More articles by Wikus Engelbrecht
Email Marketing Beyond the Basics
Email marketing has become a powerful weapon in the small business marketing toolkit. The ability to reach existing and prospective customers with a targeted, consistent message on a regular and timely schedule through a medium that is ubiquitous and efficient is an incredible advancement over the traditional direct mail or print/broadcast advertising paradigm. Not only is it much more cost-effective, but it also enables your business to create a much more intimate relationship with customers that drives loyalty and repeat business.
Choosing an email marketing platform can be a daunting task. With so many providers to choose from, it can feel overwhelming, time-consuming and difficult to distinguish one from another. Even for a pro, keeping up with the latest technology and making sure your system offers the best features at the right price can be a challenge.
Whether you’re just starting out and evaluating your options, or you’ve already got a large database of opted-in recipients and numerous campaigns under your belt, consider adding or implementing the tools discussed below to amplify your campaign results. And if your current provider falls short in delivering this functionality, it may be time to consider an alternative.
Sending the right message to the right person is critical in any marketing campaign. To do so requires knowledge of your target audience’s interests and demographics, but also of the right tools to make tailoring and delivering slightly different messages to different audiences easy and efficient. Segmenting your mailing list by known subscriber characteristics is one of the best ways to effectively reach the right audience every time. In fact, MarketingSherpa’s Benchmark Guide reports that segmented campaigns produce at least 30 percent more opens and a 50 percent higher click-through rate than undifferentiated messages.
The most powerful email platforms allow you to gather the data required in the signup process to profile subscribers and segment your database — after which you can distribute different emails with customized content to each of the different lists.
One of the big mysteries — and biggest frustrations — of email marketing is wondering what your email actually looks like when it arrives in your recipients’ inboxes. Despite all the time and effort you may put into designing it perfectly, the various email providers and programs can often render graphics, formatting, text and almost every other element completely different from each other, and from the way you intended.
You could sign up for an account on every major email system, like Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc., and send test messages to yourself to make sure your newsletter or special offer looks and functions the way it should. But who has time for that? Instead, choose a provider that offers an Inbox Preview function that shows you exactly how your message will appear across multiple email platforms. If something’s missing or out of place, simply make a correction to ensure your message makes the best possible first impression upon arrival.
A/B Split Testing
Have you ever agonized over one small aspect of your email newsletter — maybe the subject line, a particular image or a phrase in the content — only to later wonder if it really makes any difference?
Subtle changes can make a big difference in reader response. But, in order to learn what works best, you have to test each one. A/B split testing allows you to create two or more separate mailings and alter each any way you please to see which generates better campaign engagement. Simply make the variations and distribute each test mail to a randomly selected sample of subscribers. The results generated in the reporting function will point you to which versions garner the most interest, to help drive more effective mailings in the future.
Another clear benefit of email marketing over traditional direct mail is the ability to automate the process using technology that saves you time and money, while still providing a valuable connection with your customers. One way to keep the conversation going between regular newsletter-sending intervals is to use autoresponders. Autoresponders generate an automatic email to your customer list based on specific events, or triggers, that you configure based on desired response. For example, anniversary or schedule triggers can automatically send a message on specific dates to recognize a customer’s birthday, or remind them of offers, activities or even payments due. Email open and link-click triggers can automatically send subscribers a follow-up email when they open or click on a link in your initial email, on an interval that you select. Subscribe/unsubscribe triggers also streamline the subscription process by sending automated messages to confirm customers’ intent — so this is one of the most useful and time-saving tools one can have.
Social Sharing and Comments
Engaging your customers in an ongoing conversation is one of the best ways to drive new traffic and foster loyalty. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become powerful tools in building this customer engagement. Email marketing solutions that offer both you and your recipients the ability to share newsletters and other content via social media easily and automatically make this process very efficient and eliminate duplication of efforts.
Social sharing tools make it easy to publish newsletter content to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more with just a click. And, built-in social widgets at the bottom of each mailer make it easy for recipients to share it with their social sphere, exponentially increasing the reach of your marketing efforts with an “endorsement” of your content by your fans. In a similar fashion, giving recipients the ability to comment on your message directly from the email itself provides a social forum for recipients to give their own feedback and interact with your company.
Remember how much fun it always was to find a letter in the mailbox addressed personally to you? The digital age has made those days few and far between, butwith personalized email newsletters you can recreate that “just for me” feeling for your customers.
A personal greeting (“Dear George,”) or a reference to past purchases can create an immediate connection with the reader and make a powerful impression. It shows you care about the customer and their individual needs. Personalization tools enable you to create a custom email for each and every recipient — no matter how many there are — with slick automation that makes it a snap. Start with a database that contains the relevant details and configure the newsletter field to fill in the data upon send. Combine this tactic with any (or all) of the others above, and you’ve got an excellent recipe to maximize your email marketing success.
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