Despite the rapid growth of social media as a popular communications channel, emails are still an effective way for businesses to connect with and distribute information to consumers. In the U.S., nearly 92% of online adults use the Internet to read and send emails. And with the growing number of smartphones in the U.S., many consumers have constant access to email. In fact, almost 90 million Americans read emails on a mobile device.
So to get a local expert’s point-of-view, we recently sat down with Ashley Ayan, Online Marketing Manager at ReachLocal, to discuss email best practices and how businesses should use email to connect with customers. She describes key elements and strategies for developing an email marketing campaign, from beginning to end.
Q: What is the first thing a business should consider when developing an email campaign?
A business should always define why they want to create an email campaign. If the answer is simply self-promotion, chances are it won’t be successful in today’s environment. People’s inboxes are often cluttered with emails, and if yours doesn’t offer something they want, then why should they read it? You need to provide your subscribers valuable info. A recent presentation by Marketing Sherpa provided this great example: anybody can sell water, but people today want much more than just plain water. They want bubbles and flavors. They want something different. You have to give them something they can’t get from anyone else. It’s the same with email marketing. Other business might talk about the same subjects as you, but you need to provide content uniquely targeted at your audience. So in addition to the goals you will set for your email marketing campaign, you also want to focus your strategy on building a relationship with your subscribers and providing them with valuable information.
Q: How can a business build an audience?
There are many different ways to build audience. If the business has a physical store, they can ask people to sign up in the store. They can also identify their best and most satisfied customers to receive emails. If they have a high-traffic website, they can advertise their email subscription for newsletters, deals, or offers on the pages that have the most visibility.
If a business does not have a physical store, or wants to reach a larger audience, they may need to partner with stronger organizations and showcase their business when developing a new audience. They can then build an opt-in through an email marketing service provider and begin to build a subscription list. For example, a lawn care provider might ask to promote their business in a homeowner association’s newsletter to tap into that existing audience. Those subscribers see the lawn care service’s announcement or advertisement and click for more information. When the consumer visits the lawn care website they would see a call to action asking them to sign up to receive emails with news, tips, and special offers. This is a great way to start building your list from scratch.
It may be obvious, but when using this strategy for audience building, it is important to partner with companies who share the same values as your company and that are relevant to your business. You’re not just trying to collect a list of names; that’s why you certainly don’t want to go and buy a list. That’s not your goal. Your goal is to identify people who want the kind of information you’re providing or would like to build a relationship with you, because these are more likely to become a customer of your business. It doesn’t matter if you have 1,000 people in your list if they are not engaging with you. If you have 100 subscribers who are heavily involved with your business or your content, those 100 are far more valuable. So don’t worry about the quantity, worry more about the quality of your list.
Q: What type of content works best in emails?
What emails include – video, images, special content – depends completely on the audience. And for local businesses, nobody knows their audience better than the business owner. But because every audience’s wants and interests are different, you should always test to see what works best for your subscribers and what the audience responds to. And your audience changes over time, so don’t test once and think you’ve got the answers. Keep testing to see if preferences change, and adjust the content in the emails to match. Your email reflects the personality of your brand – do you want to be the brand that listens and provides a good conversation or just the one who talks without paying attention to anything your audience says?
Another very important thing to consider and monitor is how many of your consumers are accessing your email through a smartphone. Some forms of email content, like large images, may take longer to load on a mobile device. So, for those who are checking email on the go, they might not have the patience to wait for that. This doesn’t mean you can’t have images – images are a great way to attract customers and add interest to emails. Just make sure you optimize your emails so that they are mobile friendly. And, if you are doing mobile-friendly emails, make sure that your website is mobile-friendly also. For example, I once worked on a project that utilized QR codes in emails. QR codes are very accessible from smartphones. But if a QR code directs smartphone readers to a website that is not mobile-friendly, your efforts may be wasted.
Q: How can a business determine if their email marketing is successful?
Regardless of how great the content of your emails is, you’re going to lose some of your audience over time. This is just a natural cycle in email marketing. That’s why tracking and measuring email performance is important. Different email marketing platforms offer different types of email analytics, so make sure to consider the capability to track your emails when you choose a service provider. Ultimately, an email is successful if it achieves your goal, which is why identifying that goal up front is critical. Generating revenue, attracting more people to your subscription list, driving more people into your store, increasing positive reviews online – whatever your goal is, you should define up front what value you want to give your customers and what you want them to do in return, and then find ways to measure this.
When you do look at tactical metrics such as click-through rates, bounce rates, and unsubscribe numbers, remember that your audience, your market, and your business are all unique. So there’s no standard you should compare yourself to other than yourself. As a business owner, you always want to improve upon your own metrics. So, make sure to regularly benchmark your results, and every time you make a change to a component of your email strategy, check your analytics to see if it hurt or improved performance.
Q: What kind of follow-up should a business do after they start sending emails?
First, it’s important to understand your responsibility to comply with CAN-SPAM law. For example, if someone unsubscribes from your list after receiving your email marketing, you can’t continue sending email marketing to them. To make this process manageable, select an email marketing platform that will help you manage subscriptions to remain compliant with the law.
It’s also important to regularly ask your current subscribers what content they are interested in so you can keep your messages highly relevant to them. For example, try a survey so you can get feedback directly from your audience.
Q: Any last tips or suggestions?
For a successful email marketing program, it’s important to find the right email marketing service provider and make sure you have the time and resources to manage it. Make time up front to understand your audience, and regularly adjust your messaging based on what they want from you. Emails are no longer a source of one-way communication, so focus your strategy on building relationships rather than using the “spray and pray” mentality of blasting out a message and hoping people respond positively. Today, people want targeted, tailored messaging, so build a program that allows you to provide that.
Ashley Ayan is the Online Marketing Manager at ReachLocal. She has a background in IT, programming, SEO, website development, and online marketing.