Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Email Marketing - Free and Easy or Spam City?

As we continue the discussion of how advertising works differently in different media, we enter into the new, scary online world of Email, Websites, and Social Media.

Today's topic is Email.

At a fraction of the cost of direct mail and with the availability of templates and email services, many consider Email to be the easiest, most inexpensive way to reach your customers multiple times with multiple offers and tons of information. Some call it the perfect solution to more costly traditional advertising.

And in many ways, they would be right. Here are some of the inherent advantages of Email Marketing.
  • It is relatively inexpensive to use. Constant Contact, one of the largest email services, offers plans as low as $15 per month, and only $30 per month for lists up to 2500 emails. That's $360 per year, or the equivalent of 818 first class stamps.
  • You can do it as often as you like at no additional charge.
  • It is quick. Within minutes of hitting the send button your Email is in the inbox of your recipients.
  • It is easy. You can write, edit, format, add pictures, do surveys and more with just a minimal amount of computer skills.
  • You can track your results quickly. Three simple ways to track the ROI include: How many emails get opened? (Is this number growing or shrinking?) How many coupons were used? How many people are subscribing/unsubscribing? If your list keeps growing, people are finding value in the info you send.
Email might be one of the best ways to utilize the new technologies to grow your business. But you have to cross a few hurdles to get there.

First, there is the list. Where did it come from? Who is on it? Do the people on the list want to get your email? To be successful, your email list has to be permission-based. It has to be people who gave you permission to send them stuff, people who want to hear from you. Otherwise, you're just sending spam and making people angry at you.

How do you get a good list? By asking for it. Put a fishbowl on your counter and ask customers if they want to sign up. Offer a $25 gift certificate drawn monthly for anyone who signs up that month. Put a link on your website (Wait, you don't have a website? We'll discuss that next). Put it on your Facebook page, register receipt and front door. Ask, ask, ask.

Second, you have to commit to sending out regular emails and checking your list regularly for accuracy. How often should you send out an email? Some people say weekly, others say daily. I say, whenever you have something new to say. At the very least, say something once a month so that the people on your list don't forget about you. At the very most, say something new EVERY time you send an email. And check for bounce backs. If an email address doesn't work, delete it.

Third, you have to have a thick skin. People will unsubscribe to your email for a variety of reasons and you'll get a report of it. You can't take it personally. But if too many people unsubscribe, either you have a bad list, or you're sending out a bad email (probably both). Tweak your message and see what happens.

The bottom line is that Email can be an extremely successful marketing tool if you follow these simple practices:
  • Get a good list. Get permission up front and let people know what they are signing up to receive. Grow your list by asking everyone everywhere if they are interested.
  • Use a professional service to send your email. I use Constant Contact, but there are other services. The professional services have templates for you to use, know how to avoid spam filters, ensure that you use best practices such as unsubscribe notifications, and can manage your lists more efficiently than you ever could.
  • Add pictures to your emails. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but images are eye-catching and interesting. They also help the people who just like to skim and scan move from topic to topic.
  • Make the content fresh and new. Say something new with every email. It doesn't have to be a discount or coupon, but it does have to be fresh and new and consistent with your Character Diamond.
  • Send it out often enough to be remembered but not so often as to be annoying.
  • Measure the ROI. Is your list growing or shrinking? Are more or less people opening each email? Are coupons and special offers being used? If the ROI is not good, keep tweaking the message until it turns around.
If you have the time to write the copy, you have the time to send out Emails. And at the current rates, it is an affordable way for you to reach your loyal customers often and keep them coming back regularly.

If you can grow a good list, you should definitely be doing Email Marketing.

Do you agree or disagree?

PS Sign up for the Toy House Email Newsletter at http://www.toyhouseonline.com/.

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