guest writers. Find people in complimentary industries that you can partner with to write content for you. They benefit by reaching your audience, and you benefit by providing valuable information. This works both ways – look for opportunities to reuse your content in other media.

  7. Highlight your customers with case studies or testimonials. It is good publicity for them and delivers your message

Test it

Start small, and work out the kinks. Get feedback from your customers, and refine your content and layout. Send your initial newsletter(s) to a few of your more loyal and helpful customers, and see what they think. 

View the message in various mail programs. Sign up for AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, etc. and create test email accounts you can send to. Make sure it looks right where images or links are blocked initially – that it is readable even without any graphics showing.  Test delivery using the tools from your mailing list management program (such as http://mailchimp.com/features/delivery-doctor/ ).

There is a whole industry category - direct marketing - with information on good design and writing for email marketing. See the links at the end of this article for more information.

Build your list

Now that you have something to say, you need email addresses.  Here’s how to build your list:

Start by gathering email addresses from your customers, if you are not already.

Some marketing experts consider the purpose of websites and social media sites to be primarily about getting permission to email.  Email is personal in a way that websites are not.

Sell the newsletter – don’t just send it.  Treat it the same way you would when selling a product. If you can’t convince people of the value of reading it, don’t bother sending it to them.  This is a slower process, but will be much more effective in the long run.

Build this into your existing business process – when you get a new prospect, mention your newsletter, and ask if they would like to see receive a copy. Hand them a printed copy as part of your marketing material, and ask if they would like to receive it by email. Mention it in your product instruction manual.  The goal is to get one prospect or customer at a time to actively choose to receive your content.  

Never send a newsletter or email message without getting permission first. It will damage your reputation with your mailing list vendor, and once your prospect clicks the spam button, you will never reach them again with any kind of email.

Again, add a newsletter sign up to your web page, and your social media.  In some cases it may be appropriate to provide an incentive. Put a link to your newsletter web page in your email signature.  You can also expand your reach by using your newsletter as a “free” offering as part of your other marketing campaigns.

Once you have saturated your core audience, look for opportunities to co-market. Find vendors whose customers need your product or service, and partner with them to offer your newsletter and other marketing collateral when appropriate. 

Stick with your target audience – don’t waste time and annoy people by sending unwanted email. It bears repeating.  If you do email to purchased lists, you initial message should be about selling the value of granting permission to email them again with more information.

Put your energy into quality, and the right people will find you. Be remarkable, and your newsletter will get forwarded on, printed and saved, and mentioned to others.  If you want to reach the right people with your information, the first step is to have something they want to receive.  The days of marketing by intimidation and repetition are gone. 

Track results

Email management tools allow you to track the number of emails delivered, those that are opened, and those that bounce.  You can also track who clicked on which links, and whether the message got forwarded. This information allows you to see what topics get the best response, and how many of your list members are actually reading your message. 

If your newsletter is important enough to your marketing, use A/B testing to refine your message. Send different versions of the same issue to each half of your list, and see which gets the best response.

Keep your email list clean – monitor messaged that don’t get delivered, and either delete or update the contact.

Tools

Don’t try to send large numbers of emails yourself.  Getting email delivered is an art form. It requires constant attention to the changes in the way spam filters evaluate messages, rules that each major email system use to block mail, and a spotless reputation for your mail server.  It is not something you should do yourself.

Instead, you should work with a mailing list service. They are companies that provide web based servers to store and send your email lists and messages. They work closely with the major email delivery vendors to insure the best delivery rates for the emails sent from their servers.

Newsletter management typically takes place using a website you log in to, where you can manage your email lists, create a campaign using a list, and then add an email (using a template) to the campaign. You can then edit, send tests, and schedule it to go out once you are satisfied. 

Perhaps the best known is constant contact (www.constantcontact.com).   Mailchimp.com provides a similar service at no charge for low volume mailing (up to 2000 subscribers, under 12,000 messages sent per month). Icontact.com has the best delivery reputation, and is very reasonably priced.   They all offer extensive tracking tools, including managing any bounced messages, seeing who opened the message and when, and tracking any forwards.  The sites have extensive help, templates, and excellent tips on creating your own newsletter.

Here are additional features you will want to use:

  1. Sign up tools provide a way to confirm a request to join the list. Newsletter management tools call this double opt-in. You request to be on the list, and then receive a confirming email in order to confirm that you want to receive future messages. The confirmation message can be customized to provide consistent branding, and additional incentives to complete the process.

  2. The newsletter management vendor will provide an add-in or code snippet you can use to add a sign up form to your website and social media sites. Most will offer templates for Wordpress, Drupal, and other website platforms.

  3. Your email message will be on a web page as well – this allows those with problematic email clients to click on a link to view your message. Past issues will be available in an archive which you can link to from your website.

  4. Many vendors have tools to automatically post a link to your latest message on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter when it goes out.

  5. Test emails allow you to measure the chances that various spam filters will block your message. You can then revise it to eliminate problems.

  6. Tracking tools allow you to see whether your message was delivered, to whom, when they opened it (requires that they allow download links, so some Outlook readers will not show) and what links were clicked on. You can also track who forwarded your message. Statistics and reports show trends, and what works.

  7. Drip marketing campaign tools allow you to set up a series of emails that go out to on a schedule. Email addresses added get a timed set of messages. For example, you could send an initial response to an inquiry, a follow-up email a week later, and another the following month. Be careful that these are an exact match to the person getting them – your automation tools can backfire if they deliver the wrong message.

  8. Some CRM tools include email marketing functionality. Again, don’t send mass emails from your own mail server. Even if you use CRM, have your bulk mail forward through an email provider, or configured to work with an email provider.

  9. Some vendors can provide demographics or social media links for your email contacts. If you are doing marketing to prospects, this can be helpful in sending the right message.

  10. More complete services will assist with the entire marketing process, and track results across multiple media. Expect to pay hundreds of dollars per month for this.

Email newsletters and email marketing is very attractive because the cost is low.  Because of this, it is frequently abused. You don’t want your message being tagged as spam – possibly blocking all email to your prospect forever. 

There are laws preventing unsolicited email - the CAN-SPAM Act requires that you get permission to email, that you clearly identify your business address in each message, and that you have a clear opt-out (remove from list) link or option.


Even if you only email your customers and prospects infrequently, it is one of the most powerful and cost effective marketing tools you can use.  Build a system for gathering email subscriptions, and send a newsletter or useful article regularly.  Use email to as a tool to improve your customer’s experience of your service or product.


Mailing list Management vendors

MailChimp www.mailchimp.com. Our favorite, because of the richer toolset. Free up to 2000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month.

Constant Contact  www.constantcontact.com $15 a month for up to 500 subscribers and unlimited emails

Icontact  www.icontact.com  Top rated for delivery.

Others: Benchmark Campaigner Pinpointe Mad Mimi GraphicMail Vertical Response

            Streamsend Campaign Monitor  


Email Marketing resources

http://mailchimp.com/resources Articles, Videos

http://www.icontact.com/resources/email-marketing-tips Articles and Tips

http://www.dmn3.com/institute/publications-list.html Articles

https://imis.the-dma.org/bookstore/ Books

http://www.directmarketingiq.com/ Direct marketing, with a section on email

http://www.targetmarketingmag.com Magazine site for Direct mail and email marketing

http://www.imediaconnection.com/email/ Online marketing blog hub

 

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