In today's marketplace, small businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to boost profits by reinforcing their online and offline assets with a complementary e-mail marketing strategy. We've discussed earlier how a well-designed website alone doesn't ensure online sales success (see " Customer Relationships Bring Big Profits to Small Retailers "). By the same token, business owners who market their websites and physical stores separately are missing a perfect opportunity to drive traffic to and from both. It's a marriage made in retail heaven--but only if you tie the knot.

E-mail marketing provides an easy and effective way to make sure you're first on your customers' minds when they're ready to make a purchase; whether it's driving by your storefront on the way home from work or surfing your website from their computer. The key is to make sure your brand is reinforced in both spaces--online and offline. Start thinking about how your brand fits across boundaries and how you can connect them. How do you tell your customers the different ways they can buy from you? For example:

  • Your online shop lists the location and hours of your physical stores. One idea is to create an online "preferred customer program" that offers special coupons for web visitors to print out and redeem when they shop at your physical store.
  • Your offline store could encourage shoppers to visit your online store. Start by gathering e-mail addresses at the checkout counter and printing your web address on receipts, shopping bags, brochures, business cards--even delivery trucks.

E-mail marketing is the handshake that opens both doors and welcomes customers in.

Show Your Customers Who Loves Them Most
The most important thing is to remind the customers who love your products that you're there and ready for their business, both online and offline. E-mail marketing is the tool that keeps you top-of-mind and stimulates purchases via direct promotions and simple reminders. Here are three ways e-mail marketing can integrate online and offline business:

  • E-mail closes the geographic divide. Say you own a Boston handbags boutique where I bought a great new purse, thanks to an e-mail you sent me highlighting a local designer's creations. My friend visiting from Tucson loved my bag, so next time I'll forward your promotional e-mail to her so she can order the same designer purse from your website. Online brings cool stuff from your offline locale to distant customers' doorsteps.
  • E-mail reminds customers you're there. Stimulate purchases through reminders. I may get e-mail from my favorite restaurant. I may do nothing but glance at it, but that e-mail plants a seed. Then if my husband says "Let's go out to dinner," I recall your e-mail, which brings my memory of your grilled salmon out of deep storage, and next thing you know, we're pulling into your parking lot. Without your online e-mail to drive our offline dining decision, we might have stayed in and ordered takeout. Online can stimulate offline traffic.
  • E-mail fills stores (or tables, or appointment slots) on otherwise slow days. We have a client in New York City who runs a clothing store. When he wants to bring in business, he does a "preferred customers only" online promotion with a coupon to print out for 10 percent off anything in the store. He e-mails his customers and that otherwise slow night becomes one of the top sales days of his month. Likewise, a California spa sends a last-minute e-mail to tell customers about cancellations that have just opened up appointment slots. The phone starts ringing with people who want a massage. The customers are delighted and the spa has a full datebook again. Online can drive offline service delivery.

And Don't Forget the Data!
The other great thing about connecting your online and offline presence via e-mail is the fact that your online presence can give far richer data about what interests your customers. Say I have a sporting goods store that sells golf, tennis and ski equipment. I collect e-mail addresses in the store. If you buy from me online, I can track that you buy ski equipment, so I'm more likely to strike a chord with you if I send you ski promotions rather than golf promotions. In addition, e-mail marketing can let customers click on a quick form to "Tell us what interests you." Your online e-mail marketing capability lets you target customers' interests far better than with offline alone, ensuring more relevant communications.

Customers have different comfort levels. Some prefer to shop in a physical store. Other web-savvy ones enjoy the ability to shop online. E-mail marketing is an easy way to let your customers know they have multiple purchasing options. That increases satisfaction and loyalty. The goal is to remind them to buy from you, whether they're driving down the street, web surfing in their pajamas, or some gotta-have-it-now combo that means more sales for you. And as we all know, sales are sales--whether they come online or offline. Remind your customers you're in both places and watch your sales grow.