E-mail marketing is an easy and cost-effective way for anyone to reach their target audience. We've seen it work for all kinds of small businesses, franchises and other entrepreneurs as well as organizations, nonprofits and associations. As we've watched e-mail marketing help thousands of businesses grow, we've discovered some common traits that differentiate good e-mail marketers from great e-mail marketers.
Successful e-mail marketers:
1. Know Their Audience. As you move from being a good e-mail marketer to a great one, you learn things about your audience along the way. It's a mix of targeting, segmentation and relevant content. Say a sporting-goods store e-mails a promotion on kayaks, canoes and accessories to its entire list. Hikers and cyclists might not care and won't open the e-mail. "Batch, blast and run" is not a desirable approach. But if the same sporting-goods store segments its general list into boaters, hikers and cyclists--now they've got the basis for three targeted mailings based on customers' interests.
Segmenting can divide groups by other characteristics, too. Are you a prospective customer, a casual buyer or a VIP club member? Profiling can occur on different levels as you get to know your customers' needs, interests and how they interact with your business.
Quality wins out over quantity. To put it another way: List size doesn't matter. It's about targeting meaningful content to smaller audiences .
2. Give Subscribers Valuable Content. Successful e-mail marketers provide a mix of informational and promotional content that shows their expertise and offers useful or entertaining advice or insights. Treat customers special. Don't always ask for the order; give something back. A savvy wine merchant doesn't just advertise specials, but offers a short article on why this year's French Beaujolais are so fabulous. Useful, little hints and tips are appreciated, making it likely that you are the go-to business when the customer is ready to buy. Coupons, sales alerts and advance peeks at new merchandise are all valuable. Just be sure to mix in some interesting content that'll separate your e-mails from the other promotions bombarding customers' in-boxes. Become a trusted advisor and your e-mails will always be welcomed.
3. Have a Goal for Each Campaign. Know why you're sending an e-mail and what you want to happen. A clear "call to action" produces the best results. As I mentioned above, it's not always about making a sale. I know an HR consultant who sends a monthly tip just to stay connected to customers. The whole reason for sending the e-mail is relationship building.
Make sure your call to action is placed "above the fold" and doesn't get lost amid other links, copy and graphics. It may be a click to buy something, sign up for a service, fill out a form, read an article or get more information, visit your website or store, or call for a consultation. Yes, sometimes you'll judge your success based on open rates, click-throughs and sales. But often it's how much the phone rings after you've sent your campaign. Your goal is to make sales and engage your audience, cultivating relationships while respecting customers' time and privacy.
4. Adhere to the Basics of Best Practice. Permission is more than polite; it's the mantra of all legitimate e-mail marketers. It's a commandment. And it's the law. Get permission before putting any name you've collected on your e-mail list. Make sure your "From" line includes your business name, and your "Subject" line is specific and free of screaming CAPS and exclamation points. Let them know who it's coming from and why they should open the e-mail. We're living in a world of information overload, where only thoughtful, welcomed e-mails have a chance of breaking through the static. For more on best practice, see " Creating Spam-Free E-Mail ."
5. Pay Attention to Their Reports. E-mail marketing offers wonderful, real-time intelligence on the people reading your e-mails. Take the time to review your tracking and subscriber reports and see what's working and what's not. Experiment with segmented lists and subject lines. Write new content. Solicit reader feedback. Respect unsubscribes. Read up on industry trends and set goals for your own improvement.
Great e-mail marketers make e-mail marketing part of their ongoing business plans. They strive to learn more about their customers and e-mail marketing best practices. They pay attention to their reports and try new things to improve their campaigns. They avoid common mistakes. If these top five traits seem like a lot to accomplish, set a goal to work on one a month for the next five months. Before you know it, you'll go from good to great, and your customers and clients will thank you.
Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.