We've all received the ubiquitous pornographic emails, or those promising riches if you open an account for someone in Burundi. Maybe that's what keeps many of us from pushing our businesses online—pushing our way into others' inboxes is often akin to a telemarketer's call during dinner. It's either ignored, or they might respond unhappily, right?
The truth is, no. Email marketing is on the rise: A survey of retail marketers by Forrester Research showed that messages sent to customer house lists yielded a 10 percent click-through rate. Of those who click, 2.5% buy. Unlike its print and web cousins, email marketing offers some possibilities that you may not have thought of, and an unprecedented way to reach potential and current customers alike. What's more, it can reach those folks you spoke to ages ago, but haven't had an opportunity to contact, with a legitimate and—if done well—engaging message.
Print vs. web
As a designer with strong roots in print, I'll never deny the power of a great printed piece. Whether direct mail or a leave-behind brochure, it's a physical reminder of your business. However, sheer cost often denies us the chance to send out monthly or weekly communications—which means our prospect lists are lying dormant. And that can equal thousands of dollars of business that passed you by, because your contacts simply weren't reminded of you. You can also see the results of these campaigns quickly, within hours and days of the first mailing. For mere cents on the dollar, individually addressed and targeted emails can reach your clients. Some examples:
- A restaurant sends out offers to its customers for slow-sales nights;
- An architect shares his latest buildings with past clients to spark repeat business;
- A school sends its new course offerings to past students.
Reach your market—wisely
You can create various messages and emails that will reach specific target markets—former clients, potential ones, or those within certain demographics, such as new home buyers or new businesses in certain zip codes.
But what do you say?
More than anything, you may worry about content. What can you say that others may be interested in? Even in an email, content still is king. Share pieces of interest relevant to your company [and your client base], or write articles that show your expertise in your field. Offer a deal to customers, or just share some personal anecdotes to which your clientele relates. Purchasing lists also has its own issues: If you buy one without knowing where it came from, you may inadvertently be contacting people who do not wish to be contacted. They may have signed up on a list, unaware that the company was reselling their contact information. Or, there are old addresses that bounce back, since the company hasn't "cleaned" their list in a while. Hence, you may run across some unqualified leads with some choice words for you and your business. It's important in these instances to know more about your list seller so you reach the right people, at the right time.
And how do you say it?
The question often comes down to text vs. email. The newsletter you may have received that led you to this article is both HTML and text, making it both readable for all viewers, and attractive to those who can view the design. Yet if you can't see the graphics, it doesn't become a liability to the message. This is the most important thing when communicating with your customers in any media: Let them know you can reach them, and tailor it to them.
The final pitch
Right now, it's probably not an issue of if you can do it, but when you will. Remember that Forrester Research statistic from above? Email marketing can yield a 10% click-through rate; on some lists, that number can range from 4-20%. What will that translate to for your business?
I won't deny the obvious pitch in this article. Forrester Research also showed in a recent survey that marketers who turn to email service bureaus with specialized expertise achieve purchase rates four times higher than marketers who keep all their email operations in-house. So our abilities can pay off not only in the long, but also in the short run, since results are often quickly visible.