When most people think of email marketing, the first thing that pops into their heads is that dreaded word, “SPAM.” Visions of inappropriate ads for adult products, promises of rapid weight loss, and pleas from widows who want you to help them launder their deceased husbands fortune seem to be the biggest associations with email marketing.
But, email marketing gets a bad rap because of these spammers and scum bags who flood our inboxes with their unwanted garbage. Unsolicited email, or SPAM, is the bane of legitimate marketers who want to use email to effectively communicate with their customers and their community who have given them permission.
And permission is essential if you want to create an effective email marketing strategy for your local business. Trying to send out tons of email to people who didn’t ask for it is, for all intents and purposes, SPAM. Even if you have the best of intentions, your unsolicited email is no better than anyone else’s unsolicited email because the prospect didn’t ask for it. Period.
Email marketing can be wildly successful for local businesses if done correctly. You can communicate with your own community about your business, build a relationship by showing your human side, and increase revenues with a simple click of a button (or submission of your email program). But how do you create a successful email marketing strategy?
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Always ask permission: When you create an email list for your local business, make sure you have permission to communicate via email. I know there are a lot of people who will take emails they have collected with business cards or off a customer’s website, but this is just wrong. You need to have explicit permission to send emails about your business to the recipient, or you may even be breaking some laws (see the CAN-SPAM Act). Use a printed or online form to collect their email address, and let them know what they are agreeing to upfront.
- Give them a reason to subscribe: Today, not a lot of people will give you their email address for no reason. Gone are the days when email was a novelty, and people would sign up everywhere. You need to provide some value if you want people to subscribe to your list. Create a special report, checklist, or white paper associated with your business, but that gives the subscriber good, relevant information. For example, a plumber could create a checklist for homeowners who are winterizing their irrigation system. You could also include some type of special offer or discount.
- Don’t just sell, sell, sell: If your only objective for email marketing is to sell, sell, sell, then you’re going to have a tough time keeping subscribers unless you are extremely creative. A better tactic is to provide a combination of relevant information, human interaction, and selling. Giving your subscribers good information keeps them interested, and offering a human touch builds a relationship. For example, you might provide information that’s useful to your community in one email, while talking about your recent vacation with your family in another email. After that, you can use all three by telling your subscribers how a new product you are carrying can help them out and how you use it yourself.
- Email on a regular basis, but don’t overdo it: In order to develop relationships in the real world, you need to stay in touch and show an interest in their lives. The same holds true in virtual relationships using email. You have to keep up the lines of communication so your community doesn’t forget about you. But, you don’t want to become that “clingy” friend who others start to avoid, so don’t overload your subscribers’ email inboxes with emails (unless you have a very good reason). Weekly or twice-weekly emails on a regular basis are good, and then you can throw in the occasional email blasts to your list when you have something important to say. People won’t get annoyed with regular emails if you follow the tips above.
- Respect unsubscribe requests: Eventually, you are going to get unsubscribe requests. Always respond to these quickly, and remove the person from your email list. People change all the time, and sometimes they are no longer interested in your information. Don’t take it personally, and if the reason they are unsubscribing is because of a bad experience with your business, it’s an opportunity to fix the issue with this person. You still want to unsubscribe as soon as they ask, but you can also respond to their request and offer to make things right. Who knows… they may decide to stay on the list and tell others about your great customer service.
As with most things in life, a little common sense goes a long way in making an email marketing strategy an effective part of the marketing mix for your local business. At the end of the day, your subscribers would like to be treated the same way you’d like to be treated in all of your interactions: with respect, dignity, and a little human kindness.
Good luck with your email marketing efforts, and make sure you keep in touch!