When it comes to finding new customers and marketing to existing ones, email can be more effective than social media. Acquiring new customers via email marketing has quadrupled since 2009 and now comprises some 7.5 percent of all gained customers, according to a recent report from Custora, a New York City-based marketing analytics firm.
If your business isn't tapping into email marketing yet, you could be missing out on attracting new customers. There are many relatively affordable and user-friendly email marketing services available to help you create, send and track email campaigns. But which one is right for your company?
Here are 10 key questions to ask when searching for an email marketing solution:
1. What does my company want to achieve with email marketing?
Clearly defining your goals can help you determine which email marketing solution is best for your business, says Simms Jenkins, author of The New Inbox: Why Email Marketing is the Digital Marketing Hub in a Social & Mobile World (Incisive Media, 2013) and chief executive of BrightWave Marketing, an Atlanta-based digital marketing agency.
If you're an online or brick-and-mortar retailer looking to drive the majority of sales via email, consider an all-in-one email marketing solution like iContact or Benchmark Email. Both go beyond enabling you to create, send and track basic promotional emails and customer surveys. They also let you email coupons that can drive up sales.
Or, if your company is an events-based business that hosts conferences, parties and meetings, you might opt for a provider like MailChimp. The popular service integrates Eventbrite digital invitation features to help you get the word out about upcoming events.
2. What are the costs?
Pricing is generally billed monthly and is proportionate to the total number of email subscribers you have, Simms says. Prices typically range between $8 and $14 per month for 500 contacts, $16 to $32 per month for 2,500 contacts and $89 and $300 per month for 25,000 contacts. Most providers let you send an unlimited number of emails per month, but a few don't, so you'll want to double-check.
Many email marketing providers offer free trial periods, often lasting between 30 and 60 days. These include GetResponse, iContact, Constant Contact, Emma and a dozen or so others. If you want a no-cost solution, Mailchimp enables you to send up to 12,000 emails per month for free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. For businesses with 100 or fewer subscribers, Emma lets you send 600 emails per month for free.
3. How can I encourage people to sign up for my company's emails?
Simply ask them to sign up whenever you interact with them in-person or on the phone. Or, better yet, ask when they're making a purchase, says Dave Walters, product evangelist at Silverpop, an Atlanta-based digital marketing solutions provider.
Most email marketing providers "worth their salt" will allow you to upload your email address lists directly from your own databases, Walters says. To capture more email subscribers over time, choose a provider that offers customizable email signup forms that you can incorporate into your company website and Facebook page.
4. Should I design my emails using a template or pay for a custom design?
Most of the better-known services, like MailChimp and Constant Contact, offer wide selections of free, professionally-designed templates to choose from that often don't require HTML to customize with your company's logos and colors.
Several providers, including one like ExactTarget, can help you blend graphics and design themes from your existing marketing materials into their products when you use them. ExactTarget also offers email design consulting services for a premium
5. Will I need help planning my email campaign strategy?
If you need a leg up getting your first email campaign off the ground, or you're looking to build a focused, long-term email campaign strategy, select a provider that offers professional campaign consulting services. These include: iContact, ExactTarget, Constant Contact and others. Custom campaign strategy services come at added cost, which is often only shared by contacting the provider.
6. How can I be sure my emails will appear properly no matter what device or platform people view them on?
Your subscribers will be reading your emails from a variety of devices -- laptops, smartphones, tablets -- and from several different email services. To increase the likelihood that the images and text appear properly, choose an email marketing provider that allows you to preview what each of your email campaigns will look like in the email clients and on the devices your subscribers most commonly use.
For mobile optimization, opt for a provider like Emma, iContact, MailChimp or GetResponse. These offer mobile-optimized templates that help your emails appear properly on tablets and smartphones.
7. Will I want social-media elements built into my email marketing campaigns?
If the content in your email message resonates with your subscribers, Walters says, you want them to tell their social-media networks about it, furthering your brand reach.
Embedding linked buttons to your company's Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social-media accounts can boost your exposure to new audiences who could have similar purchasing patterns as your email subscribers. Most providers offer social features, including Constant Contact, ActiveCampaign and MailChimp.
8. How do I choose the images I use?
When it comes to what types of images to use, choose crisp, visually-compelling images that tell your brand story. You'll also want to showcase the products or services you're promoting. ModCloth, an online clothing retailer, emails its subscribers eye-catching emails that feature playful photos of their latest fashions with links to where to buy each item on their main website.
You should be able to upload and host your images and files for all of your email campaigns on your provider's servers at no extra cost, Jenkins says.
9. What level of customer support should my company expect?
Several of the top-tier email marketing services that cater to small businesses offer free phone support along with online chat, email interaction, comprehensive FAQs and free video product tutorials.
Jenkins advises choosing a provider that offers phone and web chat with live and knowledgeable customer service people -- not just an automated system. Around-the-clock phone support is paramount, he says, when you can't log in to your account, for example, or an email campaign won't deliver.
10. What types of analytics will measure the effectiveness of my campaigns?
Most email marketing providers provide free, self-service analytics and reporting tools. These tell you how many people are opening your emails, which links they're clicking on and how many emails they forward to others.
They should also let you view how many people unsubscribed and how many email addresses weren't valid, plus how many emails weren't delivered and why. Tracking which emails are most engaging and most often shared can help you learn which types of content best resonate with your subscribers.