With all the progress being made in online marketing techniques and hype surrounding social media, it seems we, as business owners have forgotten the power of email marketing. I often have to remind myself and my clients that email marketing is one of the best ways to get a direct, effective messages to customers. If done well, an email marketing campaign can bring big returns.

email marketing @ symbolIs email marketing still relevant? Absolutely! To an extent, email marketing acts as a stand-in for sales staff in the real world. It keeps you in touch with prospective customers who have expressed an interest, but who haven’t yet made the leap to buying your products and services. It’s a way to be in direct contact with your customers, at a much lower cost than direct mail. To be effective though, email marketing has to be done right. You can’t skimp on your software, and you have to have the right email list to start with – as well as maintain it properly.

Here are a few tips on how email can be used most effectively as part of your online marketing efforts:

  1. Don’t just buy your list. The first major mistake businesses make with email marketing is simply buying a list. It may sound like a short-cut, but buying a list doesn’t guarantee that the people on it are expecting to hear from you and you can easily annoy recipients.
  2. Steer away from web scraping. There’s another issue at hand with using an email list not constructed from direct customer contact, and it’s a legal one. Some lists are constructed through web scraping i.e. copying email addresses from web sites – a technique that is definitely to be avoided if you don’t want to find yourself in legal trouble.
  3. Genuine contacts are more valuable than cold calls. The best way to build an email list is to have potential clients volunteer their email addresses. This kind of list puts you in touch with people who are likely to react well to your marketing message. Include a form on your own site to gather emails. Most businesses find that offering something of value, like an industry report, white paper or a discount club, is sufficient enticement to get fresh leads to sign up.
  4. Don’t just use Outlook. Outlook can be a handy internal business tool, but for contacting customers it just doesn’t cut it. This leads me to my email checklist…

Email software – what should you look for?

  1. Style and substance. The main problem I have with Outlook is that it simply looks bad, but there’s a more practical reason behind my avoidance of the program. Outlook has many flaws, one of which is how easy it is to mistakenly publish your whole email list. As your customers’ privacy should be tantamount, it’s best to invest in software you can rely on.
  2. Slick looks. It can help to have a professional marketer or designer draw up your email template. Technology has advanced far enough now that a plain text email looks shabby.
  3. Reporting capabilities. This is absolutely essential to an email campaign. You need to see stats as they come in so you can measure the effectiveness of each campaign. As a minimum, your chosen software should be able to tell you how many times your campaign has been opened, by whom, how many times and what if anything they clicked on. Ideally it should also link up to your Google Analytics reporting so you can track people through your site to sale too.
  4. Reputation. As always, only use reputable companies who are white-listed with the major ISPs. This ensures your emails stand the maximum chance of being delivered as without this they’re likely to end up caught in spam filters and junk folders.

Is email a major investment?

How much you pay for email marketing will largely depend on the set-up of the company you choose to work with, so do your research. Many email marketing companies will charge a few thousand pounds to design, run and manage your whole campaign. This is probably acceptable of you have large lists with complex segmentation and dispatch numerous campaigns each month. Other companies offer pay-per-use services, but require a monthly management fee so think carefully if you’re not planning to use the service every month.

Paying just for the services you use is the ideal so you can control your investment over time. There are many web-based companies that offer this kind of service – you pay just a few pounds when you send a campaign with no monthly retainer. A word of caution though, do make sure that they comply with the checklist above as there maybe a very good reason that they’re so cheap, some put advertising on your emails to offset the cost. Above all make sure you get what you pay for and the company you use understands your business’ requirements.

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