Email sounds almost antiquated in the world of mobile and social media, but it remains one of the most cost effective ways of reaching and retaining customers.
The best practices in email marketing can be applied to the local level. What makes the local level unique is the smaller audience and the cost limitations for the marketing budget in a typical local business.
While the potential for a small audience sounds discouraging, it takes only one lead that buys a house to produce a substantial commission for the Realtor who handles the sale.
It takes only one lead that buys the new car to deliver another substantial commission for the auto dealer salesperson and a nice profit for the dealer itself.
The best practices in email marketing are fairly simple and widely accepted. Success comes with implementing them correctly, consistently andpatiently.
Doing it correctly is harder than it sounds because so many businesses get misled by bad advice, such as buying any old list of email addresses and assuming they will deliver results. More often than not, a bad list will deliver bad results – usually in the form of unsubscribes and spamming complaints.
The word consistently is important because it seems to be hard for many businesses to do. They get distracted, discouraged by the results or find other priorities require more of their time. That’s why working on it patiently is so important in the long run.
Best practices can be organized under six main principles:
- Identify the audience target.
- Develop the email list.
- Brainstorm the incentive.
- Create the email.
- Manage the delivery.
- Track the results.
1. Identify the Audience
Audiences often are segmented topically, geographically or demographically, even at the local level. It is an absolute necessity of modern marketing.
Think of the sections of a local newspaper because they are based on decades of trial and error by the newspapers to understand what their readers want. Sections often include news, sports, weather, entertainment, travel, recreation, obituaries, weddings, engagements, cars, jobs, homes, merchandise, yard sales and more.
A sporting goods store might do something as simple as develop and sponsor a little league newsletter that goes out once a week with scores and standings. A Realtor could produce a monthly newsletter of home sales within a community, zip code or even a neighborhood.
That idea leads to targeting geographically, which matters greatly to a store with a limited reach in a specific area. People rarely drive 50 miles to a restaurant if one that is just as good is only a few miles away. So a local restaurant might decide that it wants to focus its promotional effort on a few zip codes or even just one.
What if the restaurant is high end with a dress code and the kind of prices that appeal only to upper income diners?
Now the focus becomes demographic – a way of targeting that is based on income, age, gender or other characteristics.
A men’s clothing store of course cares about appealing to men; a babies clothing store is more likely to appeal to women.
2. Developing the List
Rule #1: Don’t buy a list if you are new to email marketing. Buying a list sounds like a quick and simple way to get started. Instead, it’s a quick and simple way to discredit the business. Many lists are often developed with questionable means.
Permission-based marketing is an important concept that says, in effect, I am giving you my email to use for the purpose you describe and only that purpose.
Sending an email newsletter to someone who didn’t specifically subscribe to it is called spamming and in extreme cases will subject the business to fines and even jail for the perpetrator.
In less extreme cases, people can file abuse complaints with the vendor who provides the email service or even with Internet backbones such as Verizon that can lead them to ban the business.
What are the best ways to acquire email subscribers? There are only a small number of tactics, and they require a great deal of time and patience.
Build a signup form on the company Web site.
Post links to that form on the company’s social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus.
If there is an opportunity for someone to fill out a form in the store, include a box for the customer’s email address.
It is worth mentioning that building a high-quality list takes a long time. It also is worth mentioning that the typical list won’t have thousands of email addresses but rather hundreds and maybe only dozens. But they will be among the most loyal, lucrative and important customers of the business.
3. Brainstorm the Creative
A great effort at developing an email list won’t produce results without giving those potential subscribers a great reason to sign up in the first place.
In the examples higher in this article, someone may sign up for a list of neighborhood home sales because they want to track the value of their house or because they are thinking about selling soon.
Several hundred or even a few thousand parents may sign up for the little league newsletter not because of the sponsoring business but because they just want to track league results.
That’s the enticement, but the sponsoring business maintains a high profile in the newsletter because its name and maybe its logo are present in every email.
Coupons have always been a big enticement in local email marketing. They work especially well when a large group of businesses provide multiple coupons.
Email Marketing Services
Email marketing services are easy to find by doing an Internet search on those keywords. Some of the largest include:
- Constant Contact
4. Create the Email
The subject line is the most important words in the entire email.
Write a great subject line, and many people will open it. Write a boring subject line, and far fewer people will open it. It has a major impact on what is known as the “open rate” or percentage of people who receive an email that actually open it (usually 20 to 30 percent of the total).
Think of the subject line as being like a headline in a newspaper or magazine. Spend as much time as necessary making it both accurate and an attention getter.
The best email marketer I ever met had a fantastic success rate with signing up subscribers. She was good at it because of her personality – creative, a great sense of humor and an enteraining style of writing.
She made the subject line and the content of every email a personal expression of herself, almost as if she was writing directly to an old friend rather than to 6,000 people she didn’t know.
The lesson here is to make the email creative, informative, entertaining, funny, personal, quirky or whatever suits the business and the personality of the person writing it.
One of the most important goals for sending email newsletters is getting people to click on the links in the email to go to a Web site, read content, make purchases, etc.
The important metric here is called the “click rate” or percent of people who click within an email to undertake some desirable action. A decent click rate is usually in the range of 5 to 10 percent of all sent emails, although it varies for each email.
One way to increase the click rate is to make sure the most important and interesting links are located near the top of the email because people often don’t scroll far.
Photos and Graphics
Many email newsletters don’t have just text. They also have photos or graphics. But they are a mixed blessing.
Some estimates put the number of photos and graphics blocked by email services or email settings as high as 50 percent of the total. It’s an important number of know and should at least limit the need to add more than just a few photos and graphics.
In my experience, photos and graphics have only a minor impact on the click rate within an email. The quality of the image is one of the more important considerations. Make sure to place it nearest the links to draw attention to them and increase the click rate.
5. Manage the Delivery
Managing the delivery of an email newsletter usually means making decisions on the frequency and time of day.
The frequency can be daily, weekly or monthly, but the choice comes down to the kind of content being delivered and how often the audience wants it.
A weather or news email often goes out once a day. A coupon email may go out once a week or once a month. The typical local retail business email is more likely to go out monthly.
It is safest to choose a conservative schedule and gradually increase the frequency rather than the other way around. if the frequency increases and so do the subscriber cancellations, it indicates the email is being sent too often or the content is not valuable enough to track.
The best days to send an email during the week are usually Tuesdays through Thursdays because people are less productive at work, work shorter hours or are more likely to take a day off on Mondays and Fridays.
The time of day is an easier choice to make. The best delivery time is usually mid-morning to mid afternoon.
6. Track the Results
Part of what makes email effective is the ability to track results.
As mentioned above, target an open rate of 20 to 30 percent and a click rate of 5 to 10 percent.
Track the churn or retention rate to make sure that more people are subscribing than unsubscribing. It is inevitable to lose subscribers, but look to add two or three for every one that goes away.
Finally, other ways of tracking the results are by looking coupon redemption, store traffic or other indications that subscribers are opening and using the emails. Keep in mind that a typical direct response rate is around 2 percent.