I’ve been sending out this business update now for almost 6 years, to thousands of subscribers. I have received feedback from thousands of you, sharing your successes with me. This message you’re reading is an example of e-mail marketing, yet ironically, this is one topic we’ve rarely discussed. It has taken us years to learn a system that works for successful e-mail marketing, and we’d like to share it with you. Before we get into this subject in depth, I’d like to invite you to share your thoughts about this newsletter with us by clicking here to take our brief survey. To show our appreciation for your feedback, you will gain access to our audio file on Why Most Marketing Fails.
E-mail can be an extremely cost effective means of maintaining contact with prospects and customers, marketing your business, and providing customer service. There are a few rules you should adhere to when considering using e-mail in your business, to ensure that you don’t actually generate negative feedback from your contacts.
- No spam. Ever.
Spam is the term used for unsolicited, unwanted, e-mail. Notice that I didn’t say “commercial” e-mail. Any unwanted e-mail is considered spam. If you are sending an e-mail message to someone, make sure that it is something worth sending first.
- Get their permission first.
Don’t send someone an e-mail message unless they have given you permission to contact them by e-mail, or you have been in contact with them previously. If your first communication with someone is by e-mail, you will likely get a negative response, regardless of how relevant, compelling, and important your message may be.
- Don’t sell or give away their information.
If you have someone’s e-mail address, guard it. Don’t send it to other people, don’t have a huge carbon copy list that you make their address publicly visible on, and make sure that you guard their privacy as you would your own.
- Keep it professional.
If you are sending people business e-mails, don’t pass on jokes, funny movies, political or religious statements, etc. Save these things for your family and friends (even though they probably don’t want them either!)
- Learn how to use your e-mail program.
Make sure you know the difference between to, cc, and bcc. If you don’t, read the help files on your e-mail program. These very important distinctions affect how an e-mail message is received, viewed, and presented to a recipient. They also help you guard the privacy of your messages.
- Obey the law!
There are many new legislated requirements for sending commercial e-mail. While it is unlikely that someone will complain to authorities about e-mails you send, make sure that you obey all regulations about having your contact information on your e-mail, a method for being removed from your mailing list, etc.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into how to best use e-mail in your business! If you do not currently have an e-mail newsletter, you’re passing up an amazing opportunity to connect with your prospects and customers. It is truly the most cost effective means of positive outreach that small businesses have at their disposal. I highly recommend that you start a newsletter to maintain contact with your database as soon as is feasible.
Email – Extension of Direct Mail?
Email marketing is NOT the electronic version of direct mail. It is a far more personal form of communication. Go to your mailbox. Count how many uninvited guests you find every day. Circulars from advertisers, retailer ads, announcements and so on jam your mailbox. In fact, if you’re like me, you have more junk mail than REAL mail. Does it make you mad? No. Do you get on the phone, call these folks, and yell at them for Snail-mail spamming you? No. Do you lobby Congress? No! Then why do consumers do all of these things and MORE to put a stop to SPAM email? No one really knows why, but it is a fact that some people will react negatively to any unsolicited e-mail. So you must make sure that your e-mail marketing efforts are not the same type of sales pitch you might send out by other means.
Email is a very personal form of communication. Typically, people read their email messages with greater care and more deliberation than postal mail. Many folks read their email messages at home and therefore have more time to digest them and put the message in perspective. When they receive an uninvited message, it is received as a personal intrusion. While Email creates a tremendous opportunity for us as marketers, it also leaves the door open for abuse.
