Small business guide to email marketing

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Small business guide to email marketing
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Increase responses with the right content

The quality of content is also vital in minimising the number of unsubscribes and maximising the number of recipients who open your email and then click on the call-to-action or articles.

Gersbach’s advice is “keep it simple and to the point”, provide an attractive deal, and don’t over-promise in the headlines – he hates receiving emails with headlines promising “up to 70 percent off” and then discovering that only a couple of products have been discounted that heavily.

Another tip is to “mix it up”. For example, one Kick Push newsletter might focus on new products, while the following edition might feature discounted items. Offering good deals is the cornerstone of the business, he says.

On the other hand, Manolitsas points out that most people are creatures of habit, so you need to be consistent. If you keep sending them great tips that save time and effort, or inspirational messages, they’ll probably keep opening your emails. But if you suddenly drop in some mundane information such as your Christmas opening hours, they may be less likely to open subsequent messages.

It’s also important to learn how to tell stories, Manolitsas says. That doesn't necessarily mean using lots of words – video, audio and pictures can all play a part.

WMC Public Relations managing director Wendy McWilliams offers content from her blog. “One way we keep in touch with our database is through my monthly PR Blog which is emailed and covers a range of public relations tips and advice for small and mid-sized businesses,” McWilliams says. “Recent ones have been about strategic alliances; developing your vision, mission and values statements; deciding when it’s time for a new logo or logo refresh; and creating a tagline for your business.

“They seem to be appreciated judging by the feedback. Last year we started producing short videos of 1-2 minutes giving PR tips and have put them on our YouTube channel as many people prefer watching videos than reading text on a screen.”

Design tips

Email marketing services generally offer a good range of email templates, with third-party templates often available too. And as with website design, it’s vital the template you select is “responsive” so it looks good and is readable on any device.

However, while there can be some variability in how browsers display websites, the differences between email clients are even more pronounced. An email might look fine in Outlook but terrible in Gmail.

Sibbing therefore suggests using a simple template, as it is more likely to display as expected in any email client on any device.

Gersbach agrees: “Attractive and simple newsletters – that’s how we do it” although Kick Push does make use of emoji to help the subject line stand out, a technique that suits the company’s relatively youthful market.

Measuring for success with testing and reporting tools

Reporting is one of the most powerful features of the better newsletter marketing platforms, so make sure you make the most of it.

Don’t just look at the headline numbers, but drill deeper, Manolitsas advises. For example, don't be satisfied with knowing the number of recipients who opened your mailout – you probably also need to know how long they spent reading it, and whether they responded to your call to action. Getting to know your audience in this way is an important part of finding more opportunities for engagement.

You also need to look for trends – do particular topics get a lot of response, or do they seem to fall by the wayside?

The more popular platforms also offer plug-ins that add integration with other applications so, for example, data can be shared with your customer relationship management system.

The better newsletter platforms allow you to perform tests to determine the best way to reach a specific audience with particular messages. For example, a message about Christmas trading hours might be better sent via a social media channel than in an email. Or maybe it wouldn't – that's why you need to test.

MailChimp's testing feature

Testing is “hugely important”, says Manolitsas says – and to complement your newsletter platform’s reporting and testing features, an app such as Hootsuite offers similar tools for social media.

A/B testing is particularly useful. This allows you to experiment to see how changes to headlines, images or body text can affect the response you get from a mailout. MailChimp is one of the easiest email marketing services for A/B testing, she says, and it also lets you compare your statistics with those for your industry as a whole.

When you are talking to customers and prospects, take the opportunity to ask what they find useful or interesting (or not!) about your mailouts. You might discover that your low open rate is due to something as easily fixed as sending at the wrong time of day.

But beware of taking blanket advice about the best times or days for sending – audiences differ, Manolitsas warns.

So think about your customers: when is a good time for them to receive your messages? Might your timing evoke negative thoughts or feelings, for example that you don't really know or care about them? If a customer regularly visits you on Friday lunchtimes, a Friday evening email about an offer that only lasts until the following Thursday might not be received well.

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