The What, How, and Why of Email Marketing

Building an audience and loyal following for your brand or store is critical to your success. Harnessing the power of social media is an important tactic, but nothing is more direct and personal than effective email marketing. Not only does it help you capture the attention of potential customers, it also helps you tap into your biggest asset, your existing customer base.

Many businesses make the mistake of spending all of their marketing efforts trying to grow their customer base rather than work on maximizing the potential from the people already placing orders through their store. If your customers are ordering an average of $50 worth of products a month, what can you be doing to make it $100? What can you do to get them to voluntarily spread the word about your store to their friends or family members?

All of the best stores and businesses out there capitalize on this. They get their existing customers coming back more often, spending more, and recommending their products to everyone willing to listen. Working to grow your customer count is still extremely important – the point is that you must recognize the benefits of both approaches. Effective email marketing campaigns can allow you to do both.

What is Email Marketing?

Although it’s fairly obvious, it’s worth mentioning. Email marketing is the business action of using email messages to broadcast commercial information to lists of subscribers, customers, and potential customers. The emails are often in a stylistic-template form and generalized to the entire audience; although they can sometimes be personalized for better results.

Email marketing is used to increase sales, gain new customers, spread information, and enhance your brand. It can be tricky especially now that email is often filtered for spam, consumers are overly bombarded with commercial emails, and social media gets more attention than email. But even though it can be difficult, it’s still considered one of the most effective methods of marketing; if done correctly.

Examples of effective Email Marketing

  • Offering promotions to new customers: Your email lists may contain a large number of potential customers who were interested enough in your store or business but haven’t yet placed an order. There could be many reasons for this. Perhaps they even wanted to but have since forgotten about your products or services. Remind them with a generous offer for new customers to urge them to make their first purchase. Try something like 15% off and/or free shipping.
  • Broadcasting information about sales and promotions: This is very similar to the previous example, but made available to everyone on your email lists. The more creative you can be the better. People love to feel like they were able to get a good deal. Try offering promotions and bundles so people order more than they normally would, but still get a deal. For example, buy 3 and get 1 free, or 10% off orders over $100. This works when there’s a big shopping holiday around the corner. You might remember receiving a number of promotional e-mails yourself during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend.
  • Start a social media conversation: Getting people engaged around your brand can be extremely effective (and very inexpensive). This requires great creativity in order to be effective. Try igniting a debate – look for topics people have strong opinions about and have the urge to discuss (but stay away from sensitive topics like religion, politics, etc). Have people pick sides and defend their position. Ask your customers to share their funniest pictures using your products. Start an interesting or amusing conversation on sites like Facebook and Twitter and you’ll drive major attention to your brand. All of the big retailers are doing this very effectively. Pay attention to how they get you to speak up.
  • Offer incentives to share: Sharing promotions are a great way to spread the word and increase sales. Offer your customers a credit or percentage off their next order if they refer a friend to sign up on your email list or make a purchase. This may require some technology on your site to support it, but it’s worth the time to get the systems needed in place.
  • Contests and giveaways: Everyone loves getting (or trying to get) free stuff. Start a contest that offers free products or free credit to the winner(s). Just like the other examples, creativity is what counts the most. Ask people to make submissions on your site or social media page – perhaps ask what would you buy and for whom as a present for the upcoming holiday (the best answer wins). Or, post a video or picture of you making the most use of a given product, etc. The options are endless. If contests aren’t a fit for your store, just offer freebies and giveaways. Get a free sample of something with every order. Spend $50 and get a free bag.
  • Survey to gain insight: There’s a lot to be learned from your audience (customers and non-customers). Not asking for their feedback is a major mistake. The worst thing that can happen is that they simply don’t offer any. Find out why your customers chose your store and your products. Find out why some decided to shop elsewhere. Maybe you want to know if your website can be improved or made easier to use. Why aren’t they ordering more frequently? The people most willing to offer their feedback are either those who had horrible experiences and want to complain, or people who had great experiences and want to either praise you or help you get even better; both are equally as important. Don’t pass up this resource you have.
  • Announce new products: This is quite obvious. You introduce new products to your store and you want to let your customers know about them so they can place their orders. Don’t be shy! Let them know what is new.
  • Share useful content: Most stores have a blog or some form of content library related to the industry they are in. Writing informative content as much as you can is a great way to get an interested audience and gain authority. This is especially useful if your products require a bit of research and learning; but it works great for anything. Whenever you post something new and informative, let your customers know about it so they can read it and share it online.

Growing your email lists

Putting all of this focus on email marketing and campaigns isn’t going to do any good if you don’t have anyone to email. Here are some tips to help grow your email list:

  • Have a blog: Filling your site with relevant, useful content is one of the best ways to obtain and grow an audience. Write as often as you can. Think about what your viewers and community are interested in. Think about what they want to learn about. Become the authority on the market that your business is in. Be sure to make it easy for people viewing your blog to sign up for your email newsletter.
  • Use a widget throughout your site or store: When people are browsing products, allow them to sign up for emails about new products and sales. When customers create an account or checkout, allow them to easily opt-in for email communications. Try to integrate the experience seamlessly without being too intrusive.
  • Leverage your social media audience: If you already have captured the attention of customers through social media, remind them to sign up for emails to get the latest products and deals.
  • Respect privacy: Spam is really annoying. Just the thought of it can make people shy away from anything related to email. Make sure you let your audience know that you respect their privacy, will not sell or distribute their personal information, and will allow them to easily unsubscribe if they wish to.
  • Offer incentives: Try offering something like free shipping on your next order or $5 off if a customer signs up for email communications.
  • Keep frequency low: No one wants to get their inboxes filled up. Would you like it if a business sent you 6 emails a day? You’d probably unsubscribe after the third. Keep the frequency of your emails low so as to not annoy your audience in to unsubscribing. Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Focus on quality: Don’t email your entire list just to say hi. Make sure you’re sending quality information that your customers will find useful and interesting. Make them look forward to your next message, not annoyed by it. My two favorite newsletters aren’t from companies that offer products, but the examples are still valid. Yelp sends me an email about every two or three weeks about cool places to eat in my neighborhood around a certain genre: like tacos. Seamless lets me know every few weeks about the newest or most-popular restaurants to order from near me. Both contain information I probably don’t know, want to know, and can act on right away.

How to get started

By now, you should have a solid understanding about what can be done to effectively market through email and which tactics you can and should be using for your business or store. Getting started is the next step. We highly recommend not trying to tackle the technology on your own – it will take too long, be very difficult, most likely be unimpressive, and you have to worry about CAN-SPAM laws and regulations.

Instead, go with a business that specializes in online email marketing software. Right now, we’re recommending Constant Contact. There are a lot of alternatives and we’ll be posting more alternatives once we get a chance to get our hands on them. Online applications like Constant Contact are inexpensive (starting at around $15 a month), very easy to use, flexible, can produce beautiful emails, offer full analytics, reporting, and tracking, and much more. If you’re struggling to decide between the many options, have a look at our guide on how to pick an e-mail marketing service.

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