A Powerful Messaging Vehicle
Some marketers see Email as a powerful form of “push marketing.” It is far less expensive than traditional media, is ten times faster to implement, and known to generate a higher response than it’s alternatives. No wonder marketers aggressively leverage it to push their marketing message as frequently as humanly possible. The real challenge is to allow “true” communication to take place. No relationship can exist without two-way communication. My advice is “Don’t turn email into a bullhorn. It’s about encouraging and facilitating a dialogue.” Push yourself to help your customers; don’t push your product or service on your customers. Find out what is important to them, then give them something of value. Educate, inform, and inspire them. Help them to do something that they have been trying to do. Eliminate their pain. Make their lives easier. Invite them to give you feedback. Open the gates to questions, comments, and suggestions. Engage customers in a dialogue. Nowhere is the “attraction” mindset as appropriate and effective as it is with email marketing. It’s about building lasting relationships and creating memorable brand value.
A Collaborative Media
Email is one of the only marketing vehicles that is NOT a successful standalone communication tool. Email will be only as effective as its integration with other media. Most email campaigns today are run as isolated marketing initiatives. Companies hire email-marketing firms to run their email strategies because traditional agencies are unable to provide the quality of service and necessary technology that email pure-plays provide. The problem is an unbroken sequence of communications that do not capitalize on the sum of the parts. The outcome is a confused and possibly dissatisfied customer, victim of your unorganized and untimely messages. Sure, the creative may look the same, but production schedules rarely match, and the integration of media is an afterthought.
One Strike and You’re Out.
Email may be cheap, personal, and powerful but it is an unforgiving media. Even in baseball, you get three strikes. Email customers can fire us in a single click. It just takes those dreaded words “REMOVE ME” in the Subject Box and the fun’s over. My recommendation is to empower customers, and talk to them wisely. Savvy marketers empower customers by asking them what content they want to receive, when they want to receive it, how often, and in what format. Then they follow through. To avoid burning out customers and scoring double-digit unsubscribe rates, consider customer preferences, and carefully plan the frequency with which you communicate to various customer segments.
Click-through, like Web traffic, has never been a good indicator of performance. Chances are that your short-term revenue forecast and long-term profitability are made up of more tangible, quantifiable data. A more accurate measure of the success of a campaign is sales or leads conversion. Some people just want customers who click. You want customers who buy. Stay away from short-term objectives, however, that may force you to over-communicate at the expense of long-term customer value. Create a customer satisfaction index and regularly track results via online surveys. Ignoring customer satisfaction is always a deadly mistake in business. And believe me, your competitors know it. So will you be the diner? Or the dinner?
The Future is Here
Email marketing is the future of direct marketing. Think about it, with Email you avoid printing costs, postage, carriers, paper, stuffing, envelopes and the licking thereof! Never resort to SPAM or unsolicited email lists. Build your own email database. Opt-in email campaigns produce the best result in marketing campaigns.
“Opt-in” & “opt-out”; what do they mean?
Quite simply, spammers utilize “opt-out” marketing. Opt-out means that a marketer can send a message at will and the recipient must contact them and “opt-out” to prevent future mailings. I do not believe in this approach. “Opt-In” means consumers have expressed interest in your topic. In my case, these folks have called in to my radio show, visited my website, attended one of my classes, or purchased one of my products or services.
Let’s look at a brief example. For our business, we send out a weekly “Business Update” e-mail with FREE business advice. We have been sending this e-mail out for over six years to a subscriber base made up strictly of prospects, partners, and clients that have requested it. People subscribe to our list by going to our website and entering their e-mail address in a form that explicitly states what they will receive. We give them instructions on how to be removed from the list at any time if they choose. These e-mail messages are made up of advice and examples. They are NOT sales pitches. Let me repeat that. They are NOT sales pitches. This ensures that people get our message while we establish closer relationships on a continual basis with prospects. Our meme is seen weekly by thousands of people, and it doesn’t take any more effort to reach 50,000 than it does 500!
Get to Work!I encourage everyone reading this to consider how they might plan an e-mail campaign for their business. Whom do you wish to reach? What can you offer them of value so that they look forward to receiving your message instead of viewing it as an intrusion? How frequently should you contact them? How will you encourage them to respond to your message to foster an ongoing dialogue? Please let us know how your e-mail efforts go.