How to harness the power of email marketing

 Email marketing is an effective communication tool for small businesses, and an affordable and smart way communicate your products and services to your customers. But creating a email marketing campaign that will deliver results is about more than just pressing send on an email.

When used in an interesting and engaging way, email can create loyalty, brand awareness and motivate sales through repeat or new business. But poor communication can have the opposite effect - driving customers to unsubscribe to develop negative feelings towards your brand or service.

Whether you're sending an offer, an incentive, a request for support or even a thank you for signing up to a mailing list, it's important to plan your communications and closely monitor the results. This way you can ensure you're making the most of your campaigns, and continuing to nurture your customer base.

1. Plan your email campaign around your marketing goals

"Start with the final objective in mind," advises Gary Eckstein, founder of OrganicWeb and recognised MailChimp expert. "The objective is usually something like attaining a sale, converting a lead into a prospect or getting a donation or volunteer."

For example, if your goal is to create an ongoing relationship with your customers, you might create a weekly newsletter that features tips, or advice that would offer value to them. If you want to increase sales, you could create a one-off email that focuses on a specific product as a hero item and offer a limited time discount by using a trackable code.

Your goals will change depending on what's happening in your business - and that's fine. Just be aware of what you want the email to do. Email marketing will work best when you're clear on what goals you want to achieve before you hit send.

2. Honour your audience

Growing and maintaining your email marketing list (you might refer to this as your customer database, newsletter or mailing list) should be a priority. "A recent report by Forrester found that US adults were twice as likely to sign up for emails to stay in touch with a brand than to interact with that brand on Facebook," Campaign Monitor CEO Alex Bard told SMH.

Eckstein recommends you strongly understand who will be getting the marketing emails you send out - or at least start with the basics, like knowing the demographics (age, gender, location). "The biggest mistake people make with email marketing is that the sender doesn't understand their subscribers," he says, adding that a trap is to assume that what you like is the same as what your customer will like.

You can build your email marketing list by creating opportunities for your customers to sign up to hear from you. This could include links or pop ups on your website, feedback forms or via social media advertising or posting. You could even add incentives for signing up like free shipping, a small discount, or going in a draw to win a prize.

Ensure you're maintaining your email marketing list properly in regards to unsubscribes and spam laws. Make sure you have permission to add someone to your email marketing list before you start sending them emails.


Think about what value customers will be getting from your email marketing campaign

Your customers are likely to get your email on their phone, while they are out and about. Consider that context, as well as what value you're adding to them when they receive it.

3. Consider your customers' needs

You've clarified what your goals are but it's also important to think about what the customer is getting out of your email marketing.

If your email - whether it is a newsletter or sales offer - adds value to them, they are more likely to engage with it and become loyal to your brand.

One way of adding value is through content. Many email marketing programs have easy-to-use templates that allow you to put in multiple images and text boxes. You can create a template you regularly update with things like links to articles or videos you might host on your website, or tips, advice and how-to guides you could feature in the email itself. This could become your company's newsletter.

'Email churn' - which means people choosing not to get your emails anymore - can be prompted by email marketing that is too heavily focused on sales messaging. Leading email marketing company Mailchimp says that concentrating on building an emotional connection with customers will lead to a more lasting relationship. "How can you meet your customers' wants and needs if you don't truly understand them?" they ask in their blog.

4. Use automation to deliver results

An email marketing program, such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor can help you focus on selling more and connecting better, and do the work for you through something called 'automation'.

This will involve you setting up emails for things like an 'abandoned cart' reminder (if you sell products online), feedback requests on sales purchases, happy birthday messages, repeat booking prompts or even just clarity for things like shipping confirmations.

Once you have created these emails, the program can do the communicating automatically for you, saving you time and still motivating sales. For example, if someone leaves a product in their cart (and has signed in online), you can make an automated email that prompts them to buy the product in an hour, and another one that prompts them again a day later - perhaps this time with an incentive like free shipping.

Another popular form of automation is called 'onboarding'. This requires creating a series of emails that helps people understand or better familiarise themselves with your business, or just strengthens their experience with you. You could create a number of 'onboarding' emails that are the same for everyone, and then transition your customer into your ongoing regular marketing activity, such as newsletters and offers.

5. It all starts with the subject line

The key role of the subject line is getting someone to open your email. Research has shown that on average, only one in four people tend to actually open an email, so your subject line has to work hard. Think about what would entice your customers to open your emails, or get inspired by some of these great subject lines.

Descriptive, clear subject lines tend to do well and shorter subject lines usually increase the chances of people opening your email. One of the most famous examples of this is a campaign email sent out for Barack Obama, which had a subject line of simply, "Hey" and brought in millions of donation dollars thanks to people opening the email - and then connecting with his request.

6. Make your emails work as hard as possible

Personalising your communication (which means using someone's name or focusing on a product they've shown interest in) delivers a strong response. The Obama email marketing mentioned above was well-respected for the way they did this, using people's names in subject lines (for example), made them feel like they were getting a message directly from Obama himself, written with them in mind. An email marketing program can do this for you too, if the customer has provided their name when they signed up.

"The two most powerful factors in a campaign are segmentation and personalisation," says Eckstein. "Segmentation is sending the relevant message to a subset of your subscriber list; for example there is no point sending people in Melbourne notification of a sale exclusively in your Sydney store. Personalisation is about greeting the recipient by name and possible other personal factors."

Take the time to create a template for your emails that is easily digestible and visually appealing - and that shows off your branding. It's important to make it easy for the customer to take action - whether that's reading a story, watching a video, booking a service or buying a product. Make sure you hyperlink or bold key words and actions, or use things like buttons to make the action clear and simple. It should be immediately obvious what you want the customer to do.

7. Use the experts - it's what they're there for

Email marketing programs make the job much easier for you - with automation, templates and the ability to use customer's names in subject lines and emails themselves.

They will also use their technical abilities to reach more of your customers. Eckstein says that quality email marketing services are built and maintained to ensure high delivery rates. "If you use your personal email account to send a large number of email messages, a large number of your messages will be stopped by spam filters and the like," he explains.

8. Measure, refine, and measure again

One of the best things about email marketing is that you can get so much data as a result - and this is especially so if you're using an email marketing program, which can even show you where people clicked in a specific email.

You can monitor how effective your email marketing is by tracking email open rates (how many people actually open your email) or clicks on hyperlinks in your emails. This will allow you to clarify your return on investment (ROI). Research shows that email has the highest ROI of any available marketing channel and is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter.

You can also do A/B testing in your email marketing, which means you can split your campaign down the middle and go with two totally different styles (one could be price focused and one could be product focused, for example), or even just differing subject headers to see which will deliver better results. (It's actually how Obama's team found out ‘Hey' would be more effective than any other greeting.)

There are time of day and day of the week recommendations for sending emails but that doesn't mean they will be the best fit for your business, so get testing and pay attention to the results. To give you some perspective of how you rank compared to other companies, Mailchimp has a list of email marketing benchmarks.

Tweaking and monitoring constantly will make your email marketing even more effective but if nothing else, pay attention to the clicks. It's important to know how many people are clicking on a link in the email itself. "A click in our email campaign to buy or contact us tells us that our recipients are engaged," says Eckstein.