Thursday, March 26, 2009

Getting Marketing Value from Individual E-Mails

Effective E-Mail Marketing

In the past six years my company has made more money using e-mail than any other marketing tool. The best part is it costs us less money annually than any of our other marketing techniques.
When we started developing our Web-Centric Marketing program, in 2003, most of our small-business clients were just beginning to tap into web-based technology. Today, the world is radically different. Conversations with clients went from "I don't think I need a website." to "I'm thinking of eliminating paper marketing altogether."

Today marketing messages literally travel at the speed of light.

The simplest, yet probably the most powerful online marketing tool is e-mail. You've probably been using e-mail for nearly a decade for personal use. It literally changed the way we communicate. In the 80s if you got a letter from a friend once a month, it was probably one of your closest friends in the world. Today it's not uncommon for individuals to communicate via e-mail with people they've never met from around the globe on a daily basis. E-mail, social networks, website forums and blogs have turned communication on its ear.

Two Types of E-Mail Marketing

In a very general sense e-mail marketing can be broken down into two groups, individual e-mails and mass e-mails. Both of these are going to be critical to your business going forward. If you're like most small companies you communicate with customers, industry leaders, vendors, and employees using e-mail multiple times per day. If you're like many small business leaders aren't using mass e-mail at all, or you aren't using it correctly.

We're going to look at best practices in both techniques over the couple weeks. Soon I will publish more about mass e-mail marketing and e-mail newsletter marketing, but first let's tackle individually e-mails from a marketing perspective.

Getting Marketing Value from Individual E-Mails

There are some simple things you can do to promote your organization in your daily communications.

Dump AOL -- America Online was the most prolific provider of e-mail in the world at one time. Today other companies also provide e-mail, many of them for free. Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google all have e-mail addresses. So what can be bad about free e-mail... it's the perception. Today Bob@Hotmail.com or Jane@yahoo.com is a perfectly acceptable e-mail address, but BobSmith@XYZhomecare.com looks far more professional. Most of us have multiple e-mail addresses, and if your e-mail address doesn't include your company's domain name you don't create the perception of professionalism. If your company has a website then you have access to these e-mail addresses, even if you aren't using them.

Create a Signature -- Almost every e-mail service and e-mail software has the capability of creating a signature. This signature appears at the bottom of every e-mail you send. This is the simplest, and one of the most useful, tools for e-mail marketing. Every time I send an e-mail it has my contact information along with two of our web addresses. It's the equivalent of giving someone a business card every time you meet them.

Don't use a Graphic Signature -- Don't make this mistake. Many of you are using a graphic in your email signature. I like using a logo or even a graphic of your handwritten signature, but don't use a graphic to display your contact information. Many people don't view their e-mail in HTML, which puts you at limited risk for viruses. Several e-mail software packages block images from people they don't know. If your contact is in this graphic, but the graphic can be seen it's useless. Plain text is always visible. A graphic e-mail signature is the equivalent of handing out business cards with about 50% of them being blank.

Don't use Stationery -- Never use background images or "stationery". People who use e-mail as their primary mode of communication hate it. It causes more problems for your recipients than the value you receive from making your e-mail "pretty."

Use Links -- I encourage you to create online versions of everything that you send on a regular basis to clients, referral sources, suppliers or employees. Rather than attaching a file, or worse yet, offering to snail mail something to them, send them a link to the page on your website containing the information. The more traffic your website receives the more marketing value you receive. By sending someone to your website they are more likely to browse. Frequent visits to your website will reinforce your marketing messages, enhance your credibility, and provide customers and contacts with the information they need.

capitolizze, good gramma & check ur speeling -- How many of you read the title to this paragraph twice because it didn't register in your brain the first time around? E-mail is efficient and quick, that doesn't mean it has to be informal. You would never send a printed mass mailing without proofreading. You would never send a business letter or an invoice with typographical errors. I have a good friend and client who has made over $5 million in the home health care industry, yet still doesn't capitalized any words in any e-mail. It simply unprofessional. When you use capital letters, correct spelling and good grammar, your messages are more readable. How you say something can be as important as what you say in business.

Use It -- Send lots of e-mails! I communicate by e-mail upwards of 20 times a day. Using e-mail makes your marketing, and other communication, far more efficient. Most of the phone calls you make are designed around getting one piece of information. For these types of communication e-mail is equally fast and more concise. Furthermore, you get the information without needing to take notes. There are definitely times when in person or telephone communication is best, but when e-mail is equal or better rely on it for efficiency. One of the critical components we teach in sales training is frequency and quantity of contacts. The more frequently you can touch base with someone, and the more people you can touch, the more sales you make and the better you get at making those sales.

There's a lot of things you can do to improve your sales and marketing techniques, and I realized that most of the tips above are pretty elementary. When I talk to business leaders, and small companies who frequently commit these offensives, I know that there are huge numbers of people trying to create a professional web image and spending lots of money on their website simply to look like an amateur when they send an e-mail.

These are the basics, but before you can get better at sales and marketing via the web you need to have the fundamentals down.
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